Home Posts tagged "Abs"

CP Intern Blog by Conor Nordengren: Up the “Ab Ante”

Today's guest blog comes from current Cressey Performance intern, Conor Nordgren. We’ve all heard those stories about the training regimens of celebrities and how they do 500 crunches first thing in the morning and 500 more right before bed to get that perfect six-pack of abs.  Many of you have probably also seen that infamous video of T.O. performing crunches while conducting an interview with reporters.

While exercises like crunches and sit-ups can bring out those abs and sculpt a nice six-pack, is this the safest method to train the core? Top strength and conditioning coaches like Eric Cressey, Tony Gentilcore, Mike Robertson, Mike Boyle, and Jason Nunn have recently written and talked on the subject and say that it is not. As an intern at Cressey Performance, I’ve been exposed to a ton of programs and not a single one of them has included a crunch or a sit-up. Here’s why: If you’re familiar with Mike Boyle’s joint by joint approach to training, you know that the lumbar spine requires stability as opposed to mobility. Think about the execution of a conventional sit-up: what is your lumbar spine doing? That’s right, it’s flexing. The lumbar spine is not designed for a great deal of movement (whether it is flexion or extension), let alone repetitive movement. Our spine as a whole is not meant for a ton of flexion or extension, either. While you may “feel the burn” in your abs when performing a set of crunches, you are essentially training spinal flexion. World-renowned low-back researcher Dr. Stuart McGill says that we have a finite number of flexion/extension cycles in our back until injury is caused. That number is different for every person, but the bottom line is that by performing exercises like crunches and sit-ups, you’re increasing your risk for injury with every rep! Dr. McGill has actually done experiments where he’s put pig spines in a crunch machine and after a certain number of crunches, or flexes, spinal disks explode. Crunches and sit-ups also promote a kyphotic, or rounded back, posture. Visualize someone in the top position of a crunch or a sit-up. Now, keep that visual of their upper-back, but picture them standing up. Hello Quasimodo!

Would you consider this good posture? Of course you wouldn’t (well, hopefully not). So why would we want to reinforce it? James Porterfield and Carl DeRosa have written that the core musculature is primarily designed to transmit force, not to produce it. While crunches and sit-ups are promoting flexion of the spine, our core should instead be trained in preventing movement. If we train our core to be rigid and prevent movement, the stronger it will be; this translates to more overall force production throughout the whole body which will allow for bigger lifts. Sounds pretty good, huh? Thanks in large part to Mike Robertson, we’ve been introduced to four acceptable movement patterns that should be utilized when training the core. They are anti-rotation, anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion, and hip flexion with a neutral spine. While there are several variations of the following exercises, here are some of my favorites: Anti-rotation: Tall Kneeling Pallof Press – the kneeling version really forces you to use your glutes and your core, since your quads are taken out of the picture (this exercise can also be done on a cable machine). Anti-extension: Ab Wheel Rollouts – progress to band-resisted or off of a box for added difficulty. Anti-lateral flexion: Waiter Carries – can also be done with a kettlebell. Hip Flexion with a Neutral Spine: Prone Jackknifes with a stability ball – you may find this to be one of the more challenging movements, so really focus on keeping that core tight! Some of you may have a hard time imagining your workout without any crunches or sit-ups. You might be skeptical that the above exercises may not get you the results that you desire. Well, Tony “The Situation” Gentilcore performs these movements on a regular basis, and when he voluntarily and superfluously flashes his abs at us interns every day, let me tell you, I could wash my clothes on those things! But seriously, change is hard and not an easy thing to accept. However, the good thing about change is that it can be for the better. I’m not demanding that you immediately stop performing crunches and/or sit-ups; that choice is yours. It’s my hope that you think about how you’re currently training your core and ask yourself if this is the most optimal, functional, and above all else, SAFEST way to do so. This may help to keep you injury-free down the road so you can continue hitting the iron hard. Conor Nordengren can be reached at cnordengren@gmail.com. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter:
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Stuff You Should Read: 2/25/10

Here's some recommended reading for the week... Effective Abdominal Training - I linked to a Bill Hartman post last week, and I'm going to do it again this week, because he puts out great stuff!  Check out this post, which features a video on core control. Youk's Diary: Good, Bad of Spring Training - CP client Kevin Youkilis will be keeping a blog on ESPN.com this season, and he gave us a little shoutout in the first one.  In addition to checking out Youk's blog, I'd strongly encourage you to visit and donate to Youk's Hits for Kids, a charity Kevin founded that does some awesome stuff for underprivileged kids. 7 Habits of Highly Defective Benchers - This was one of the most popular articles I've ever written, so I figured it'd be worth a "rerun."

Last, but not least, don't forget that our spring training sale ends TONIGHT at midnight.  Don't miss out on your chance to get 30% off!  Click here for more information.

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Stuff You Should Read: 6/15/09

This week's collector of stuff you should read: Front vs. Back Squats (Newsletter 154) - this recent newsletter from me takes a different perspective on a common debate in the world of strength and conditioning. Stronger Abs, Bigger Lifts - this article from Matthieu Hertilus was really good - and that's a big compliment coming from a guy who needs to read another "core training" article like he needs a hole in the head. Comparison of different rowing exercises: trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness - this presents some recent research on how various horizontal pulling exercises affect EMG of several trunk and hip muscles.
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Random Friday Thoughts: 1/23/09

1. It's come to my attention that over 54 million people have come to recognize this young YouTube guitar dude as a total bada**, so it seemed only fitting that he be today's music selection:

Had I not won the Nobel Prize at age 12 and hopped up Mt. Everest on one leg at 16, I might be wondering what the heck I was doing with my life at age 27 after watching that.  But, let's move on to the good stuff. 2. It wouldn't be a week in my apartment if my girlfriend didn't watch "The Biggest Loser" with me in the room contemplating ripping my hair out.  I got a kick out of it this week when they had a 30" plyo box in the center of the gym.  I don't know of many 400-pound folks with vertical jumps that good, but apparently, it does make a great platform on which you can set your bottle of water.  Now that's training economy. 3. If you thought the kettlebell trend was getting out of hands, just have a look at this: Bench Pressing Dwarves: I Kid You Not As long as they don't call me "comrade," I'm cool with it.  Success is all about adherence, so if it takes the weight and attitude of a feisty human exercise prop giving you hell on every rep to get the job done - and that person doesn't mind - so be it. 4. We do a lot of anti-extension work with our athletes.  While these progressions start with basic prone bridging, you can progress them to overhead medicine ball throwing variations and (my personal favorite) ab wheel variations.  We'll do isometric holds, regular reps, and - as seen below - band-resisted ab wheel rollouts.

This is just one of over a dozen innovative, effective exercises Jim Smith introduces in his Combat Core resource; it's definitely worth checking out.


5. It's come to my attention that a tiny portion of my readers get all huffy when I don't post references for my blogs.  While I could go to the trouble of posting references in all of them, the truth is that it clutters things up and takes away the informal tone of this blog.  And, frankly, I often write these in my boxer shorts and unshowered, with a raging case of bedhead and some kind of angry, belligerent, "my mother didn't love me" music in the background.  It's not exactly academia. Suffice it to say that I can provide references for most of this stuff, and if I can't, I can sure tell you about a ton of bright professionals who have seen awesome anecdotal evidence - as the research world is typically years behind the smartest people who are in the trenches.  If that's not good enough, oh well. And on that note, I need to get back to the trenches.  Have a great weekend!
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Unstable Ground or Destabilizing Torques

I don't watch a ton of TV, but when I do, it's almost always sports - be it football, baseball, basketball, or just regular ol' Sportscenter.  Likewise, when I'm at working, I'm constantly coaching athletes from a variety of sports on everything from weight-training, to flexibility, to sprint mechanics, to medicine ball throwing techniques.

Everywhere you look, you'll see destabilizing torques.  Maybe it's a running back trying to fend off a tackler; his feet are fixed while the destabilizing torque (the force applied to his body by that tackler) occurs further up the kinetic chain.

Or, maybe it's an athlete doing a suitcase deadlift.  The load in his hand is a destabilizing torque that attempts to shift him into lateral flexion as contralateral core musculature fires to keep him erect.  Again, the feet are on stable ground.

You're probably getting my point by now.  Our lower extremities operate in predominantly closed-chain motion on stable surfaces in the real world - and the destabilizing torques we encounter further up the kinetic chain are truly functional instability training.

Conversely, when was the last time you saw the ground move on a fixed athlete?  Perhaps the earthquake during the San Francisco-Oakland World Series in 1989?  It's a long shot at best.

With that in mind, why are we universally accepting unstable surface training in the lower extremity?  We know it has merit in the rehabilitation of functional ankle instability, but to assume that benefits would also be conferred on a healthy population is a dangerous.  That's where we came in with my research back in 2005 - and it's why I've got a great frame of reference for writing a book that discusses true core stability training and the appropriate and inappropriate applications of unstable surface training.  At risk of sounding overconfident, if you coach or rehabilitation athletes or regular fitness enthusiasts, The Truth About Unstable Surface Training is an important read for you.

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Why Crunches Don’t Work…

Q: I noticed that you include reverse crunches in Maximum Strength, but not standard crunches. Why is it acceptable to have lumbar flexion during a reverse crunch, but not during a standard crunch? A: This is a great question - and there are a few components to my response. First, we use reverse crunches in moderation and only in our athletes who are healthy and those who have extension-based back issues (i.e., more pain in standing than sitting, tight hip flexors, anterior pelvic tilt, dormant glutes). We wouldn't use it in folks who have or have had flexion-based back issues (generally, this equates to disc problems and more pain in sitting). Second, keep in mind that this is unloaded lumbar flexion; we wouldn't add compression to the mix. Third, and most specific to your question, reverse crunches target the posterior fibers of the external oblique more. Given the points of insertion of these fibers, you can address anterior pelvic tilt without affecting the position of the rib cage. Regular crunches shorten the rectus abdominus. While this can help with addressing anterior pelvic tilt, you also have to realize that shortening the rectus abdominus will depress the rib cage and pull people into a more kyphotic position. This is not a good thing for shoulder, upper back, or neck health. So, in a nutshell, if we are going to have any sort of lumbar flexion in our training, it has to be a) unloaded, b) in the right population, c) implemented in lower volumes, and d) offering us something that addresses another more pressing issue (e.g., anterior pelvic tilt). Combat Core is an exhaustive resource on high-performance core training that I'd encourage you to check out as well.

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Combat Core Review: Taking “Ab Training” to a Whole New Level

This morning, my girlfriend turned on Regis and Kelly. Now, before you start giving me a hard time, I’ll make it known that a) it was her choice and b) I was checking my emails, and my computer happens to be in the neighborhood of my television. My attention shifted from emails to the TV when I saw that they were featuring a transformation contest where a bunch of ordinary weekend warriors went to different personal trainers to get “toned” (I knew I was in for it when I heard that word). In the minutes that followed, I heard the word “core” mentioned approximately 487 times as trainers put clients through all sorts of stuff: 1. interval jogging on a treadmill (nearly made me vomit in my mouth) 2. playing basketball (You can charge for that? I would have gone with dodgeball so that I could throw stuff at my trainer for ripping me off.) 3. Curls while standing on a BOSU ball in a pair of Nike Shox (yes, you can actually find a way to make unstable surface training MORE injurious by exaggerating pronation even more) Incidentally, this third trainer was featured with some hardcore Kelly Clarkson blaring in the background. I not only got dumber (and angry) by watching this segment; I also realized that if I ever go nuts and decide to write my suicide note, you’ll hear “SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE!!!!” blaring in the background as I sob over my pen and paper. Normally, my reaction wouldn’t have been so pronounced, but after this weekend, I was all about REAL “core stability.” You see, I got to catch up with my buddy, Jim Smith (of Diesel Crew fame), while in Pittsburgh to give a seminar. “Smitty” and Jedd Johnson gave an awesome presentation outlining their innovative and effective methods on everything from sled dragging to grip work – and most specific to the discussion at hand, they both raved about how much they love Kelly Clarkson! Plus, they’re HUGE Regis and Kelly fans. Okay, so that last little bit wasn’t entirely accurate; I’m pretty sure that these guys would have Hatebreed or some other angry, belligerent, “my-mother-didn’t love me” music blaring in the background when they finally get their moment in the spotlight on Regis and Kelly. Anyway, they DO know a ton about non-traditional means of training “core stability.” In addition to watching a great presentation, on the plane ride home, I finally got a chance to read through Smitty’s new e-book, Combat Core: Advanced Torso Training for Explosive Strength and Power. To say that I was impressed would be the understatement of the year.
You see, I spend a ton of money each year on seminars, books, DVDs, etc. – and if I can take away even one little thing from each of them, I’m thrilled. In many cases, it’s “same-old, same-old.” Smitty has quickly built a reputation for overdelivering, and this resource was no exception. In the 133 pages of photos and descriptions of loads of exercises you’ve surely never seen, I found: -13 sweet modifications to exercises I’m already doing -16 completely new exercises I can’t wait to incorporate to my own training and that of my athletes -seemingly countless “why didn’t I think of that?” moments. So, to put it bluntly, I think it’s an awesome read – and well worth every penny, especially when you factor in all the bonuses he’s incorporated (including lifetime updates to keep you up to speed on his latest bits of insanity). If you’re interested in some effective, fun, innovative ways to enhance TRUE core stability, definitely check it out: Combat Core: Advanced Torso Training for Explosive Strength and Power
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Random Thoughts from Todd Hamer

Random Thoughts from Todd Hamer

Todd Hamer is one of the most high-energy coaches I've ever encountered.  However, unlike many coaches who attempt to use their energy to make up for a lack of knowledge and experience, Todd is a guy who really knows his stuff and understands how to coach.  He really cares about his athletes and knows how to speak their language.  Enjoy. 1. Watch your athlete’s feet! When an athlete is squatting, all of the force they are creating is being transferred through the feet. When your athlete begins the descent, do their feet stay flat on the ground? When they get to the bottom of their squat, do their shoes roll in or out? Or, can you see the weight shift forward? I have noticed that even when a squat looks good, if you really look at what the feet are doing, you can follow the chain to where the problem is and then fix that.

2. I was put on this earth to kill the word “core.” Every day, someone says to me, “my core is weak.” The reason that I am here to kill this word is because it means nothing. Define the core? When someone says their core is weak, to me it means they are weak. We have been so overexposed to the “core” that we have forgotten how to get stronger. It has been shown time and time again that all the muscles that people call the “core” are worked in a squat, clean, overhead squat and many other multi-joint movements. So get away from the core and get strong. I promise you can get a six pack.  For more information, check out Jim Smith's Combat Core Manual.

3. Train more odd lifts. I (like many others) was to dogmatic in my approach to training athletes. People like DieselCrew.com and EliteFTS.com have helped me think more about how I am training my athletes. Why do we use barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags ect? Why not trees and stones. It is important to get your athletes off the platform and away from the known and into the unknown. Sports are chaotic events; do not be afraid of some chaos in your training.

4. 90% of athletes overthink.  What is the training age of your athletes? This is a question that you should ask yourself about every one of the people you train. The younger the training age, the less advanced the program should be. Most athletes want the newest craziest exercise and program. The problem is that most athletes just need to get stronger and more mobile. This can be accomplished with just working hard and sticking to the basics. Most of the time if an athlete’s squat form improves, then his mobility will improve along with his strength levels. Quit looking for the Holy Grail of training and start training.

5. Extend your network.  Your network is everyone to whom you speak; make it larger. I have been lucky to be able to learn from and share ideas with hundreds of strength coaches, personal trainers, doctors, rehab specialists, and many other professionals. Each of these people have taught me something new about what I do. This is true for both business and personal facets of my life. I often hear other strength coaches say they will not listen to someone because they don’t work with athletes or they do not know what I do. So what? We must bring people in this field together if we ever want our field to grow.

About Todd Hamer

Todd Hamer has been working in the strength and conditioning field for seven years and has held positions at Marist College, the Citadel, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania State University, and George Mason. He is now the head strength and conditioning coach at Robert Morris University.  Todd has also worked as a personal trainer and consultant in several different facilities throughout his career.  In his spare time, Todd is a competitive powerlifter with best lifts of a 545 lb squat, a 375 lb bench, and a 500 lb deadlift. A native of Pittsburgh, PA, he received his bachelor's of science degree in exercise science from Penn State in 1999 and his master's of science degree from the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia in August 2002.

Until next time, train hard and have fun!

All the Best,


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Golf and Unstable Surfaces

Q&A rant that deserves a newsletter of its own...

Q: I have received a golf fitness program designed specifically for my injury history.  This program came from the <Insert Noteworthy Golf Trainer’s Name Here>.  I have concerns about this program. Some of the exercises I am concerned about involve: 1. mimicking my golf swing on an unstable surface 2. performing one legged golf stance with my eyes closed 3. hollow my stomach for 30 second holds 4. upright rows Correct me if I'm wrong but your advice on various T-Nation articles and your #6 Newsletter go against these practices.  Should I look elsewhere for my golf fitness program? A: Where do I even begin?  That's simply atrocious! I've "fixed" a lot of golfers and trained some to high levels, and we've never done any of that namby-pamby junk. In a nutshell... 1. I did my Master's thesis on unstable surface training, and it will be featured in the August issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.   Let’s just say that if the ground ever moves on YOU instead of you moving on the ground, you have bigger things to worry about than your golf conditioning; you’re in the middle of an earthquake! 2. There is considerable anecdotal evidence to support the assertion that attempting to replicate sporting tasks on unstable surfaces actually IMPAIRS the learning of the actual skill (think of competing motor learning demands).  In a technical sport like golf, this is absolutely unacceptable. 3. Eyes closed, fine - but first show me that you can be stable with your eyes open!  Most golfers are so hopelessly deconditioned that they can’t even brush their teeth on one foot (sadly, I’m not joking). 4. Abdominal hollowing is "five years ago" and has been completely debunked. Whoever wrote this program (or copied and pasted it from when they gave it to 5,000 other people) ought to read some of Stuart McGill's work - and actually start to train so that he/she gets a frame of reference. I’m sorry to say that you got ripped off.  The fact of the matter is the overwhelming majority of golfers are either too lazy to condition, or too scared that it’ll mess up their swing mechanics (might be the silliest assumption in the world of sports).  So, said “Performance Institute” (and I use the word “performance” very loosely) puts out programs that won’t intimidate the Average Joe or his 80-year-old recreational golfer grandmother.  For the record, Gram, I would never let you do this program, either (or Gramp, for that matter).  On a semi-related note, Happy 85th Birthday, Gramp! In short, I’m a firm believer in building the athlete first and the golfer later – and many golfers are so unathletic and untrained that it isn’t even funny.  Do your mobility/activation to improve your efficiency, and then apply that efficiency and stability throughout a full range of motion to a solid strength training program that develops reactive ability, rate of force development, maximal strength, and speed-strength.  Leave the unstable surface training, Body Blade frolicking, and four-exercise 3x10 band circuits for the suckers in the crowd. Yours Cynically, EC
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