Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"From a small seed a mighty trunk may grow" - Aeschylus

A while back I read an article that fundamentally changed the way I think about abdominal training.  I’ve known for a long time that things like sit-ups really work the hip flexors more than the abs and that crunches isolated the abdominal muscles, specifically the rectus abdominis, better.  This is because that muscle serves to pull the shoulders toward the hips in a movement called “trunk flexion.”  This is an important role of the abdominal muscles, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Your abdominals have another role, though, to which I never gave much thought.  In addition to moving your midsection, they also serve to prevent your midsection from moving when that movement would be harmful.  They serve an important role in maintaining the posture of your hips and lower back.  Many people have too much curvature in the lower spine (some is healthy, but too much is bad), and a pelvis that tilts forward.  This can reduce the recruitment efficiency of several muscles around the hips and lower back, or in short, “it’s bad, mmmkay?”  I’m a proponent of the theory that what you do more of, you get better at, so let’s look at some ways to train the abs to maintain posture in.

Here is the original article that got me thinking on the subject.

It has, in addition to a great discussion of the postural effects of the abs and why that’s important in the athletic environment, 8 different exercises that focus on “core stability.”  Instead of plagiarizing the heck out of him or rewriting his instructions and taking pictures of myself doing all his exercises, I’m going to refer you all to the above link (you’ll have to excuse all the body builder photos).  If you just want to see his exercises, scroll about a third of the way down the page to where it says ,“The Test,”  this will give you some idea as to where you stand in relation to postural abdominal strength.  Scroll a little farther to “Lower Rectus Exercises.”  Most folks will get all the benefit they need from “The Dead Bug Series*” and the “Single Leg” and “Double Leg” lowering exercises.  But if, AFTER mastering those, you’re feeling diesel, go ahead and try out his “Dragon Flags” and “Hanging Leg Raise.” 

Another great core stability exercise is the “Plank.”  There are numerous variations on the plank, but let’s start with the basics.  Here is a link about the basic plank, and a side plank.
Go ahead and ignore all the adds on this page; just look at the two plank variations. 

Done from the elbows, as shown in that link, planks can be accomplished by most beginners.  As you get stronger, you can switch to doing them from your hands and feet; this works for both front and side planks. 
Then if you really want to make things interesting, you can start by doing a hands and feet plank for, let’s say 30 seconds; then lift one hand and point it straight out above you head for 30 seconds; put it down and repeat with the other arm; now put both hands back down and lift one leg, keeping it straight and parallel to the ground for 30 seconds; now the other leg; then lift one arm and the opposite leg for 30 seconds; switch which arm and which leg for 30 seconds; then transition to the side plank on hand and foot for 30 seconds; then the other side for 30 seconds; finally go back to the standard hands and feet plank for 30 more seconds before collapsing in a heaving and gasping pile on the floor.   As you get stronger you can add to the time you spend in each position, do several cycles, etc.

-Now, go do some push-ups-

*There is one error in his photos of the Dead Bug Series.  The second photo in Dead Bug 3 is a duplicate of the first.  The second photo should look like the second photo of Dead Bug 4.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a "smart folk"! I usually to that routine before running, and I definitely notice a difference than when I did other ab stuff. It also prevents that sag that happens when you start tiring at the end of a run.