Friday, July 10, 2009

Caveman Core Training!

I'm often asked what I do for my "six pack." I find this funny because I personally think I have a Four-and-a-half pack, haha. I also never sought out the six pack holy grail that is so en vogue in pop culture. Any definition in my midsection has come as a consequence of clean eating and hard training, not so much a direct goal. What follows are some ideas for cheap, at home training for the core that will be challenging and will result in strength gains for your core and a good looking midsection granted that your diet is also very clean.

The last statement is VERY important. Abs are made as much in the kitchen as in the gym. Having strong abs, obliques, etc is fantastic, but you won't SEE any difference if they're covered by a layer of fat. Seeing the muscle may not be all that important for everyone, however EVERYONE needs a strong and powerful core. The core (abs, obliques, back) support every other activity you'll do both in the gym, on the field, and out in the world.

The Basics
  • A good workout program should include attention given to the abs, obliques, and lower back
  • Your obliques allow you to bend your trunk to either side as well as twist from side to side
  • Multi-joint, compound exercises exercise your core without being the focus. Strict pushups, heavy deadlifts, barbell squats, etc.
  • I'm not convinced a crunch offers a great enough range of motion to provide gains in the abs
  • I'm not convinced its possible to isolate the "upper" or "lower" abs. It's all one muscle!
The Exercises

Here are a few exercises that can be done with a minimum of equipment in the comfort of your home. Many of these exercises may be new to you, but then again everyone knows the common exercises. Note: backdrop this time around courtesy of my parents house :)

  • L-Sit
Find yourself two stable chairs and hold yourself up with your legs stretched out in front of you, forming an "L" with your body. This is a isometric static'll want to hold the position for time. A good starting point is breaking it up into as many sets as necessary to reach 60 seconds.

  • L-Pullup
When you feel strong enough in the L-Sit, you can up the complexity of the exercise by combining it with the pullup. Hang from a pullup bar as normal, raise your legs up into the L position, and then simply pull yourself up and lower yourself as usual while maintaining the L position. Tougher than it sounds! Do this for 3 quality sets, or 2 reps short of failure.

  • Band Punches
This is a fun one for the obliques, and about as sport specific as you can get. Grab a sturdy workout band (I got mine from and throw a technically sound straight punch with an emphasis on trunk rotation. Other punches can be thrown as long as they involve sufficient trunk rotation (probably not jabs for instance).

  • Superman/Shaolin Pushup
This one goes by various names, but in any event its a good test of core strength. Lay flat on your belly with the balls of your feet touching the ground and your arms outstretched in front of you and your palms flat on the floor. Other than the balls of your feet, this should resemble what Superman looks like while flying...and if you are good at this movement you can share in his bulletproof body. From the lying down position press yourself up so that the only things touching the ground are your palms and your feet. You will feel your core activating to help you maintain this position.

If this movement is too hard for you, bring your arms in closer to your body so that you rest on your forearms in the bottom position of the movement. Do not bring your arms directly below your shoulders, because thats a normal pushup. The movement has more of a tricep extension type of action in the arms than the push in a pushup or benchpress.

Note in this picture how the position requires full body tension. Every muscle in the body must be tense to maintain strength. Read Pavel Tsatsouline's Naked Warrior and Power to the People for more info on total body tension.

Program Ideas

For a quick, effective program, you could do the following in circuit fashion. Do one exercise after the other with no rest, and repeat the entire sequence 3-5x with 1 min rest between rounds

Routine 1
L-Sit 30 seconds
Band Punches 10-15 reps
V-Ups (consult Youtube for this one) 10 reps

Routine 2
Superman Pushups 10 reps
L-Pullups for a Quality Set (your pulling strength will limit you here)
Band Punches 10-15 reps

I recommend checking out Pavel's book "Bullet-Proof Abs" for info on the Janda Situp. Pavel goes into detail on this fantastic movement that deactivates the hip flexors and allows you to concentrate solely on your core. I won't go into it here because the book is a real treat.

Thanks for reading!

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