290120 Defining or Strengthening the Abs
By: Daniel Pare, N.C.C.P., C.S.O.
Training to get great abs has always been every trainee’s dream. It looks fantastic and it shows a great fitness level achievement. Since I am being asked regularly about ab training I am going to give you the information you need regarding this ever- increasing misleading issue.
Do we need well-defined abs or do we need strong abs? Well-defined abs are a necessity in the competitive Bodybuilding world. Strong abs are a total different story. What needs to be understood is that training your mid-section for strength will differ greatly from training your mid-section for definition. These two separate and distinct training goals represent widely divergent methodologies and vary greatly from what we have heard and or read in many publications. Let’s remind ourselves that training the abs for a prettier look is in relation to the art of sculpting and training the abs for strength is a necessity.
Whether you are involved in a sport or not, a strong mid-section is essential. You are doing countless sets and reps of sit-ups, leg raises, crunches… what you are doing is sculpting, not strengthening!
Before we go any further, we must define our purpose for doing abs. If your objective is to get a “6 Pack” for an upcoming bodybuilding show, you go right ahead. However, if your goal is to strengthen your mid-section, for whichever sport it may be, drop the sit ups and other single joint abdominal exercises for the more beneficial ones like the squats, the deadlift’s, and other multiple joint exercises. *You can also use the exercise ball and the med ball.
When do we actually do a sit up or a leg raise in sports/daily activities? What you need to do is strengthen your mid-section so you remain strong while standing, reaching, pulling, squatting… that is why your approach to strengthening the abs must be reviewed.
You can’t squat! Your mid-section is likely too weak and is unable to support you. You begin to shake, twist and lean forward (leaning forward is a sign of a weak abdominal wall and tightness in the Achilles tendon). Most trainees will not be able to sit back when they squat, because the glutes are just not strong enough to do what they are supposed to be doing. Your back hurts when you do deadlift’s, you need to strengthen the abdominal wall then, in most cases, and the pain will go away. It takes lots of control to actually do a proper squat and or a deadlift, and most trainees do not spend the necessary time neither put the effort forth towards proper from and technique (most are too concerned about the amount of weight that should be on the barbell).
A proper sit up should be done with the rectus abdominus, but it is usually done with a swing. If you are not able to do a sit up with the rectus abdominal, forget about the exercise ball. You must learn to stabilize the trunk first prior to using the exercise ball. Multiple joint exercises require tremendous abdominal strength and control. Can you train for well-defined abs and strengthen them at the same time? Absolutely, but let’s face it, the more popular one is likely to be first. This does not necessarily mean the most productive one!
The problem is that we have been sold, years ago, on the idea that well-defined abs were synonymous to strength. Most trainees doing sit-ups and leg raises may eventually experience back pain, because they don’t do them with proper form. Abdominal work should be done the way it is meant to work; squatting, *dead lifting, pulling, reaching, jumping, lunging, bending…
Daniel Pare, NCCP, CSO, strength coach, St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada.
*As a side note to this astute comment: a program of heavy sets and reps in the deadlift is the ONLY exercise series that has EVER given me a case of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness in the abs.