The Quest for Abs - New Core Strength Routine with Video
Let's get something off the table right away... I don't have visible abs or visible ab definition. It's an area I definitely want to improve on. Not only because I want to change the appearance of this area of my body but because I've neglected core strength training. That's why I'm writing this post... because I think it's a common mistake.
There are a lot of bodybuilding articles that will tell you that you don't need to work your core like your other muscle groups. They will tell you that the core is being worked when you do compound movements. Or, articles will say that your ab routine can be a quick 9 sets tacked on at the end of your workout. That's how I trained my abs for a long time. I quickly threw an ab routine in at the end of working out another body group. I'd move through the exercises without much thought and believed that 2-3 times a week training abs this way would do the trick. After training this way for about a year, I found that my core didn't feel stronger or even fully worked. I knew something was way off and I would need to adjust my training methods.
After implementing some key changes, I now know I'm on the right track. Boom! My abs have started to feel sore like my other muscles groups. I get out of breathe while training them and I am sweating during the workout. I finally feel like I'm actually making some progress on my core! This is all being done during a bulk phase, so I don't expect to see a 6 pack. My goal is muscle growth and strength gains. The changes below have allowed me to make some real progress in just 3 short weeks.
TRAIN ABS LIKE YOU WOULD TRAIN ANOTHER MUSCLE GROUP
I shifted my ab training to mimic how I train other body parts. Instead of seeing the core as "different", I thought of working the muscles the same as say Shoulders or Chest muscles. The first exercise of this new ab routine is Cable Crunches. By using a weighted movement, I can slowly up the weight and increase the intensity over time. Also, by using added weight we can push the strength gains further than using body weight as out only resistance. To train abs like my other muscle groups, I also increased the sets to 15 working sets. It seems like a lot, but it allows you to really fully exhaust the abs and send them into muscle hypertrophy.
DO IT AND MEAN IT
I will admit that my previous core training was half assed. It was often at the end of a long upper body session and I just wanted it to be over with. I needed to change my mindset and make ab training just as important is another body group. During my core workouts, I now continually check in with myself and ask if I'm present and in the moment. Am I focused? Am I feeling my abs engage? I think that abs are a very easy area of the body to just go into auto pilot with. By checking in and making sure you're focused, you will be more prone to actually be working the muscle.
MAKE SURE YOU'RE ACTUALLY WORKING YOUR ABS
Mind muscle connection is important. It's vital really to gaining strength and muscle tissue. Too often, we utilize other body parts to actually lift the weight and end up barely using the targeted muscle. The Cable Crunch is a great example of this. I used to get into position and start pulling the weight down without going slow and focusing on what muscles I was pulling with. When you preform this exercise with bad form or quick speed you end up using your lower back and arms. Without intending it, you end up completely missing your core muscles. I know this to be true because when I would train "abs", I would end up with a sore lower back. If you can't feel your abs engage or get hot, slow down and rethink the form. Do the exercise as slow as possible and focus on using your abs only by stabilizing the rest of your body.
TRAIN ABS AT LEAST 3 TIMES A WEEK
If you've neglected abs or are struggling to increase core size, then a shift in priority is necessary. I started training core every other workout and not skipping any sets, it made a big difference. In just 3 weeks, I saw size gains in my upper abs and definition in that area. I also felt that I actually needed the rest periods to recoup my abs between training them. That's a good sign that they are being properly worked.
Attached a curved curl bar to a cable machine. Pin a lighter weight for warm up and form preparation. Grab the bar and pull it down with you as you get in a kneeled position on the floor. Next, pull your butt down to sit on your feet. With an arm on each side of your head, place the bar behind your head against your neck. Slowly bring your body into a bent position so that your upper body is parallel to the floor with a slight curve up at your lower back. Now you're ready to do the actual movement. Pull your elbows towards your knees with your abs. Focus on not using your back. Stay tucked in and then slowly return to starting position. At the end of the return, you should slightly curve your lower back down and bring your ribcage up. Common mistakes: Pulling straight down to the floor and not towards the thighs. Using too heavy of a weight and "swinging" the weight down to the floor. Going too fast and neglecting to "crunch" at the middle of the movement.
I love these! Very glad to have found them. This movement is a nice combination of yoga type movement with calisthenics. To start, lay a mat on the floor. Lay flat on your back and then bring your knees to your chest. Wrap your arms around your knees and bring your neck up. Hug your knees and hold. Make sure that your back is heavy to the ground and stable. This is where you'll start. Unwrap hands and send your legs out straight. At the same time, cross your arms at your chest or send them above your head. Don't let arms or feet hit the ground. Slowly, bring everything back to hug position and hold for a second. That's one rep, repeat 12 times for full set. Common mistakes: Going to fast and not pausing at the hug position. Rocking to the side and not aiming straight out. Using the back muscles to "jolt" the neck up and not letting the abs "pull" the upper body to the chest.
ELBOW TO KNEE AIR BIKES
These are similar to the slow focused movement of the cocoons but they engage the obliques during the "twist". Start flat on your back with legs up off the ground and bent. Shins should be facing the ceiling. Place hands behind head, cradling the crown with elbows out wide. Come up in a crunch but twist to one side, bringing your elbow to the opposite side knee. As one knee comes towards the opposite elbow, send the other leg out. Each side is one rep. Aim for 12 slow reps on each side. Common mistakes: Going to fast and not doing the full twist. Pulling the head up with the arms, make your obliques do the twist.
The most common ab exercise of them all... but how often are they done right? Lay flat on your back on a mat. Bring knees to a bent position with feet on the floor. Make sure you are very stable with the lower body. Cradle your head in your hands. Slightly come up and make sure that you feel your core engage, not any tension in the neck. Once you have connected with the muscles, then begin. Pull your chin to your chest in a quick but controlled movement. Stop for a brief moment once you are here, feel your abs heat. Then, slowly bring your head back down. Think of unwinding in a curved movement not a straight drop down. You should feel all this in the upper section of your abs. Common mistakes: Using the arms and upper back to "lift" the head up. Not curling the chin into the chest. Going to fast and neglecting the decline portion of the movement, which is actually the most effective portion.
For the last exercise, I chose to use any weighted ab machine in the gym. The goal is complete burnout on this last exercise, so go heavier but a weight you can fully control. Follow the directions on the machine and make sure that you are connecting with your ab muscles. Common mistakes: For almost all weighted ab machines, the mistake to make is using your back muscles. Avoid this by stopping and checking in with your core. Go slow and keep trying the movement until you feel the abs engage.
If you are unfamiliar with any of the moves, check out the database on bodybuilding.com. Every exercise can easily be found by searching for it by name. This routine is for intermediate to advanced lifters and takes about 30 min to complete.
I have found that this workout is helping me to finally work my core to a level where it is growing muscle. This is only one of the ab workouts that I will be utilizing throughout my 2018 bulking phases. Watch for other routines in the future!
*I am not a certified personal trainer. My experience is limited to myself. If you are new to lifting, please seek out resources online and the help of a trainer or experienced friend before embarking on a new fitness regime.
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