To Situp or Not to Situp!
By Rickey Dale Crain
Every television station network has, at one time or another had an infomercial on an abdominal gadget. This constitutes in most people’s minds what abdominal work is all about. Most people in or out of the gym have virtually no idea how to put together an abdominal workout. Their training usually consists of buying a product on television and doing it a few times for a few weeks and then expecting to look like a 24-year old male supermodel. NOT!
In other words, we throw a few sets of this and that together and expect it to work or we do a few sets of sit ups and leg raises a couple of times a week before, during, or after a workout and PRESTO super abdominal muscles are expected.
And by the time we are 25 or 30 years old we already have the pork and pooch of a 50 or 60 year old. We can do better than that, though. It is time we change the attitude and the mindset.
For years I prided myself as having good or great abdominal muscles, especially for a power lifter. First you need a goal and then you need a plan. It is no different than if I wanted to bench 300 pounds by the end of the year. I need to have a goal of a 6 pack and it can be accomplished, with a plan. I'll show you a few of the better abdominal exercises I have used over the years.
First we ask, why do we NEED abdominal training? As an athlete or Sunday afternoon quarterback it never hurts to be strong in that midsection. It prevents injuries of all kinds and will always help you train heavier than you might otherwise be able to as well as safer.
The second seems to be the most obvious and that’s to look good and the women (wives and girlfriends) love them; I never saw a guy that didn’t like some abdominal muscles showing on his wife or girlfriend, either. Most people who power lift, Olympic lift, body build, train for sport specific strength are after an abdominal six-pack.
In sport specific training, they are a must in contributing to your sports performance. It is always true that "a strong midsection is needed to support, protect, and give explosive strength and force throughout the body.
Sports specific abdominal training is superior over nonspecific abdominal training but we will not go into that at the moment. We will deal with abdominal work that should enhance your performance in all sports and most especially the look of the midsection.
Injury prevention is that other added value in doing consistent and heavy abdominal work. The exact role of the abdominal muscles and other trunk stabilizers has BEEN KNOWN AMONG POWERLIFTERS FOR 20-30 YEARS, but it has never seemed to fully sink in or be comprehended by most athletes, until recently.
Having done thousands of reps a week, of different types of abdominal work since the early 60’s, both with and without weights, I have developed a lot of different types of exercises that do work. Even Bill Starr, in his 1976 classic book, The Strongest Shall Survive, wrote that the abdominal muscles "…can be strengthened in a wide variety of ways. Sit ups, crunches of all types, leg raises, and trunk rotation movements all involve the abdominal muscles to different degrees." Bill Pearl's 1986 classic Keys to the Inner Universe lists and graphically illustrates over 100 abdominal and trunk exercises! Despite all this information, there seems to be a gap in the knowledge (or usage and admittance of such) and the actual practice of them. Most individuals do only one or two different types of abdominal work. Be smart and pick a number of different kinds to strengthen the midsection from all angles and in all areas for maximum protection and power.
The question I am always asked is “how many times a week should I do them?” Different goals require different answers. The frequency for a person interested in minute changes in looks and strength will be less than one who is really serious about strength gains, injury prevention and looks.
Weighted abdominal work, like any other type of weight training will require some rest between sessions during the week; abdominal work with high reps can be done daily or even multiple times during the day, as muscle endurance training requires less recovery than strength training stomach work. If your primary concern is injury prevention and strength training, I would do weighted and non-weighted abdominal work 3-4 times a week after your heavy workouts. On the other days you can throw in non-weighted high rep ab work. Let’s look at a few routines. Remember that abdominal workouts are as numerous as the grains of sand on the beach. The only limits are you and your imagination.
A good basic non-weighted abdominal routine involves 4 different exercises done in a superset like fashion. First, a crunch type sit up with feet firmly locked in place on a sit up board or something similar, hands folded across the chest and doing a motion of up and down, but not all the way up or all the way down. Second, a standing twist motion is done (I do these sometimes with an empty broomstick-this is optional). Keep the hips and lower body facing straight ahead and only the upper body rotating 90 degrees to each side. Counting one rotation to each side as one rep. Third, back on the floor, for leg raises, and remember not all the way up and /or all the way down to the floor. Lastly is a standing side bend. With your hands to your side bend to each side, back and forth counting one rep after a completion from each side. These 4 make up the workout. Do all four as fast as you can, one after the other. Start with 33 reps of each, once through, then 33 reps again once through. On the third time through do 34 reps. Work through the sets three times. You will then have 100 reps of each of the four exercises. That will give you a total of 400 reps. You can do this 1-4 times a day depending on what kind of shape you want to get in. (Once in the morning, once before a workout, once after a workout and one more time at night.)
A good weighted abdominal workout to build some size and strength is simply 5 sets of 10 reps holding a weight against your chest, feet locked, knees slightly bent, and going not quite all the way up or all the way down.
Finish off with 5 sets of 10 reps of side bends with a dumb bell in each hand (one hand at a time). This is a great workout to do 4-6 times a week. You will be amazed at the support that you will get from these for those big squats and dead lifts.
Start with lying on a bench, with your feet hanging off the end and your hips just barely on the end of the bench. Hold onto the bench with your hands just behind your head grasping the sides of the bench. Do a full leg raise and pullover. Feet dropping to within a few inches of the floor and pulling/lifting up so they are perpendicular with the bench. Keep your knees straight, legs together and toes pointed. Do 5 sets of 10-25 reps.
These 3 basic abdominal workouts will cover all your bases in whatever you wish to accomplish.
Big strong abdominal muscles will give you the support you need for powerlifting, support to prevent injuries in sports and a 6-pack for your ego.