The title could be “The Biggest Misconception of Training” but no other body part is more relevant to what I’m about to say.
The most common question I probably get is something like “what about training the abs? When I ask “What do you mean?” It follows that their asking because they think that training the abs or core or midsection, whatever you want to call it, will magically burn fat off that area and then BAM!, everyone will see your abs and how lean you are. Training abs won’t make you see your abs. It doesn’t magically burn body fat off your midsection. It doesn’t work like that. This is often referred to as spot reduction and it doesn’t work either at all or at least not well. If you want to reduce your bodyfat there are far better choices with training then doing direct ab work. For example, exercises that require many muscles with a big range of motion such as squats, deadlifts, clean and press, etc.
However, I’m not saying that training your abs is a waste of time. Here’s what training your abs can do.
First, the “core” doesn’t produce force but rather transfers force. So if you’re an athlete and you need to apply/produce force and the core, which can be the abs, are weak then you probably won’t transfer as much force as you could. This is often referred to as an energy leak. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. If you can’t transfer force well then you can’t produce as much force as if you could.
If you’re not an athlete direct ab work still has benefits, one of them being psychological. I have found two things; having sore abs can help keep someone eating a clean diet because of the association or sensation of being sore in the midsection. This keeps people more conscious about their midsection thus keeping them conscious about what they put in their mouth. The second reason is that if you have someone that truly believes direct ab work will help them develop and see their abs by reducing bodyfat than I believe that belief alone has some value. In that case, I often have people do what I know for sure will work ( big compound movements with big ranges of motion) at the beginning of their workout with some direct ab work at the end. Sort of like eating your meat and veggies before you get dessert.
People often develop habits in the weight room and often have biases. Good coaches will also try a myriad of exercises and discard what they believe is useless and keep what they find works.
Here is the gist of the Ab exercises we do:
Stir The Pot
Decline Sit-Up w/Med Ball
Accentuated Decline Sit-Up
Pallof Press and variations
Garhammer Raise/Incline Garhammer Raise
We don’t necessarily do these exercises in any particular order. We find ones you can do well with great form. If that means some don’t work well for you we don’t do them, but we do return to them over time to see if perhaps you’re strong enough to do them at a later time. Often someone is just too weak to do some.
There are plenty of exercises that train the core but you don’t even realize it. One of my favorites is Pull Up with ankle weights. Because the weights are at your ankles it forces a strong contraction every time you pull yourself up where your center of gravity is, THE ABS. Try doing 8 sets of 3 reps with a heavy weight pinched off between your feet or by using ankle weights. The weight must be heavy enough so that 3 reps is very hard.
The next day your abs will be smoked.