By Jason Ferruggia
Back when Arnold was racking up one Mr. Olympia win after another nobody used the term “core training.” The area from the bottom of the pecs down to the waist was referred to as the midsection. Since I’m old school and not a fan of new trends I’d prefer that we all stick with the latter terminology. Your cooperation is appreciated.
Before we continue, you need to know this: no matter what you do you’ll never see your abs until you’re in the range of ten percent bodyfat or under. Google some images of world record holding sit up masters. You’ll hardly find a six-pack anywhere. That’s because the only way to have the abs pop is to strip the bodyfat off them through proper diet and training.
Once you get lean you can give them a more 3D look with exercises such as hanging leg raises (provided you go through the necessary strength progressions to be physically capable of doing them) which will increase the size of the abdominal muscles and thus give the appearance of deeper definition.
You can also work on the vacuum but I’ll let Arnold explain that since he was a master of it.
The other thing you need to know about training the midsection is that the best way to herniate a spinal disc is through repeated flexion, which occurs when doing high rep sit ups and crunches. So those are out.
The best approach is to train the abs for strength and stability with the exercises listed below. That will lead to greater athleticism, reduced lower back pain and the rock hard midsection of a championship fighter.
Front Lever Iso Hold - I’ve never seen an exercise bring out or strengthen the abs any better than this one. Set a bar or rings at chest height and grab on like you were going to lay back and do an inverted row. Get into the fetal position and try to keep your back parallel with the ground. Hold it for 10-30 seconds. As it gets easier you can move your legs out to a 90-degree angle with your upper body.
L-Sit - If you’ve seen the abs of a male gymnast then you already know how effective this exercise is. If you’re not strong enough to do this on rings you can use dip bars or even two benches or stools of equal height. Support yourself in the top position of a dip and bend both knees 90 degrees. Now raise your thighs until they are parallel with the floor. As this gets easier work your way toward extending your legs. Hold this position for 10-30 seconds per set.
One Arm Overhead Press - Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell and press it straight overhead. Be sure to hold it at the lockout for a second or two while all of the muscles of the midsection contract forcefully. Offsetting the load by doing this with one arm dramatically increases the stress on the obliques.
Suspended Pushup - Set up rings, a Jungle Gym XT or blast straps so that the handles are a foot of the ground. Get into pushup position with your feet on a box of equal height. This is basically a plank taken to the next level. Be sure to contract your glutes forcefully and brace your abs like you were going to take a punch. No A-framing or sagging hips allowed.
Farmers Walk - Pick up a moderately heavy pair of dumbbells, kettlebells or dedicated farmers walk implements and walk anywhere from 20-50 yards while keeping your chest up and shoulders back.
Deadlift - Powerlifting coach extraordinaire Louis Simmons has repeatedly talked about the importance of strong obliques in locking out a deadlift. That’s of course, because these muscles, along with several others in the midsection are called upon greatly when picking up heavy weights off the floor.
Racked Kettlebell Walk - Get a kettlebell in the racked position (basically the start of a one arm overhead press) and walk with it for 20-50 yards. Be sure not to lean to one side, but rather remain as straight upright as possible. To really crank up the challenge try this one with the kettlebell in the bottoms up position.
One Arm Flat Dumbbell Press - This exercise is so awesome that NCAA strength coach, Ethan Reeve uses it as one of his standard tests. To perform it properly lie down so that your hips are hanging off the end of a flat bench with a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand. The non-working arm should be out to the side or on your stomach. Before starting make sure that you really corkscrew your feet into the ground and press down hard. Do a few heavy sets of these and tell me if you don’t feel your midsection working like holy hell.
Waiters Walk - Press a kettlbell overhead to lockout and walk 20-50 yards. You can do these one or two arms at a time and you can walk straight ahead or in a zig-zag fashion around obstacles. This packs the double whammy of increasing shoulder stability while also strengthening the midsection.
- Alligator Walk - Get in pushup position and put your feet in a Power Wheel. While maintaining perfect posture (no A-framing or sagging hips) walk as far as you can on your hands. Be sure to brace the abs and squeeze the glutes throughout. If you’re on a carpet or turf you can also place your feet on top of a pair of Valslides or a 45-pound plate, which will really increase the difficulty. The key is to make sure that you aren’t swaying back and forth, rotating your hips from side to side with each step or collapsing. If you can do this for the entire length of a football field you’ve got some freakish strength.
Give those a try and let me know how they work out for you. I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the results. If you have any questions post them below or hit me up on Twitter.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Ferruggia is the founder of Renegade Strength & Conditioning. He specializes in high performance mass development and has worked with over 700 clients during his 18-year career. Jason is the chief training adviser to Men’s Fitness Magazine and has been featured in and on LiveStrong, Muscle & Fitness, Men’s Health, CBS & ESPN radio.