Abs & Core

My coach doesn’t like crunches and situps, he’s against them… he told me why but I forgot what he said. Everyone here is against them, they say Isometrics Abs is best for core stabilization, I don’t know but it makes sense to me.
I’m talking about exercises such as planks, lateral planks, V-sits, etc. Does anyone know why Charlie never (?) used them with his athletes? Don’t get me wrong, I prefer doing abs and sit ups over iso’s but it seems like planks are great for core stabilization.

I think the key big picture issue is less about the specific exercises used and more about loading parameters and the desired fitness goal of the ab work. Charlie’s approach with ab work (which you can find in the forum archives in many places and his books and videos) was to focus on endurance and use the ab work as part of the low intensity, general fitness component of the program. High intensity ab work comes naturally as a product of the high intensity elements like sprinting, weight training, and med ball throws.

As to the exact exercises to use, this seems to be a non-ending debate like which method of stretching is the best (i.e., static, dynamic, PNF, etc.). The answer is the one you find most comfortable and will use consistently. Stuart McGill is probably the person most associated with the growing popularity of the isometric exercises like planks, etc. due to his research on disc loading forces produced by more traditional bending movements. However, if you read Stuart’s material, the main focus seems concern with compression and shear forces on the lumbar discs and excessive movement through the lumbar spine. If you look at any of Charlie’s videos on ab exercises, you will notice that many of them tend to be short range movements that primarily involve movement through the thoracic spine, which is much less of a problem than lumbar movement. There is obviously some disagreement between Charlie’s and Stuart’s exercises choices, but Charlie also emphasized using a large variety of ab exercises. Charlie also stressed not limiting your options in training. Check out his video on this site regarding warm-ups and stretching. Like Ian King has pointed out, the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth.

So it really doesn’t have to be an issue of one type of exercise over another. Use both if you want to. Stuart’s main concern is clinical issues with bending and twisting movements, again with primary concern directed toward lumbar movement. And in a recent two part interview on T-Nation he makes the case for cumulative effects on the discs from repeated bending and twisting and that people can damage their discs over time even though the movements do not produce acute pain. However, millions of people around the world have used traditional ab exercises for decades without apparent ill effect. Of course millions have also suffered low back pain (but you don’t here much about thoracic back pain do you?). However, if you look into it, most chronic back pain suffers probably do not have a history of consistent ab training, probably the opposite. So there’s no simple answer. My advice is evaluate the exercises, be cautious and try to determine what you can handle safely and focus on low intensity loading and endurance.

Great answer

Just to throw another wrench into the gears, I also highly recommend the late Mel Siff’s writing on the subject. Specifically, check out his Facts and Fallacies of Fitness. In a nutshell, he considered specific ab training to be a waste of time, an opinion widespread among the Eastern Europeans. Siff mentions Bulgarian coach Angel Spassov giving lectures in the US in the late 80’s. When asked about ab training, Spassov said that the abs contract much more forcefully during exercises like squats, cleans and snatches than they ever could during something like a weighted situp. Then again, this relates to strength development as opposed to endurance (see my initial comments above). Both Charlie and McGill agree on focusing on endurance for the abs.

I personally don’t do much specific ab work because I do quite a bit of martial arts, which involves a lot of counter rotation when punching and kicking, and gymnastics exercises which involved a lot of isometric abdominal contractions to maintain position. So both high and low intensity ab training (isometric and dynamic) is built into many of my weekly exercises. I personally have never liked most ab exercises of any variety simply because they are neurologically boring as hell. I have a high level of coordination, so I get bored and frustrated with simple repetitive movements pretty quickly.

Basically, if you’re trying to find a consensus on the subject, you’ll be looking for a long time. The key is to understand the logic and intent behind different approaches to the issue and try to find a method that works for you.

The majority of the industry has, as usual, misinterpreted the work of someone knowledgable.

A combination of isometrics and regular endurance based abdominal work is best.

Every single top sprinting group I know of does hundreds of repetitions daily.

The fitness industry is no exception when it comes to sensationalizing something new or different.

Tell your coach to do a little more research on McGill.

I think the biggest misinterpretation of McGill’s work has been the attempt to come up with simple, blanket recommendations from his research. In the recent interview on T-Nation, Stuart emphasized that he places great emphasize on evaluating the needs of the individual and designing a customized program. If you read his back fitness training book, much of the discussion concerns how to determine what types of exercises and work a given individual can and cannot handle safely. He also acknowledges in the book that training for optimal back health is not always compatible with training for peak performance. Also, there are dynamic movement exercises in his book, they’re just slightly tweaked in their performance from how most people perform them.

Thanks for your replies. I will be doing ab exercises everyday and add 2-3 planks at the end of each ab workout.

Is it really necessary to do 30 secs on / 30 secs off, I find myself going too fast during these 30 secs, can’t feel my abs working because my movements are not controlled.
I have found this 8 minute Ab workout on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWjTnBmCHTY
Does this workout qualify as low intensity/high reps for endurance?


I didn’t watch the video you linked but here are variations that are low amplitude/intensity and can be used easily for endurance.

These exercises (along with a few others) have become a staple in our preparation for American Football.

All of the exercises come from Stuart McGill and the methodology we use comes from James Smith; some of the exercises shown are others that I have recently used and fit the same criteria I mention below.

Anecdotally, the amount of “My low-back hurts” complaints I have heard over the past 8 months has reduced and our fitness level has improved.

Using abdominal exercises is a great way to increase fitness and complements tempo training perfectly; I prefer to address the abdominal musculature at a low-cost nature (low-amplitude, neutral lumbar and cervical spine, etc.) and within the constrains that they are used in sprinting, jumping, cutting, and battling with an opponent (ergo transducer of force, in a quasi-isometric and oscillatory isometric regime, etc.)

The exercise are good but I feel are done too slow. I remember Charlie saying that reps are done quick hence the large rep numbers done. I’ve heard pro’s and con’s from both side…i personally mix the two up to get the best of both worlds.