Until I have a fresh name for this equally fresh publication it’s simply called the Everlifting newsletter. There is quite a bit in the works at the moment that is sure to flip your wigs. The website and the newsletter is just the first step in something much bigger so be sure to keep your peepers on this space to find out what’s next. New things will roll out sooner than rather later. Today I give you an article about abdominal training (or lack thereof) only for you fine folks who have subscribed early.New articles steaming hot from the printers at everlifting.com:
Should I train my abdominals directly?
Short answer: it depends.
Long answer: let’s first look at subjective statements like ”you must train your abdominals”. It’s so easy to poke hole in such statements that it shouldn’t even be necessary, but alas I hear it so let’s deal with it. If direct abdominal training was truly necessary, the Bulgarian system and other minimalist approaches couldn’t possibly work, yet we know from experience that they do, therefore the logical conclusion is that it’s absolutely not necessary.
I have long viewed abdominal training as system dependant. Minimalist systems that use a high volume and/or frequency of the same lifts seem to include less abdominal training. There are exceptions, Dan John’s variation of the 40-day program for instance is a high frequency approach with the inclusion of an ”anterior chain exercise”, as Dan calls it. Keep in mind that in such a layout the volume is low and the intensity is not near maximal either. In the Bulgarian system the frequency is even higher, the intensity is much higher and the volume will be higher or lower depending on the current state of the athlete. While I know of top Bulgarian lifters who have included abdominal training, it’s definitely not the norm. You simply can’t effectively make use of high frequency, high intensity, high volume, and too many exercises - it’s just not a productive way to train. Everything takes from recovery and something has to go.
Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell fame has often said that the abdominals need to be the strongest muscles and it’s clear that he has great success with his system but you have to understand where he’s coming from with that statement. The frequency of the big lifts are low and the vast majority of the volume is in small exercises (single joint exercises), in other words he suggest you build the lifts muscle by muscle rather than train them. In that case it makes absolute sense to train the abdominals directly.
I will get back to what makes systems different in future posts. Now let’s look at something that’s not on either extreme sides of the spectrum. Let’s take a fairly traditional powerlifting split as an example, you might bench press twice per week and deadlift and squat twice per week. The volume in all these exercises are significant, often done with repetitions above four far away from competition. The frequency is low (twice per week). Assistance exercises are performed but perhaps not relied on to such a great extent as in Louie’s Westside methodology. Abdominals will typically be done as an afterthought, following bench press, other presses and rows on upper body days (for example), and squats, deadlifts and additional lower body exercises on lower body days. What is common to see is 3-4 sets of situps or hanging leg raises tossed in at the end, in such a scenario I question if they do anything at all except tire the sportsman more.
Historically, it appears that the obsession with training abdominals is a more recent thing. That is not to say that nobody did it before, but when you read about the training of the strongest people in the 50’s you see much less mentions of abdominal training. What you see is a strong focus on the big lifts and occassionaly variations of them. Would they be stronger if they had a bigger focus on abdominal training? It’s one of those ”what if’s” that’s clearly impossible to answer but I certainly wouldn’t assume so.
I tend to follow prof. Zatsiorsky’s guidelines of using variations of the main lifts when they’re no longer effective and only after that deal with smaller exercises such as direct abdominal exercises. This works well within my framework.
There are other scenarios however. For instance using abdominal training, and hanging leg raises in particular, can help relax the back after heavy lifting. In this case the recovery aspects are as important - and perhaps ever more so! - than the actual abdominal training itself. That’s one of the reasons you frequently see me program hanging leg raises after heavy deadlifts or clean & jerks.
Another scenario would be when dealing with people who have yet to learn to coordinate their body. Generally speaking there are two approaches to take here. You can use what Pavel Tsatsouline calls hardstyle where you teach them to tense up muscles separately and as a unit through an exercise such as the hardstyle plank. The other approach is to use small exercises for the individual muscles to teach the body to tense them, in our case that would mean direct abdominal training. I don’t see either as right or wrong, they’re just different.
So should you do direct abdominal training? Go back and ask yourself if it’s necessary or even beneficial within the system of training that you’re using and you will have your answer.
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