Why an “Ab Routine” Isn’t Necessary (and What I Do Instead)

Why an “Ab Routine” Isn’t Necessary (and What I Do Instead)

One of the first things
people do when they start working out is focus on their
abs—crunches, sit-ups, leg lifts, bicycles, and the like. I mean,
who doesn’t want a six-pack? Entire fitness schools have sprung
up around the idea of targeting your abs with direct work. Take
Pilates. In its purest iterations, it’s considered a “total
body” philosophy, but the way most classes seem to go you end up
spending all your time doing a bunch of complicated crunches and
other targeted ab work (and grimacing every time you cough for the
next week).

Let me make a radical proposal here. All this ab work isn’t

Don’t get me wrong. The “abs” are extremely important. Not
only do they round out the physique and look great, but
abdominal strength also provides stability, supports good
posture, and improves movement. Strong abdominals allow and enhance
the full expression of a person’s athleticism.
jumping, lifting, throwing (balls, spears, or punches), and
basically any movement all require—and are improved by—strong
abs (i.e. a strong “core”).

When you think about training the abs, consider what the
abdominals’ purpose is: to provide a stable foundation for the
rest of your body as it moves.
They can move, but it’s
not their primary function. As such, the way most people train abs
is completely superfluous and ignores that essential
function—maintaining stability and resisting movement. When you
think about it that way, crunches and sit-ups don’t make a whole
lot of sense.

What Kinds of Ab Work Make Sense?

  • Deadlifts make sense because your hips are designed to hinge to
    allow you to pick up objects.
  • Squats make sense because your knees are meant to flex and
    extend under load.
  • Pull-ups make sense because your lats and biceps are designed
    to pull your body’s weight upward.

But crunches? Abs are best at holding steady and supporting all
the other tissues and limbs as they move through space. Using your
abs to move heavy weight a few inches is just weird. It
“works,” but is it ideal? No.

If you insist on direct ab work, focus on movements
where the abs don’t actually move all that much.

  • Instead of crunches (abs moving), do bicycle crunches (abs
    stationary, legs moving).
  • Instead of sit-ups (abs moving), do hanging leg raises (abs
    stationary, legs moving).

In both cases, you’ll be blasting the hell out of your
abdominals, but you won’t be flexing and extending your

Okay, with all that out of the way…

What Do I Do For Ab Work?

I don’t do much direct ab work. You won’t find me
doing crunches or bicycles. Instead, I’m using my abs all the

  • When I’m doing pushups, I’m tightening my
    abs. A strong, stable, cohesive abdominal complex makes my pushups
    better and stronger. Do a pushup without tight abs, and your hips
    will dip toward the ground. You’ll be sloppy and weak.
  • When I’m doing deadlifts, I’m tightening
    my abs. My abs are resisting the pull of the heavy bar. They’re
    preventing my spine from rounding and hurting itself.
  • When I’m doing pull-ups, I’m using my abs
    to maintain a cohesive frame. Try it. Instead of kicking your legs
    or flopping them around to propel yourself upward, keep them
    straight and tight. Tighten your abs. Think of your entire body,
    from top to bottom, as a single piece. Pull that piece up past the
    bar. Feeling it in the core, are you?
  • When I’m standup paddling, I’m using my
    obliques, my “outer abs.” They support the paddling motion.
    They’re my base of support. Go paddle for an hour as a beginner,
    then see how your sides feel the next day.
  • When I’m doing band pull-aparts (a great
    shoulder pre/rehab movement, by the way), I’m tightening my

Heck, when I’m driving my car or carrying my groceries or
walking the dogs, I’m tightening my abs.

It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. The abs figure

There’s probably one exercise I do specifically for my abs,
and that’s the plank. But again, the planks work the abs by
resisting movement, by keeping your body straight and solid against
the pull of gravity. They aren’t moving.

I made a short video on how I work my abdominals without
a specific abs routine.
Take a look.

Finally, the single most important thing you can do for your abs
in terms of looks, of course, is to become a better fat-burner.
Hidden underneath even the most sedentary, flabby exterior is a
rippling six pack. Simply possessing basic human anatomy means you
have visible abdominals somewhere under there. Get lean enough and
you’ll see them.

Thanks for stopping in today. Questions, thoughts? I’d love to
hear them.

The post Why an “Ab
Routine” Isn’t Necessary (and What I Do Instead)
first on Mark’s Daily


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