The Strength Sensei on Ab Training

The Strength Sensei on Ab Training


The basics of developing a strong and powerful-looking core


For many years, strength coaches and the general fitness community were obsessed with “core” training. Every commercial gym had to feature ab crunch machines and Swiss balls, and many offered special classes to target the muscles that flex, bend, and twist the spine. Charles R. Poliquin was not a fan.

The Strength Sensei believed that despite the hype about the importance of specialized training to develop the abs, he believed strong abdominals could be developed without performing direct, isolation exercises for the abs. Want proof? Except for the athletes in the heavier classes who may carry excess (and non-functional) bodyfat, weightlifters (snatch, clean and jerk) and powerlifters (bench press, squat, deadlift) often display impressive six-packs that would grace the cover of popular romance novels.

Do weightlifters and powerlifters have abs as strong as they look? A study on the abdominal strength of female weightlifters was published in 2011 in the journal Physical Therapy in Sport. The researchers found that these athletes possessed significantly stronger internal and external oblique muscles than a recreationally active control group. In order, the thickest muscles were the internal obliques, the external obliques, and finally, the transverse abdominus.

Direct abdominal training may not be necessary if basic exercises such as squats and chin-ups are performed. (This photo by Miloš Šarčev. Lead photo by Viviana Podhaiski,


The Strength Sensei believed that when an athlete needs to include additional ab work, they should select exercises that enable the resistance to be increased. Thus, traditional crunch exercises have little value, as they become too easy for even untrained individuals after a few training sessions. Swiss ball crunches are a bit more challenging as a high level of balance is involved, but the extreme range of motion possible may cause some to experience lower back pain.

That said, one abdominal exercise the Strength Sensei did like was a reverse sit-up variation called the Garhammer raise, which focuses on the area of the rectus abdominis below the belly button (subumbilical abdominals). This exercise can be performed by hanging from a chin-up bar or lying face-up and using an ankle strap attached to a low pulley.

Other exercises that powerfully activate the rectus abdominis are kneeling crunches while using a triceps rope attached to a high pulley. Chin-ups and pull-ups (while hanging from a bar, not using a machine) give the abs a workout as the body has to rotate around the bar, and barbell pullovers are also believed to strongly work the abs. Straight-arm pulldowns using a high pulley are also valuable – sports scientist Dr. Mel Siff said this exercise activated this muscle group harder than sit-ups.

If your goal is “Abs of Steel,” scratch the crunches and pump some iron! (TSS)

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