Use Core Training as a More Effective Way to Warm Up!

Do you always save your ab work for the end of a training session? If you’re like I used to be, than you probably get to the end of your workout, look at the clock and either cut the ab session short or you skip it all together. I know a lot of people suffer from this aspect of their workout routines and I can completely relate because this was me for a long time. I’d always have the best intentions of crushing direct ab training, but the end of my workout would come and I’d totally shortchange myself with my ab work. What this meant was my abs never had the defined look I really wanted because I just was not spending the proper amount of time working them out. The solution I came up with has made all the difference with my abs though- train core as an extension of the warm-up.

Like anything, having visible abs is rooted in consistency. This consistency is especially evident in the kitchen, but also in the weight room as well. (My disclaimer to this post is that you can do all the direct ab training you want, but if your diet is not on point most of the time then you’ll always struggle to have the abs you want) Here are a few of the benefits to training your abs as a part of your warm-up:

  • Rarely will you short change your ab work when it’s at the beginning of the workout because you don’t feel like you’re up against the clock
  • Ab work is a great addition to a dynamic warm up because it elevates your core body temperature, further preparing your muscles for the workout by creating blood flow
  • You won’t be training your abs in a state of fatigue either, so you’ll get more muscle activation in your core and less in assisting muscle groups (such as the hip flexors or lower back)

The next step is figuring out which type of ab training is proper for you. If you’ve never done direct ab training, then you’re going to want to start out slow and focus on the ability to activate your core as opposed to your lower back. Far too often do I see people go for the traditional ab moves (crunches and 6” variations such as Flutter Kicks/Scissor Kicks/etc.), because it’s what everyone else is doing- when in reality, these moves are likely just flaring up lower back pain.

The best barometer for what you can handle with ab training is simply listening to your body. If you can’t keep your lower back pushed into the ground when doing supine (on your back) ab work, then you shouldn’t be doing those moves. Below I’ll list some sample routines for Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced.

Beginner

Perform 2-3 rounds with 30-60 s. rest after each set with as little or as much rest as you need between exercises.

  • Bird Dog- 10 reps each side
  • RKC Front Plank- 20 s.
  • Swiss Ball Dead Bug- 10 reps each side
These three exercises have a nice flow to it, starting in a quadruped position with a Bird Dog. Be sure to keep your arm and leg straight as you extend out. Also, be sure to keep a neutral spine and look at the ground. In order to make this move more challenging try not allowing your hand or knee to touch the ground as you crunch in.
RKC Front Plank is an extremely “activated” front plank. Make sure your shoulders are directly over top your elbows and push your palms together, squeezing every muscle in your body as hard as you possibly can- to the point that you’re shaking. Think about pulling your elbows towards your belly button and your toes towards your hips.

Make sure on the Swiss Ball Dead Bug you drive your opposite hand into the Swiss Ball, which will ensure core activation. By putting a pad under your head you can force your chin on your chest, which will drive the lower back into the mat, also ensuring proper core activation.

Intermediate

Perform 3-4 rounds with 30-60 s. rest after each set with as little or as much rest as you need between exercises.

  • Swiss Ball Rollout- 10 reps
  • Side Plank (w/Top Leg Abduction)- 20 seconds each side
  • Reverse Crunches- 20 seconds
Swiss Ball Rollouts are the best way to learn an AB Wheel Rollout. You position your hands on the Swiss Ball based on your core strength level- the further back your hands are on the ball, the more range of motion you’ll be able to achieve. From there you roll the Swiss Ball away from you while simultaneously letting your hips drop and your head relax between your arms at the bottom range of motion. Be sure to maintain proper glute activation throughout the move and not to let the hips sag. When this starts to feel easy, progress to the AB Wheel and all the same principles apply!
Side Plank (w/Top Leg Abduction) should be performed with your feet stacked and in a straight line with your upper body. Make sure your elbow is directly underneath your shoulder (to minimize unneeded stress on the shoulder). Once you get in your Side Plank position simply raise the top leg about 6-10” and hold statically. If an isometric hold is too challenging, you can either perform them as reps for the allotted period of time, or just hit your standard Side Plank. Regardless of which Side Plank variation you do, always be sure the glutes stay activated throughout and you’ll get far more activation in your obliques.
There are two options for performing Reverse Crunches– one would be full range of motion, kicking your legs all the way out then pulling your knees into your chest. The trouble is, for a lot of people, simply extending the legs out straight will put strain on the lower back. So, if this is you, then just focus on the middle range of motion (which is what I show in the video). Drop your heels TOWARDS the ground (not touching) then pull your knees into your chest getting your butt off the ground at the top position. This will keep the tension entirely in your core. Get your chin on your chest as well to drive that lower back into the mat.

Advanced

Perform 3-5 rounds with 30-60 s. rest after each set with as little or as much rest as you need between exercises.

  • Swiss Ball Pike + Rollout- 10-12 reps
  • Swiss Ball Step Offs- 10-12 each side
  • Swiss Ball Stir the Pots- 10-12 each side
Swiss Ball Pike + Rollout is one the unequivocal best core exercises you can do. While it is challenging, it will also train your abs more effectively than almost any other “traditional” AB exercise. Be sure to keep your legs as straight as possible on the Pike, get your feet as close to your hands as you can, then as you roll yourself out the biggest key is making sure your hips don’t drop. To keep your hips from sagging, you contract your glutes as hard as you can. Once full range of motion is achieved you smoothly transition right into your next Pike.
Swiss Ball Step Offs can be performed with two different toe positions. In my video I am demonstrating the progressed version, which is toes on the Swiss Ball. The regressed version is feet flat on the Swiss Ball, which will be a little less of a balance component. Either way, the foot that stays on the Swiss Ball, it is imperative to activate that glute as hard as you can to ensure proper balance. Then, the step off itself should only be just so you can see your foot in your peripheral vision. It’s also a quick tap on the ground then right to the opposite side. Too long of a rest on the ground or too far of a step out is actually just allowing your core relax.  
Stir the Pots should be performed slow and steady, with the circles stay about the width of your body frame. Be sure that you start in a good front plank position with your shoulders directly over top your elbows on the Swiss Ball. TIP: the closer your feet are the more challenging they will be, the further apart, the easier the reps will become.

These are just some sample ab circuits that are easily progressed and are safe for most populations to perform. Regardless of your core strength level, 3 exercises is a good place to start, and you can add or subtract exercises from there. You can do any of these exercises for reps or time (personally I like to mix it up). There is also an infinite number of ab combinations you can perform- just be honest with your body. Understand that not every ab workout you see on Pintrest may be right for you. Your lower back and hip flexors should never come into play during core work. You know you’re doing the correct exercise for you when you exclusively feel a burn in your abdomen.

How Frequently Should You Train Your Core?

There is quite a bit of controversy on the proper frequency of direct abdominal training. A lot of very reputable coaches will say there should actually be no direct ab training; that it’s a waste of time and purely cosmetic- in other words, they feel it does very little for you functionally (In a future post I will argue against this vehemently). They feel that compound moves such as: Squats, Deadlifts, and Overhead Presses indirectly train your core to be functionally just as strong. Other coaches will say you should treat your abs like any other muscle group and give them ample rest in between days you work them. I can understand both of these sentiments for sure, however, I go back to my original argument in one of my first blogs- your abs are activated every single day. To get caught up in needing to “rest” your abs is sort of an overblown sentiment- and an excuse to cut out of the gym 10 minutes earlier. Consider this: just sitting up to get out of bed in the morning, you have just activated your abs; therefore, the rest theory in my mind can only apply to doing resisted abdominal work. In terms of body weight core training, I personally perform it every single day I work out; and I have for years.

My only stipulation is I never do the same ab routine or resisted core exercises on back to back days. Along with my nutrition, this method has served me very well. I wouldn’t necessarily prescribe it to everyone, however, the bottom line is this: if you want strong, visible abs, you’ve got to eat healthy most of the time and train them often and properly. My theory is: the best way to properly train them is to do them first in your training session, so you never skip them. There is no question in my mind that with consistent eating and regular, direct ab training, over time you will see more visible and defined abs!

I challenge you this week to allocate 15 minutes at the beginning of each of your training sessions to train your abs and see if you a feel a difference on how the core work feels. If you’re the type of person that usually doesn’t warm up, take note on how much better you’ll feel going into the rest of your workout as well!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass.

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