Article: That Place We Call the Abdomen

Posted: January 19, 2011 in Articles

You may or may not have noticed that I don’t do a lot of expounding on “six pack abs” or the like.  I don’t tell you how to, using incline planes, levers, cams, and pulleys, create the best of all possible abdominal exercises.  I don’t site that “one old rule” that’ll make your belly flat.  Is this because I don’t subscribe to the training of the abdomen, at least in so far as targeted movements?  No.  Is it because my ab routines are super-secret, known only to me and the blind Tibetan monk who taught them to me?  Get serious.  Have you seen me?  I’m not exactly Brad Pitt over here.

The reasons that I don’t delve deeply into what’s best to strengthen, tone, flatten, or otherwise overhaul the abdomen are as follows:

1) If you’re doing compound movements, as most of the exercises in the caveman gym are, you’re automatically training your “core” muscles quite nicely.  The primary task that the abdominals do is to keep the body taut when moving and lifting.  It’s asked to do this A LOT when we’re doing our lifts, especially with the sandbags.  When we do one-handed exercises, that will stress the muscles of your sides, so check that off the list.  If we are bold, and include Turkish Get-Ups in our routine, then we are further stressing the abdominal muscles, thus training them in much the same way as a sit-up or crunch.  Thus, they are pretty well trained within our basic exercises, already in evidence.

2) Ab work is, well, not that exciting.  Find exercises that work for you, then do them.  And do them again.  There’s really not much that changes, but for the reps you’re capable of.

3) It’s not rocket science.  The technique is easy, and just a few exercises will do anything you need.  Leg lifts and crunches, followed perhaps by a few twisting moves, will do the job.  There’s not a lot of stuff you can say that hasn’t already been said a million times in the fitness mags.

4) Again, have you seen me?  I have never, even when fairly skinny from grueling wrestling practices twice a day, been that “ripped abs” guy.  I don’t care, frankly.  Just as I have no enthusiasm for shaving my body hair off and oiling up to pose before a crowd, I don’t feel that my sense of worth as a person is tied up with seeing each individual muscle of my abdomen.  Although I hate to blame genetics for the lack of results one sees in the gym, there are certain body types that are not easily or healthfully coaxed into the shape that model-types prefer.  Bing.  That’s me.  I suspect that it may be a few of you, as well.  Does that mean we should give up and subsist on coffee and donuts while we watch reruns of Gilligan’s Island on TV?  Perhaps not.  We may have to be more realistic about our goals, though.

As someone who, despite a variety of conventional and unconventional exercise programs, has never been able to see any more than four of my abdominal muscles, I’ll recuse myself from delivering any sage advice on the subject.  I’ll quickly state that I’m not the one to show you the light in regard to perfect routines for a washboard stomach.  I don’t denigrate bodybuilders or ab-worship, by the way.  Whatever works for you.  I think that ripped abs are great, if they’re an offshoot of healthy eating and generalized strength.

So, then, what do I use for exercise for my stomach?  Nothing?  Am I so dismissive of the culture that I won’t do so much as a side-bend?  No.  In fact, I do a short ab workout every day.  That’s right.  Every day.  Does this go against the whole idea of periodized training, recovery, and so on?  No.  There are muscle groups in our bodies that are built to take a beating every day.  Our calves are one.  Our bellies are another.  You can hit your stomach every day, if you want to.  You may not, but you can.

Now, on most days, I just do a quick set of 50 to 100 crunches before I go to bed.  A few times per week, I do a more elaborate workout, with sit-ups, side crunches, leg lifts, and so on.  Is there a science to it?  Not really.  If I feel sassy, I do the full regime.  If it’s three in the morning and I’m dog tired, I just do a quick 50 crunches.  Do I have rippling abs?  No.  I’m too fat and derelict for a washboard.  Are they strong under there?  Heck, yes.  They’d better be, or I won’t be able to hoist heavy sandbags and toss cinderblocks around.  Strong and capable, if unseen beneath “the pony keg”.

And in terms of caveman fitness, strong and capable is more important than pretty.

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