Ab Training For Power

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In the world of fitness there are many standards when it comes to ab training. In bodybuilding having a six pack and strong abs is a standard.  In figure it may not be a standard but it is a plus. In fitness it just may be a byproduct of being in really good shape. As far as powerlifting goes however, trying to tell a powerlifter they need to do direct work their abs is like trying to tell a bodybuilder glute work is beneficial to their training.  The answer is true and beneficial in both cases, it’s convincing the athlete to do the work sometimes is the problem. If your reading this to find out how to get a great six pack, this is not the article for you. The focus today is all about working your abs for strength and power.

Direct Ab Work vs. Not Doing Direct Ab Work-

There is a constant debate that looms in the fitness circles. Do people really need direct ab work or not? Half of the “experts” you ask will say absolutely yes. The other half will give you a resounding no. The answer actually falls right down the middle. The answer falls right down the middle because for half of us the answer is yes and the other half is no. It really is dependant on what your trying to achieve fitness wise. Does every person need to hit specific training for their abdominal muscles. The answer tp that question is a definite no. If you just want to look good with toned abs. Then a good training program with a good diet should do the trick. However if your doing a lot of heavy lifting, multi-joint movements, powerlifting,or athletic movements that involve strong core and trunk support then yes you should. Power atheletes do tones for their posterior chain but often neglect their anterior chain.

Six Pack vs. Strong Abs (making the distinction-)

First before we go any further lets make one distinction. A very nice six or eight pack does not necessarily mean you have really strong abdominal muscles. Powerlifters are prime examples of this. A lot of times you would be hard pressed visually to see a powerlifters abs but they have some of the strongest abdominal muscles around. What a very nice looking six pack mostly equates to is a good diet and lean muscle.  Strong ab muscles may not always look like a six pack but strong abs make you more functional in heavy training and athletic activities.


Why are strong abs important?

Strong abs are critical for strength and power. The muscles of the abdominals hold up the torso. When the abdominals are developed to be really strong, they create a sort of natural weightlifting belt. This is crucial in exercises like squats, front squats, good mornings and types of deadlifts.  If your torso can not remain upright due to weak abdominal muscles on exercises like squats you will lean forward too much and overstress your lower back. The stronger your abs are, the more stable you are under or pulling heavy loads. Another benefit to ab training is to keep your core in balance. In powerlifting you developing really strong lower back and butt muscles is sort of a standard.  If you don’t keep your abs strong to go along with a strong lower back and butt, it’s like having a steel plate holding up your posterior and a marshmallow holding up your anterior. On exercises like front squats that use more abs than lower back, think how well that marshmallow is going to hold up trying to brace a lot of weight. Another benefit of strong abs is it helps distribute the load of weight. When your abs are not in balance with the other muscles in your core, they take on some of the load your ab muscles should help hold.


Understanding how to train for power-

One of the main mistakes people make with ab training is how they train their abs. Since we are focusing on building strong abs, lets look at how to build abs for power. Here are a few simple rules when training abs for power and strength

  • Do not do lots of reps to build strong abs-
  • Lots of reps for you abs does not do a lot for building massively strong abs. Lots of reps will build tons of muscle endurance but only moderate amounts of ab strength.
  • Do not use bodyweight exercises when trying to build abs for power-
  • Regular bodyweight ab exercises like situps, do more for muscle endurance than strength. If you want to build strong abs put some weight in your movements.
  • Keep your rep range in the 6-10 range-
  • Just like you would train other muscles heavy in the 6-10 rep range do the same for abs.
  • Focus on all parts of your abs-
  • When training to build strength and stability in your abs don’t focus only on only your upper abs. Most crunchimg exercises focus mostly on the upper abs. Be sure to specifically target the upper, lower, and obliques. 
  • Developing muscle endurance is also important when trying to develop abdominal power-

sure we want to develop strength in our abs by using heavier weights and heavier loads but working on muscle endurance is also important. The long a muscle can sustain tension under heavier loads the stronger it will become in the long run.

  • When training to build abdominal strength focus 1-2 days on heavy work and 1-2 days on building muscle endurance-

On strength days you want focus on lifting heavy and building strength. Do this by using heavier weights with a smaller rep range. Conversely you should also have an endurance day or two where you focus on building the endurance in your abdominal muscles. You should still use weight with theses exercises but you want to use lighter weights and a higher rep range, anywhere from 15-20 reps per set.

Power Exercises for Abs-

Now that we have some basic information on power ab training, let’s look at a few choice exercises to build strong abs. The chosen exercises are ones that are more useful in power and athletic activities. Unlike traditional sit ups where the movement is done off of your back, these movements move the practitioner thru various planes of motion. Here are a few choice power exercises:

Decline Barbell Sit Ups- 4 sets of 9

With a barbell (a weight you could use for 9-12 reps) held straight above your chest level as you lie on a decline bench with your legs and feet locked in place, tighten your abs. Leading with your chin and keeping your arms locked and core tensed, do a sit up until you're at a 90 angle. Once you're upright, with barbell still overhead and arms locked, slowly descend back down with control, tightening your abs as you go.


Standing Rope Crunches- 4 sets of 9

Attach a rope to a pulldown machine. Position the knee restraints of the machine at its top position. Facing away from the machine, grasp the rope with both hands and pull it down around the neck so that your hands rest on your chest. Next, flex the torso with a contraction of the abs, pulling down into the hips. Reverse this by extending the spine fully.

Barbell Ab Rollouts 4 sets 9

Kneel on an exercise mat with your shoulders directly over a barbell loaded with 10 lb. plates. Use an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Roll the bar out in front of you, keeping your arms straight and your knees in place as your hips, torso and arms go forward. Advance as far as you can without arching your back. Pause, then pull back to the starting position

Suitcase Deadlifts 4 sets of 5

You can do these off the floor. If your having trouble you can set the pins in a squat rack or even by using a smith machine set about knee level. Bend down like you are deadlifting and proceed to pick up the barbell like a suitcase. Stay tight throughout the movement.


Front Squat Isometric Holds 3 sets of 5

Set yourself up in a squat rack for safety. Place the pins about sternum height. Grab the barbell like you would a normal front squat. Make sure to keep your arms parallel to the floor or the barbell is going to go crashing down. Squat down about five inches with a slight bend in your knees. Contract your abs tightly and hold the position for 10 -15 seconds. Once you have held the weight place it down and repeat.

Barbell Jackknives 3 sets of 12

Lay on your back with arm outstretched over head holding a light barbell. Simultaneously lift your legs in the air along with your arms holding the barbell. Try to make the bar and your feet touch in the air. Descend back down to starting position. Keep your core tight throughout the movement.


Training for endurance-

For endurance days you can incorporate the same exercise but with lower weight and reps in the 15 to 20 rep range. Since we are still focused on strength weighted ab exercises will still work better endurance wise than non weighted abdominal exercises.

Granted not everyone needs direct strength work for their core but it sure can benefit almost everyone. If you’re a serious power athlete or just looking for a bit more athleticism adding strength to your anterior chain is the way to go. A strong set of abs will provide powerlifters and athletes with the trunk support they need for explosive burst, and heavy power movements. So next time your in the gym and feel you need a little extra strength maybe you should focus on some ab strengthening work.

All articles on this site are authored or co-authored by Jarueba Taylor. They are the copy written  property of Taylored Nutrition.