Tout dans la vie est une question d'équilibre d'où la nécessité de garder un esprit sain dans un corps sain.


Everything in life is a matter of balance therefore one needs to keep a healthy mind in a healthy body.


E. do REGO

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bodybuilding's Best Kept Secret by Don Alessi

Olympic Gold

Bodybuilding may never make it to the Olympics, but I believe that Olympic lifting will make it to bodybuilding. In fact, I've always recommended that bodybuilders use Olympic lifting at certain times during the training year.

I don't recommend this because I think bodybuilders need to be able to overhead press a Hummer. I recommend it because in order to master Olympic weightlifting technique you must, in the process, develop galvanized kinetic chains and strength-muscle balance. These training effects do transfer, in part, to bodybuilders and represent a plethora of untapped mass building potential.

Think you don't need Olympic lifting? Try this, Brutus: Load a scrawny 50% of your body mass on an Olympic bar. Position your stance with feet hip-width apart and toes pointed out slightly. Grasp the bar with a clean grip and press it over your head. Lock the elbows out and pull the shoulders and arms back so they're in alignment with your ears. Now T-boy, squat to parallel without bending your elbows, displacing your arms, or riding up on your toes. Can't handle it? That's too bad. Maybe it's not too late to join Curves.

So what does that prove? It proves you lack minimum strength and flexibility requirements in the posterior chain, shoulder chain, and shank. That means any prime mover that fires off of those chains and relies on them for stability (biceps, triceps, pecs, delts, calves), will never reach their potential!

In the same way that creatine was originally passed over as a bodybuilding supplement because it was considered strictly an aid for power, Olympic lifting is the bodybuilder's "best kept secret" as it has even more potential as an indirect developmental tool.

Why Olympic Lifting?

The secret is out: supplemental periods of Olympic lifting can build a strong, great-looking body. There are many training effects that stand out as particularly helpful. Let me break it down.

Every trainee that lifts weights is looking for a training effect. That training effect may be increased muscular strength, increased mass, better endurance, etc. In order to gain that training effect, the structures involved must undergo unique changes that align the development of that specific skill. In the case of Olympic lifting, the following adaptations (previously thought of as exclusive only to Olympic weightlifters) will transfer to bodybuilding:

Increase contractile force, i.e. shifts the tension-over-time curve up and to the left.

Reveal and iron out weak links in the kinetic chains (aligns the body balance).

Increase the frequency and intensity of micro-trauma (anabolic stimulus).

Increase the range of motion to the posterior chain and shoulders.

Olympic lifting will also have the following neural, chemical, structural, and technical effects:

Increased neural drive to the muscle (the rapid display of force in order to overcome inertia, i.e. strength-speed.) It's kinda like the ability to go from 0 to 60 in a Porsche rather than a Yugo. Quicker fast-twitch firing speeds allow Olympic weightlifters to accelerate large masses. This means that both the minimum load and minimum speed thresholds required to excite fast twitch fibers are met more easily. This will ultimately expose more type II fibers to hypertrophy.

The ability to store increased amounts of high energy substrates i.e. adenine tri-phosphate, creatine phosphate, etc. For example, this has an additive effect on top of loading creatine. It allows the trainee to store even greater amounts of these substrates. In the gym, this will allow the bodybuilder to squeeze out two extra reps.

The development of the contractile and non-contractile components. This includes an increase in the quantity and strength of connective tissue as well as increased stability and mobility of the various joint structures.

Using the example of a snatch, this movement causes the dynamic strength balance between the lower traps stabilizing the scapula and the deltoids mobilizing the shoulder joint. It's this musculo-skeletal rhythm that drives strengthening of the entire kinetic chain and ensures muscle balance between groups. This enables the bodybuilder to focus maximal contraction on the prime movers like the biceps instead of wasting that tension on the stabilizers of the scapula, i.e. the lower traps.

The development of dynamic flexibility and proprioception. It's a fact that Olympic lifters are the most supple of all strength athletes (as you probably realized if you tried the overhead squat example I gave above).

The Bodybuilder's Olympic Lifting Program

My focus is on the physics behind the lifts and to bust plateaus for long-term bodybuilding success. The following is a specific example of how to take advantage of Olympic weightlifting's training effect to force bodybuilding success.

Who's this program for? If you're at a plateau with 8 to 15 reps training, H.I.T. training, or super-slow type training, this will work well. If your extensors are weaker than your flexors this will kick ass. And if you're post-rehab but still encounter low back, knee, or shoulder pain, this program is likely your answer.

The following is based on my experience in targeting untapped motor units and future mass potential in the posterior and scapular chains. It corrects basic alignment and flexibility flaws developed by all bodybuilders at some time or another. It also lays the groundwork for progressively technical Olympic lifts such as the clean and snatch. (See my Meltdown Training II article for additional applications and technical descriptions of Olympic exercises.)

Muscles strengthened:


Clean grip: A clean grip places the hands on the bar slightly wider than shoulder width apart.

Snatch grip: A snatch grip is wider than other grips; it's the distance from elbow to elbow when the arms are straight out to the side.

Hook grip: A hook grip is a pronated grip where the thumb is tucked under the index and middle fingers on the same side of the bar. It provides additional power. I didn't include it as a requirement at this level, although it's good to get used to it.

The Program

Alternate day one and day two. Train twice per week for five weeks. For best results, additional flexibility work must accompany this routine.


A) Wide stance, Romanian deadlift + shrug + calf raise

Rest: 3 minutes

This exercise is designed to strengthen the medial leg muscles along with teaching the proper initiation of the posterior chain into the more technical hang clean. The bar is grasped with a clean grip. Use a wider than hip width stance, elbows extended, knees slightly bent.

Start the eccentric (negative) movement with the bar against the body. The bar is lowered to just below the knees with the backwards push of the hips and buttocks. Note: This deadlift eccentric phase should take up to four seconds and the center of mass should be positioned on the heels in the bottom position.

Explosive shrug + calf raise: Like a bungee cord, the hips and loaded hamstrings contract concentrically as the lifter begins to stand erect explosively. When the bar touches mid-thigh the lifter shrugs dynamically and extends the ankles, knees and hips.

Set to set breakdown:

Set 2: 6 reps to failure

Set 4: 6 reps, using a light 12 rep max load

B1) Reverse one-legged squat on step

Start by holding a barbell with a clean grip. Keep elbows tucked directly under the bar at all times. Stand in front of a 12 to 18 inch step. Position the toes of the planted foot on the step. Dorsi flex the ankle of the free leg so that only the heel makes contact with the ground. Using the active contraction of the vastus medialis and quads, concentrically contract and elevate the free leg to bench level. After knee extension, follow through by extending the hips.

Reps: 8, 5, 4, 6

Rest: 90 seconds

B2) Seated, single leg hamstring curls, femurs medially rotated (turned in)

Reps: 8, 5, 4, 6

Rest: 90

C) Overhead squat, heels elevated using one inch board

Position your stance with feet hip-width apart and toes pointed slightly out. Grasp the bar with a clean grip and press it over your head. Lock the elbows out and pull the shoulders and arms back so they're in alignment with your ears. Squat to parallel without bending your elbows, displacing your arms, or riding up on your toes.

Reps: 10-12

Rest: 120

D) Lateral trunk extension and flexion, elevated on bench

This strengthens the side bending muscles of the obliques and quadratus lumborum while also stretching the typically tight illiotibial band. Assume a side lying position with one arm elevated and placed on a flat bench. Feet are on the floor.

Flex the stabilized elbow into 90º adduction. The other free arm is placed overhead or on the pelvis. Extend the body so that the ankles, pelvis, shoulders and ears are aligned. To begin eccentrically, lower the pelvis into a fully stretched position. Concentrically, raise the pelvis through the midline in a coronal direction. Be careful not to rotate the pelvis or flex the hips.

Reps: 10-12

Rest: 60


A) Front squat + push press

Rest: 3 minutes

In this exercise, one rep equals one full front squat and one full push press. Example: Perform one full front squat, reset in the upright position, then go into the quarter squat to set up the push press. Let's break it down:

The front squat is similar to the back squat except with the bar in front of the body, above the clavicles, while actually resting on the deltoids. Elbows should be pointed up and palms should be facing the ceiling (reverse supinated grip). Feet may be slightly wider than shoulder width and toes out slightly.

Additionally, it's helpful in the case of trainees with tight calf muscles to elevate the heels with a one inch board. This increases squat depth. Many trainees also report painfully tight wrist flexors. Keep the load light and suck it up for three sessions as this will vanish.

For the push press part of the movement, use the same grip as described in the front squat. Position the bar in front of the neck resting on clavicles; lower the elbows so they're pointed down. Standing with the torso erect and chest expanded, bend the legs until the body is in jump position. Next, explosively dip and drive the bar upward going up on your toes. Let the heels come back down as you lock out the bar with your arms.

Set to set breakdown:

Set 2: 5 reps, maximal voluntary contraction

Set 4: 6 reps, using a light 12 rep max load

B1) Chin ups with a plus

This exercise adds scapular adduction and abduction. Grasp a chin up bar with a shoulder width grip with the palms facing you. Begin at the bottom, stretched position. First, forcibly pull together and separate the shoulder blades for one second each. Next perform the concentric portion of a traditional chin up, forcing the elbows down and back as the chin passes the bar.

Reps: 7, 5, 4, 6

Rest: 90

B2) Standing, partial triceps extension in rack

Begin by setting the safety bars just above head level. Stand with the torso erect, head level, and chest expanded. Grasp the bar using a clean grip. Press the bar overhead, locking the elbows out and pulling the arms to the posterior of the head (in alignment with the ears).

Reps: 7, 5, 4, 6

Rest: 90

C) Snatch grip barbell external rotation

Using extended elbows, grasp a barbell with a snatch grip and place at mid-thigh level. Explosively shrug the shoulders concentrically. Once they're maximally contracted, use that momentum to bend the elbows and rotate the shoulders until the elbows are locked. The overhead "catch" position once again extends the shoulders and pulls the arms to the posterior of the head (in alignment with the ears). Note: Keep the bar traveling as close to the body as possible.

Reps: 4-6

Rest: 120

D) Elite sit-up, elbows to knees, feet unanchored

Lie on the floor, knees flexed and feet flat in typical sit up position. Don't anchor the feet. Cross the arms over the shoulders and grasp the deltoids. Begin by firing the transverses abdominis towards the spine and then flexing the trunk until the elbows touch the patella. The rep doesn't count if the feet don't remain flat or the hands come off the shoulders at any time.

Reps: 10

Rest: 60


There you have it: an Olympic lifting program to help the bodybuilder break out of a training rut! Keep in mind there is a learning curve here. It takes time to learn the patterns, so be patient, this isn't a "get big instantly" program. Start stretching and keep learning and progressing so you make continual progress and don't develop bad habits.

Note: My specialty isn't training future clean and jerk or snatch champions. I'm only a student of competitive Olympic lifting. If you're seeking the best Olympic weightlifting coach, contact USA Olympic coach Jim Schmitz at or phone him at 415- 648- 7231.

About the Author

Monday, November 17, 2008

7 Tips for Long Term Leanness Getting shredded ain't that tough. Staying that way is! by Chris Shugart

The fitness magazines are full of them. The bodybuilding rags are full of them. Even T-Nation is full of them: articles about how to lose fat and discover your abs. What's missing? Simple: Info on how to stay that way once you've reached your goal.

Sometimes we resistance-trained gym rats make fun of housewife-types for their yo-yo dieting ways. Yet don't many of us do the same thing, only give it different names like "mass phase" or "cutting phase?" Now, there's nothing wrong with getting your bulk on during certain times of the year, but this desire for size sometimes results in a guy who basically just looks fat 300 days of the year.

Nice traps, but nice love handles too. Nice life-shortening central adiposity you've got going there, buddy.

These days, I prefer to stay under 12% year around. Right now I'm sitting at 9% and feel incredible. This, by the way, isn't a natural state for me. I was chubby during most of my childhood and rode the fat-ass express train in college. With hard training, trial and error nutrition strategies, and some good supplements, I was able to win the battle of the bulge. Win the battle? Yes, but the war is never over.

How come no one talks about the struggles of staying lean? Probably because most people are fat, and there's just a bigger audience (no pun intended) for how-to-lose-it articles than how-to-keep-it-off articles. This article may change that.

Here's how I've learned to stay in the single-digit body fat zone in spite of my fat boy genetics and hungry-man ways. There's not a lot of deep science here, just practical strategies to help you stay ripped for more than a couple of weeks at a time.

Tip #1: Strategically vary meal size.

Here's the scoop: Eat a big breakfast. Eat medium sized, frequent meals during the day. Eat a very small meal at night.

Science has backed up this style of eating, but I want to focus on the common sense stuff. A big breakfast does two things:

1) It breaks the fast of sleep. You need a lot of good food in the morning because you haven't eaten all night. Eat breakfast every day, and eat a big one!

2) Breakfast fuels you for the rest of the day. Basically, you can "burn up" almost anything you eat for breakfast because you'll be awake for the next 15 or 16 hours. Studies have shown that breakfast skippers tend to overcompensate later in the day. In other words, they skip breakfast and pig out on crap at lunch and at night. Not exactly the key to long term leanness.

Okay, so a big, honkin' breakfast is a good idea. So why a small dinner? For almost the same reason: you're about to go to bed; is your body going to use that caloric energy or store it? Store it, of course.

I like eating strategies that have been supported by both science and in-the-trenches lifters, and this meal sizing trick isn't new. Bodybuilder Lee Haney used it back in the day, and nutritional studies support it today.

Tip #2: Strategically time carb and fat intake.

I'm going to keep the language here real simple: Your body handles carbs much better in the morning. It handles carbs poorly at night, but tends to handle fats better.

So go with your body's natural flow: Have a good shot of carbohydrates for breakfast and consume fewer at night. Likewise, keep the dietary fats low in the morning and higher in the evening. Dr. Lonnie Lowery refers to this as Temporal Nutrition, and it works, especially if you're in a phase where you want to stay very lean and avoid excess fat gain.

Based on Tips #1 and #2, here's what a typical breakfast and dinner will look like for me:

This basic strategy keeps me at 9% body fat without sacrificing good, anabolic nutrition. In other words, I don't feel deprived and I'm not giving up muscle gains, although obviously I'm not going to gain muscle as fast as I would in a traditional "bulking" cycle. And that's fine when my primary goal is leanness.

Now, the exception to the above guideline is post-workout. I train around noon so this strategy works out for me. However, if you train at night, don't sweat a high carb post-workout drink. As Dr. Lowery has stated, the post-workout period is the "great corrector." Carbs consumed after training are "put to work," so have them, even if you train at 9PM.

Tip #3: Increase your NEPA.

When I dropped from around 12% to 9% body fat, one of the strategies I used was a daily walk. I know, I know, I've teased these chubby "walkers" in the past myself. "Get a real workout!" I wanted to yell from my pick-up truck window. But if you're already weight training and maybe doing some sprints, an early morning or nightly walk will really take you to the next level of leanness, and keep you there.

Increased NEPA (non-exercise physical activity) is a powerful tool when you want to keep your abs fully visible. You may only be in the gym three to five hours per week; what about the rest of the time? For desk jockeys, actively increasing NEPA could be the difference between single-digit body fat and "muscular guy with fat gut syndrome."

To boost my NEPA, I take stairs whenever possible, I park far away from stores so I'll have to walk more, I refuse to roll my luggage at the airport, and I generally try to take more steps per day. You can do that or you can just take a scheduled walk. I usually pop in an audio book, leash up my Labrador, and take off either early in the morning before breakfast or late in the evening after my last meal. The pace is fast, but it's not exactly "cardio."

I never thought this made much of a difference until a few months ago when I stopped doing it. Although my diet and weight training stayed the same, my body fat climbed slowly back into the double digits. After two weeks of getting back into the walking habit, I was back to single-digit delight; all from the ridiculously simple activity of walking more.

Tip #4: Stop it with the cheat meals (or most of them anyway).

My philosophy used to be this: Eat clean all week; reward myself with piles of garbage on the weekend. Here's what woke me up. One day I'm at a seminar in Canada with Dr. John Berardi. We're shooting the shit and I mention my "pig out on the weekend" philosophy. JB looked me up and down, his eyes pausing on the gut I had at the time, and said, "It's not working though, is it?"

Oh man, I cussed that cocky bastard for days. But he was right.

In the years that followed, I cut back to Saturday-only pig-outs, then a "one cheat meal per week" strategy. I slowly became leaner and leaner. These days, cheat meals come rarely, if at all. After the Velocity Diet I lost my taste for most cheat foods. I simply stopped liking most of them and developed a taste for healthier fare, an unexpected but much appreciated side effect of that strict diet.

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to go to The Cheesecake Factory, a restaurant that used to be my ultimate choice for a cheat meal. I'd planned to pig out too; it had been months since I'd dove into a big 1000 calorie dessert. I got there and, much to my surprise, I just didn't want it. The habit was finally dead. (I had a great Thai steak salad instead.)

For those that still blow the hell out of their diets at least once per week, I only ask that you examine both your goals and your physique. If you're a skinny guy trying to gain weight, well, a whole pizza on Saturday night may not be a bad thing.

But if you're like I was, a "fit" guy with a gut, then maybe it's time for a change. I'd suggest a step-by-step approach. Have only one cheat per week if you're currently having two. If you're having one, go to one every two weeks.

Step it down. Break the cycle. You'll feel better, you'll look better, you'll be healthier in the long run, and women will grab your butt.

Tip #5: Don't eat too late at night.

Long story short: For years I worried about "going catabolic" as I slept at night. I visualized my hard-earned muscle atrophying away as I dreamed about leopard skin thongs.

To prevent this, I had a big meal right before bed. I mean, right before. I'd swallow the last bite as my head hit the pillow. Guess what? I could never stay really lean doing this. Single digit body fat defied me.

In short, I stopped doing it. Now I don't eat in the two hours or so before bed. Now I can easily stay at 9%. Coincidence? I don't think so.

I still worry a little about losing muscle, but as long as my last meal is high protein and slow digesting, and as long as I wake up to a big, equally high-protein breakfast, then I don't lose muscle.

Now, if you're a hard-gaining, skinny-as-a-rail teenager, go ahead and eat before bed. Maybe chug a protein shake in the middle of the night too. But if you've struggled to stay lean and have "fat boy tendencies," don't eat right before bedtime.

Tip #6: Don't eat quite as much on off days.

This is pretty straightforward. You need more fuel to get through a tough workout, and you burn up more fuel (calories) during it. So on your off days, eat a little less to match your lower energy expenditure.

How much less? Play around with it. There are a lot of variables involved but try 100 to 300 calories less and see what happens.

If you use a quality post-workout drink like Surge, then you may already be following this tip since you only ingest that supplement on weight training days anyway.

Tip #7: Use Carbolin 19.

Carbolin 19 is an interesting supplement because it can give you an edge in mass phases and cutting phases. Long story short, what you'll notice is a shift in body composition toward lean mass. I consider Carbolin 19 to be a staple for the person who wants to gain muscle while staying lean. For more detailed info, click HERE.

Long Term Leanness

These strategies aren't for everyone. They're for the guy or gal who's lost a lot of fat and wants to keep it off. If you're the type that gets shredded for summer and bulks up in the winter, then these tips should help you easily stay lean all summer long.

These strategies may also help you if you're a guy like me: a former fatty who got lean, loves it, and refuses to get fat again. For you, these tips may be your key to long term leanness!

© 1998 — 2005 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ab Training From the Inside Out by John Romaniello

Breathing isn't one of those things we normally think about. Being the morons that we are — according to the general public, at least — bodybuilders generally prefer to devote our limited brain power towards things which seem more pertinent, such as calculating food intake or figuring out which tank top will make our guns look the biggest (okay, maybe that one's just me).

Actions like breathing, blood flow, and the like are functions of the autonomic nervous system, which places them under the category of "Cool Stuff My Body Does When I'm Not Looking." I know, I know... that sounds very scientific, but try not to get too lost in the industry jargon.

The take home message is that breathing isn't generally a topic on the forefront of most minds... unless you suddenly stop, in which case you probably start thinking about it a lot. It's kinda' like that chick you keep on the back burner and only call when you're really desperate — not really a concern until it seems like a life or death situation, is she? Wait... I think we're talking about me again.

Moving on, if you guessed that this is the part where I tell you how important breathing is, you're right. Yes, yes, very good, Cap'n Obvious. You probably also know that breathing is pretty essential for life, so I guess I should just skip that part, too, huh? But, fear not, my ever so deductive friend. I am not going to discuss "cleansing breaths" or anything. I shall leave that to Yoga teachers and Lamaze coaches. Instead, this writing will be concerned with something called Power Breathing. Yeah, that sounds a lot more manly, doesn't it? We'll be discussing breathing methods that'll get you strong, stable, and build some abs you can use to grate cheese. (If you're lactose intolerant, you can grate something else. Carrots, probably. I think people grate carrots.)

Power Breathing: What It Be

The phrase is used in various circles to describe how to structure breathing patterns to enhance the performance of a specific task. While the task will generally vary greatly with the group, it seems that the terminology doesn't. A few keystrokes on virtually any internet search engine will reveal that singers use their methods of power breathing to enhance projection, range, and even depth of voice. Similarly, alternative medicine gurus recommend their brand of power breathing to promote relaxation and an overall sense of well being.

While these goals and usages of different types of power breathing are certainly worthy of note, they are decidedly not reasons which would influence the people of T-Nation to incorporate such a practice into their overall training methodology. I make mention of these uses only because "power breathing" is a fairly generic term. As such, it's one that can be applied to different methods (depending on the group), and it's necessary to realize that not all "power breathing" is the same. Brief acknowledgement of such use also serves as a way to clarify that while power breathing can and does have relevance in innumerable circumstances, we'll focus exclusively on its applications to weight training and physique enhancement.

With regard to our purposes, power breathing is essentially a method of breathing through resistance, sometimes punctuated by brief periods of breath-holding (known as the Valsalva maneuver). Often prescribed by Russian strength coaches and other mad scientists, the goal of power breathing has generally always been to allow for increased power output during a lift. This occurs by way of improved stability resulting from the intra-abdominal pressure created when the technique is applied.

For the duration of a power breath, nearly all lower trunk muscles contract with significant force as oxygen leaves your body. The tightening begins internally, with the transversus abdominus and diaphragm contracting dynamically as you "push" the air out. Externally, your rectus abdominus and spinal erectors simply contract isometrically. Keep in mind you're applying resistance, so the breathing itself is actually quite a workout for those internal muscles. This is actually one of the primary uses of power breathing and I'll discuss it later in greater detail.

Overall, the practice will strengthen all of the muscles used for trunk stabilization. This is true to such an extent that world renowned sport biochemist Vladimir Zatsiorsky has said that he considers power breathing to be the best "core" exercise. We'll give ol' Vlad the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant "core specific," which is why he mentions breathing over squats and deads in terms of effectiveness.

So, How's It Done?

With all that basic, introductory information out of the way, it's time to discuss the proper execution of a power breath. You can actually do this at your computer right now to get a feel for it. Here is how it's done: Stand up. Now sit down. Good, now stand up again. Touch your nose. Put one hand on your head. Okay, okay, none of that is related to power breathing, it's just more evidence that if I ever took over the world I'd make everyone dance the Macerana for my own sick amusement.

Here is the real way to do it. In either a standing or sitting position, take a deep breath into your abdomen. Place your tongue along the ridge in your mouth just behind your teeth. Next, flex your abs and your glutes, and contract your rectal sphincter; then exhale forcefully through the 'blockage' created by your tongue and teeth; you should hear a noise that sounds like, "hsssst." You should feel a contraction internally, and if your deep abdominal muscles are relatively untrained, it won't be long before a burning sensation sets in. Continue to exhale until all of the air is expelled.

You've just completed one power breath!

Be sure to inhale into your belly, not your throat — a good way to spot yourself on this is to practice in front of a mirror. If when you inhale your shoulders rise, you're breathing into your chest and throat. When you exhale, the air will travel back the same way; unfortunately, forcefully exhaling in that manner may actually cause your head to explode. Seriously; I saw it in a movie once.

Who Can Benefit?

Now you know what power breathing is and how it's done. All we have left to cover is who power breathing benefits and how to incorporate it into your training regimen.

There are a multitude of reasons to incorporate power breathing into your training, but we'll just focus on some of the more impressive ones.

1) Imbalanced? Fix it!

Abdominal imbalances occur quite frequently in bodybuilding, much more often than would be expected. The most common of these imbalances results from years of improper training and usually shows up in people who used to be overweight. Sadly, many misinformed overweight people mistakenly believe that by doing hundreds of crunches and sit-ups, or by using ab do-dads with fancy "resistance bands," they'll lose the gut. Obviously, we know this will never work out the way these people want it to, as spot reduction is impossible without a bit of surgical aid. One unfortunate side effect is that (in many people) such training will — over time — create an imbalance between the rectus abdominus and transversus abdominus.

Without getting too far into an anatomy lesson, we'll just give a basic (very, very basic) overview of how this happens. The visible muscle of the abdomen, the rectus abdominus (RA), lies just superficial to the internal muscles of the abdominal cavity. The most important of these is the transversus abdominus (TA), to which the rectus is partially attached to and supported by. So over the years, all those crunches and the like (which target only the RA) will have a cumulative hypertrophic effect. The RA will grow bigger, stronger, and heavier, while the TA remains relatively unchanged. The result is that, eventually, the RA will be so overdeveloped that the TA simply cannot support the weight of its superficial counterpart — a sort of sagging is the final consequence.

The majority of individuals who experience this phenomenon never notice; however, those that finally get their training and nutrition in order certainly will. Once these trainees lose a considerable amount of fat, they find that no matter how lean they get, they still have a distended belly. That's right, folks: a GH gut without the GH; pregnant with a six pack. Normally, these people would have one of two choices: circus freak or professional bodybuilder... well, that's actually one choice. However, in this situation, power breathing earns its stripes and can be of great use.

As mentioned earlier, power breathing places great emphasis on the TA and other inner abdominal muscles, but not much on the RA. Applied properly, power breathing can be used to strengthen the transverse abdominal wall, correcting the imbalance by allowing the formerly weak TA to hold up that hypertrophied rectus. Neat, eh? Now you'll finally be able to leave the circus! No one will ever call you "Cletus the pregnant dog boy" again!

2) Slice n' Dice

Keeping on the topic of using power breathing purely for the purposes of achieving physique goals, we come to our next use. As stated previously, the act of performing a power breath causes the transversus abdominus to contract dynamically while the rectus contracts isometrically or statically. For vain guys like us, this works out perfectly. You see, regardless of whether you suffer from the aforementioned ab imbalance, having a strong TA will improve the over all appearance of your precious six pack, as it will help you achieve a more muscular midsection.

That aside, the important thing here is the static contraction of the RA. You may not think of this as "work" for the very visible rectus, but in actuality the reverse is true. While the RA will certainly receive little to no hypertrophy-inducing stimulus from power breathing, it will be exposed to a substantial amount of time in a flexed state. Why does this matter? Well, because it'll help you get so ripped you'll have to scotch tape your skin on, that's why.

Maximally, statically (isometrically) contracting a muscle will improve its neurogenic muscle tone through two pathways. First, by sensitizing the alpha and gamma motor neurons communicating with that muscle; and second, by improving the intensity at which that muscle will be able to contract isometrically. Resultantly, contractions of this type have been shown time and again to greatly improve vascularity, density, separation, and overall appearance in muscles which are highly exposed to them. While static holds have a host of benefits, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this one: assuming you're already lean, isometric training is second to none for bringing out the cuts!

This is exactly the reason practically every pro bodybuilder incorporates intense posing into his contest prep regimen — the constant tension being applied isometrically helps immensely with getting into stage-worthy shape. Not that I often put much stock in training tips from the pros, but if there is one thing these guys DO know about, it's flexing in the mirror!

Having said that, a few sessions of power breathing each week can help build some purty lookin' abs, so all you narcissists out there should be happy. I'm not getting down on you — a little narcissism never hurt anyone. Uh, except that Narcissus guy... but other than that it never hurt anyone.

In addition to all that jazz, though, power breathing can greatly increase strength, which brings us to...

3) Stability as Strength

As previously alluded to, the main — and most traditional — use of power breathing is for increased strength. It's been long known that power breathing can be used as one method of increasing poundages in lifts which require stabilization from the core. Off the top of my head I can think of two: the squat and the deadlift. Heard of 'em?

It's already been mentioned several times over, but it should be reiterated that frequent power breathing will increase the strength of just about all core muscles. These muscle work to stabilize the trunk during our favorite lifts and also serve as protection for the spine. Since you'll be able to handle greater loads for longer periods of time, there will be a concurrent increase in the amount of weight that can be used in various exercises requiring a great deal of trunk stabilization.

Power breathing increases not only the strength of the core muscles, but also allows you to increase overall strength by making use of intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). By creating and lifting under increased IAP, we can greatly amplify both stability and strength. This phenomenon occurs by way of reflex action taking place due to the excitation of various receptors in the abdominal and thoracic cavities. This in turn sends signals to your brain to increase muscular tension throughout your body. All of this ultimately culminates in you lifting more weight and feeling pretty spiffy about it. This is a good argument for using power breathing and the Valsalva maneuver during a lift, although that topic has been hotly debated. Overall, though, it should be pretty obvious that incorporating power breathing into your training should yield some strength gains.

So, in short, who can benefit from power breathing? If ya got abs, you can.

Ninjas Beware!

I just want to offer the caveat that performing power breathing or the Valsalva manuever may not be the best idea for people who practice certain types of martial arts, particularly those that involve a lot of grappling. In a recent interview with T-Mag, Coach Scott Sonnon said the following:

The extent of my martial arts experience is pretty much limited to whuppin' some serious ass on my Xbox, and while I know how impressive that is, I'd have to say that I am not really qualified to speak much about martial arts. That being the case, you'd probably want to take Coach Sonnons' advice.

Making it Happen

One of the greatest things about power breathing is its utter simplicity. Once you have it, you have it. Because you need no equipment and the exercise is pretty unobtrusive, you can do these nearly anywhere at any time; at your desk, at the gym, or while you're stuck in traffic. Now you'll never have an excuse to be unproductive again.

However, many people prefer to take a much more structured approach. That being the case, I've included a few programs below. These sessions should be done on off days, or following workouts where you performed squats and/or deadlifts. As a general rule, don't do a full power breathing session the day before one of these movements; your core will be too fatigued for you to perform properly. That being said, here are some programs to help get you strong, stable, and shredded.


This is pretty self-explanatory. If you're just beginning power breathing, perform three sessions each week, with each session consisting of 5 sets of 5 breaths, each lasting 5 seconds. You should be exhaling fairly forcefully, but not at full intensity. You'll probably still have some wind left, but terminate each breath at the 5 second mark.


Basically, the same as above, except that each session will be 5 sets of 10 breaths. You should be exhaling with enough force to last until around 7 seconds towards the beginning of the session and as you progress, you'll probably start to "fail" at around 5 seconds.


This program is very difficult and is best suited for the purposes of getting those shredded abs we discussed earlier. You're to perform 10 sets of 5 reps, but the duration is as short as possible. Essentially, you should expel the air with as much force as possible, which will cause both the TA and RA to contract maximally. Keep in mind this is an advanced program and should only be undertaken when you've really mastered the form. If you're still relatively new to power breathing, you may wind up breathing into and out of your throat rather than your belly as you begin to tire. This could be potentially dangerous, so you must be certain to maintain perfect technique the entire time.

T-Man Modifications

After you've done all of the above routines a few times, you may feel that you have outgrown them and want something more challenging. Rather than simply increasing the volume and or frequency with which you perform any of the programs, it's much more effective in terms of strength gains to increase the difficulty. Essentially, you must add resistance.

Although you can probably find a host of gadgets which will add resistance to your breathing, it's much cheaper and more practical to just use something that's abundant and effective: water. To make use of this complicated bit of training equipment, you may have to visit your local hardware store.

Remember when you were a kid, and your parents never let you blow bubbles in your chocolate milk? Well get ready to taste sweet revenge! Get yourself a piece of piping, rubber hose, or the like, and simply immerse it in a bucket of water or even your bathtub. This technique is exactly the same, except that you're breathing through a hose rather than through your teeth. Generally speaking, the longer and thinner the pipe or hose you're using, the harder it will be to blow.*


If you're not satisfied with the rate at which your numbers are (or aren't) going up, or the general look of your midsection, add some power breathing into your training and you'll be pleased with the results. Give the above a try, even if you're skeptical — especially if you're skeptical. At the very least, it'll take your mind off trying to pick out a tank top to wear, ya' bloody narcissist.

About the Author

John Romaniello may actually be the biggest loser, ever. It was recently revealed to the Testosterone Inquisitor that Romaniello actually took up weight-training in an attempt to look more like his Advanced Dungeons & Dragons character, "Fangor the Barbarian" so the Harry Potter fans would stop taking his lunch money. What a dork! You may email insults to


1. Leonard, Charles. 1998. The Neuroscience of Human Movement. Mosby, Inc. St. Louis.

2. Tortora, Gerard J., and Sandra Reynolds Grabowski. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000.

© 1998 — 2003 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

High Performance Core Training by Mike Robertson, M.S., C.S.C.S., U.S.A.W.

You've been training your abs incorrectly forever. That's right, forever.

But how? Have all of us T-Nation writers missed the "core training" boat? While we as authors hopefully know a little bit about this stuff, the fact of the matter is there's a paradigm shift going on with regards to the functional anatomy of the core, as well as how it should be trained for maximal performance.

I'd be willing to wager that if you take the steps I outline in this article you'll not only be stronger, but you'll have improved posture, better recruitment patterns, be less prone to injury, and live to do a lot more "hanging and banging" in the weightroom than some of your meathead buddies.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

What is the Core?

Let's start off with a basic, working description of what the "core" is. Some will tell you it's just the abs, some will say the abs and low back, and some will tell you it's a whole host of muscles including the gluteals and lats. In essence, while some people are focused solely on the abs, others are focused on how the entire torso and surrounding musculature works together to promote stability.

For our purposes, let's define the core as the superficial and deep abdominal muscles (transverse abdominus, rectus abdominus, internal obliques, external obliques, and quadratus lumborum) along with the superficial and deep muscles of the low back (multifidi, spinal erectors, etc.) We could make this very messy, but let's keep things simple for now.

Core Strength? Or Core Stability?

The "core stability" fad started almost a decade ago, with every trainer under the sun putting his clients and athletes on stability balls and having them crunch their little hearts out.

The line of thinking espoused at that time was that strong abs would help support the back and therefore reduce low back injuries. As well, this smoke and mirrors approach appealed to the masses and gave unqualified trainers a selling point for their one-hour core training class and other "services." But, I digress...

A few years later, we decided that rotation was more important; after all, most sport movements are rotational in nature, right? So, we had people espousing the benefits of "rotational" core training such as Russian twists, Tornado Balls, and a host of other movements that trained the obliques and lateral core musculature.

Now remember, all these exercises were trained to enhance "core stability." But let's back up for a second. Were we really training stability? Or, were we training for strength? Wouldn't stability inherently be describing something that isn't moving or is unable to move? In fact, just check out the definition of stability:

So in other words, when we think core stability we should be thinking about maintaining a certain (hopefully optimal) position versus promoting movement. In this case, what we consider optimal would be a position of "normal" lumbar curve and a neutral pelvis.

As strength athletes, how much do you think we need to train for core strength? I'd argue not nearly as much as we are right now. Think about it like this: When you're squatting or pulling a ton of weight, all you do is get your core super tight and then squat, right? How often do you load up a maximal squat, throw it on your back, and then rotate? Or flex your trunk?

Hopefully not often (at least if you value the health of your spine!). Instead, every movement we train in the weightroom demands that we stabilize our core and therefore our spine. In fact, as current literature seems to suggest, the role of our core musculature is to actually preventmovement at the lumbar spine versus promoting it.

Literature on Core Stability

Let's start off with a quote from Shirley Sahrmann regarding the role of the abdominal muscles:

Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes, p. 69.

What Ms. Sahrmann is getting at here is when you have the right amount of abdominal or core strength, not only do you stabilize the spine optimally, but you can carry this optimal relationship over to movement (squatting, deadlifting, lunging, etc.).

While it's obvious that very few of us have an optimal relationship at rest, this is magnified more so when we're asked to perform complex or heavily weighted movements (such as squatting, deadlifting, lunging, etc.). Think about it, if you're in poor alignment when you're just standing around, how bad is it going to be when you're trying to move heavy iron?

So what happens when we have weakness of the core? I'll let Porterfield and DeRosa explain:

Mechanical Low Back Pain, p. 137.

If we're looking solely at the spine, the anterior pelvic tilt produced can increase low back pain, but what else can it do? This anterior pelvic tilt puts increased stress on the anterior joint line of the knee, and also puts the hamstring in a position of constant stretch, leaving it open to strains as well.

So not only are you at an increased risk for injury (in both the short and long term), but this position also shuts off your primary hip extensors — the gluteals. While some people still doubt the power of the booty, I'm here to remind you that poor gluteal function is going to negatively affect virtually every compound lower body lift you perform.

Don't doubt the power of the booty!

A Better Model

Now that we're beginning to see how the abs are better suited to preventing movement and increasing stability, where does this leave us? If we know that one segment of our body needs increased stability (in this case, the lumbar spine), it's highly likely that the segments which lie above and below (e.g. the thoracic spine and hips) need improved mobility. (Eric Cressey and I covered the topic of hip mobility from top-to-bottom in our Magnificent Mobility DVD.)

If you don't believe me, take it straight from the man himself, Stuart McGill:

Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, p. 38.

So if I've totally lost you along the way, here's the three second synopsis:

Hip mobility + lumbo-pelvic stabilization + thoracic spine mobility = healthy, optimal functioning body.

Now, let's give you the tools necessary to get that body healthy and hit some PR's!

Implications on Training

Now that we're on the topic of stability, you're probably thinking something along these lines:

Sure, great stability to squat, deadlift, perform good mornings, etc. Hell, that's what I used to think, too! But when we think about it, we've only got one way to stabilize this load: via our spinal erectors. To fully understand this, let's go back to our typical flawed posture that most strength athletes share: an excessive lumbar lordosis, coupled with a significant anterior pelvic tilt. This leads to:

Now, imagine taking this already flawed posture into a dynamic movement like a back squat. When you add all this up, it tells me you're going to use your low back to stabilize all the weight, and your quads, hamstrings, and even your adductors are going to do all the squatting. Not only is this an inefficient squatting pattern, but it's going to leave you open to a number of possible injuries.

In essence, we've taught our bodies to stabilize in half of the sagittal plane (the low back) because our abs are lengthened and weak, putting them in an inefficient position to produce stability. So what if we got our abs on par with our lower backs? We'd decrease the lordosis of our spine, decrease our anterior pelvic tilt, get our glutes into the game (moving more weight!), reduce the risk of strained muscles, and balance out wear and tear on our joints.

If you ask me, that sounds pretty sweet!

Now, let's take it a step further, because we've still only discussed stability in one plane. What if we strengthened our quadratus lumborum and obliques to provide stability in the frontal plane? And our obliques and deep back musculature to provide stability in the transverse plane?

Now, my friend, you've built the stability to move some serious weight in the healthiest, most balanced posture imaginable. But how do we do it? The key is a step-by-step progression that provides you with all the tools necessary to fix the problem at hand.

The Program

The program I've outlined is much like a geographic map: it's going to give you the basic idea of how to get from Point A to Point B. However, what it's not going to do is give you the exact directions to get you there. Why? For one reason, we're all starting from a different point. I wouldn't give you directions to travel from Indy to Chicago if you were starting in Detroit, would I? Instead, I challenge you to know where you're going and to find the most efficacious route for you to get there.

Phase I — Basic Re-Training (emphasis on core stability, T-spine and hip mobility, and glute activation)

Our first goal is to re-educate our core muscles to do what we want them to do. Very simply, most of us will need to make wholesale changes to our abdominal training, putting an emphasis on stability.

I covered a ton of exercises and progressions in my Core Training for Smart Folks article, so if you haven't read that, it's a great starting point. As well, the pillar bridge (pictured below) is another great isolation exercise for the core.

Don't get lulled into the "more time is better" mantra. Instead, focus on posteriorly tilting the pelvis and squeezing the glutes hard throughout. On the side bridges, make sure to keep the hips up, pelvis tilted posteriorly, glutes tight, and the body in a nice straight line.

Pillar Bridges (Side and Front)

Along these same lines, it helps to add in exercises that force our abdominals to work as stabilizers. If you can front squat properly, that would be a great option; however, I'd imagine since you're reading this you'll probably need something more remedial! Instead, try out the plate-loaded front squat that I learned from my colleague Bill Hartman:

Plate-loaded front squat

The beauty in this exercise is the simplicity. By putting the load out in front of your body, you have to use the abdominals to stabilize. Remember, the goal here isn't to see how much weight we can use, but rather to challenge the abdominals' role as stabilizers and strive to maintain optimal low back and pelvic position. If you can't do this, either shorten the range of motion or use less weight!

Phase II — Taking optimal positioning to "simple" upper and lower body exercises

This article wouldn't be too exciting if I simply listed and described a bunch of isolation core movements. Not only would it be boring, it would be impractical, too! The following exercises are great for training economy because you'll not only be training your core but big muscle groups as well.

The first exercise is the two-point row; it'll challenge our stability in the transverse (rotational) plane. You're going to set up with a dumbbell in your hand and your legs and torso as if you're going to perform a Romanian deadlift. From here, brace the core and perform a row. It's really that simple! The most important facet of this exercise is to not allow rotation while raising or lowering the dumbbell.

Two-point row

The single-arm military press is very similar to the two-point row: we're preventing movement versus creating it; however, this time we're preventing movement in the frontal (side-to-side) plane. Grab a dumbbell and set your feet shoulder-to-hip width apart. With the dumbbell resting on the shoulder, brace the core and drive the dumbbell overhead. The key here is not to allow any side-bending throughout the movement; keep the core tight!

Single arm military press

The Zercher squat is another great exercise to include during this time because it really loads our anterior stabilizers (our rectus abdominus) versus the spinal erectors (think movements like good mornings and squats). While Zercher squats can be brutally painful, they can be brutally effective as well.

Load up a barbell in the rack and set it on a set of low pins or catches. Placing the bar in the crook of your elbows, lift it out and set-up with a moderate squat stance. Brace the core, sit back to the proper depth (you know where it is), and then return to the start.

Zercher squat

Finally, single-leg work is another great option at this point in time. Single-leg movements not only allow for optimal positioning, but they can really blast your legs as well! While performing any single-leg exercise (lunges, step-ups, or Bulgarian squats), focus on staying tall, keeping the core tight throughout, and pushing through the heel to activate those glutes. Trust me, once you figure out how to do these movements correctly you'll realize what you were missing out on!

If the single-leg exercises aren't quite challenging enough, try this variation I learned from Mike Hope and Joe DeFranco. Adding chains to the bar will greatly increase the stabilization properties of the core.

Finally, just focus on "bracing" hard on every movement you perform — it doesn't have to be an "ab dominant" exercise to train your core musculature. Focus on staying tight no matter what exercise you're performing.

This isn't meant to be an all-encompassing list of exercises; rather, it's enough food for thought so that you can see how certain exercises force you to stabilize in various planes of motion.

Phase III — Taking optimal positioning to complex exercises

At this point in time, you should have improved mobility around the hips and thoracic spine, improved stiffness in the rectus abdominus and external obliques, and those glutes should be firing like nobody's business. Now the only thing left to do is get back under the iron and re-groove your squat and deadlift patterns!

Now, if I may give a word of caution here: please don't jump right back into maximal loading! Your body has changed! You've fixed it for the better, and movements that used to be old hat are going to look and feel different. Start off with a moderate-to-light weight and work on re-grooving the movement. Chances are, even if you haven't performed these movements for quite some time, they're going to feel really, really good!

Here's a good example: I've been following this exact style of program myself for the last two months, and hadn't squatted or deadlifted for that entire time. The first time I squatted I ended up doing speed work with a weight that I would've normally used as a work set. And the pulls? The following week I worked up to a raw PR with a ton left in the tank. Not only did it feel like I had rockets in my ass coming off the floor, but the lockout was smooth as silk to boot. I think there might be something to all this...


I hope you can see that there's a lot more to training the core than we once thought, and it can be a hell of a lot more fun than what you've been doing up to this point. The days of banging out a few crunches have come and gone. Use the ideas and examples I've included here and reap the benefits!

To purchase Mike's “Magnificent Mobility” DVD, check it out at the Biotest store here.

About the Author

© 1998 — 2006 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Core Training for Smart Folks by Mike Robertson

Bodybuilders and Powerlifters Unite

A few weekends ago, I had the privilege of presenting a full-day seminar on how posture relates to performance at the Poliquin Performance Center in Chicago. I was glad to learn that not only were people more cognizant of how important posture was, but that posture actually played a significant role in the performance of their lifts.

On the other hand, I also learned that quite a few people are so focused on one topic that they've totally missed the boat on others!

For example, T-Nation has published a couple of articles of mine about the benefits of glute activation work. However, the other half of the equation is getting your abdominals brutally strong. This is where most everyone seems to fall off the proverbial wagon. The goal of glute activation work isn't just getting the glutes firing; it's actually fixingthe postural flaws that cause lack of glute firing, most notably excessive lordosis of the lumbar spine and anterior pelvic tilt (APT).

Now, I'm constantly judged on two different ideals: Those of powerlifters and those of bodybuilders. For the powerlifters, you're never quite strong enough. For the bodybuilders, you're never quite lean enough or never quite big enough. But what if I told you I can help you improve the appearance of your mid-section while simultaneously improving the performance of your lifts? Sounds pretty cool, eh?

Let's look into the functional anatomy to see what I've come up with...

Functional Anatomy

When we discuss the abdominals, we're essentially discussing four muscle groups: the rectus abdominus, external obliques, internal obliques, and transverse abdominus. Each has specific individual roles, but let's keep things brutally simple here:

Our current line of thinking when examining the ab muscles is geared toward producing motion (e.g. rectus abdominus contraction leads to trunk flexion). However, Sahrmann states in her book, Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes, that a significant role of the lower rectus abdominus and external obliques is actually preventing motion, or promoting stability of the lumbo-pelvic region.

So, while many of you are focusing the majority of your ab training on trunk flexion movements (e.g. crunches), you should be working on the opposite movement: posterior tilting of the pelvis. This allows us to function from a more efficient position biomechanically.

So now that we know the functional anatomy, we need to critically examine how most athletes are performing their ab work. I bet that quite a few of you are still doing a few sets of bent-knee crunches and calling it a day! Simply put, if you have a traditional bodybuilding or powerlifting posture (APT/excessive lumbar lordosis), you need to get cracking on strengthening your external obliques and lower rectus abdominus.

The Revenge of Paul Chek?

Now, I know that some of you are going to think I've fallen off the wagon and gone all Chek-style on you, but let's examine what's really going on.

First off, we're not talking about simple abdominal hollowing; what we want here is posterior tilting of the pelvis. The transverse abdominus (TVA) hollows; the external obliques and lower rectus produce posterior tilt.

Yes, it's true whenever you perform one you get the other to some extent, but there's a difference. Just keep the end goal in mind: improved posture and better performance.

As well, I'm in no way telling you to practice these movements under load (squatting, deadlifting, etc.)! The goal is to improve your static posture so that you produce better movement. Sucking in before you squat or deadlift not only puts you at an increased risk for injury, but is fundamentally wrong.

Why would you want to correct static posture in a dynamic movement? It makes much more sense to approach it the other way, e.g. fix the static posture and then allow dynamic movement to occur naturally.

Implications on Physique and Performance

Why do the exercises I've outlined below? I'll give you three reasons:

1) Improved recruitment

This is probably the most overlooked aspect of proper core training. While everyone has been caught up in simply activating the glutes, they're only fighting half the battle. I'm not telling you to stop the glute activation/strengthening work, but why not strengthen the lower abs/external obliques as well?

The goal here is to decrease the anterior pelvic tilt/lordosis in static posture so that when you take that posture into dynamic movement, you get better glute activation. Better glute activation very simply means more weight when you squat or deadlift. Whether you're a powerlifter, bodybuilder, or just an average Joe who wants a better physique, those things alone should convince you to try out some of these exercises.

2) Improved physique

I don't know about you, but since I work out, I feel like I should be rewarded with a physique that makes me look like I work out. Regardless, when you start to develop that APT/excessive lordosis posture, you get the appearance of having a bigger "gut" than you should.

Therapists trained in Rolfing call this a "spilling" of your guts or organs, or "shortening the core." While other weight trainers understand that this is a functional thing that allows more weight to be moved, to the lay public it flat-out looks like you have a fat stomach!

Simply put, training the external obliques and lower RA will not only strengthen your abs, but give you a more aesthetically pleasing look to boot.

3) Decreased risk of injury

A huge lordosis and/or APT can lead to a myriad of injuries: low back pain, pulled hammies, anterior knee pain, etc. This very simple aspect of your training can go a long way to preventing these injuries.

The Test

Many of you may be thinking, "My lower abs and obliques are super strong. I don't need this program!"

Okay, tough guy, time to put your money where your mouth is. Take this one simple test. If you pass with flying colors, I won't harp on you any more about proper core training. But, if you fail miserably (which I'm betting you will), you have to give some of these exercises a solid go. Fair enough?

The leg lowering test is probably the single best test of lower abdominal and external oblique function when it comes to stability. Here's what I want you to do:

Lie on the ground (ideally with your shoes off) and fold your arms in front of your body in the "genie" position. Flex the knees and hips to 90 degrees, and then roll your legs up in the air and straighten them (extend the knees) so your legs are perpendicular to your upper body.

Leg Lowering Test

Posteriorly tilt the pelvis and flatten your spine to the ground. While holding this posteriorly tilted position, slowly lower your legs and feet with a tempo that allows them to reach the ground after 10 seconds. If you feel any rounding whatsoever (your low back starts to arch or come off the ground), that's the cutoff point of the test.

You may want to videotape it or have someone give you feedback to see the angle at which your back arches or comes off the ground. Simply put, if you can't do this with your shoes off, you need to do some serious work! If you passed this version, try again with your shoes on and record your ending position.

I've put quite a few people through this test, and even some of the buff guys and athletes I've trained fail miserably. It's not a natural movement for most, and most definitely something that needs to be trained if we're to achieve optimal function.

Now, if you didn't do so hot, don't think I'm going to leave you hanging. Start off with the basic exercises I've outlined below and slowly work your way through the progressions. Your body will thank you!

Lower Rectus Exercises

The Dead Bug Series

While I'm sure you want to know the most difficult exercises possible, humor me by starting off with the most basic of exercises and building your way up to the most difficult ones, okay? If you need any incentive, remember how the leg lowering test just kicked your ass!

The first exercise is the dead bug. There are four variations, but I'm only going to describe the first one. Once you figure that out, the pictures below should explain the subtle variations that follow.

To perform the dead bug, start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Instead of simply hollowing the stomach, think about posteriorly tilting your pelvis by activating the lower rectus abdominus and external obliques. (It may help to place your fingertips on your obliques to get them to fire.)

While maintaining the flat back/posterior tilt position, extend one leg out until it hovers just above the ground, then return to the starting position. Alternate legs for the necessary number of reps.

Now, believe it or not, some of you won't even be able to perform this first movement correctly! If so, follow the same steps, but instead of taking your leg/foot down toward the ground, just lower the foot to the point where you feel like your back is going to come off the ground, then return to the starting position. As you get stronger, you'll be able to improve your range of motion (ROM).

Dead Bug 1

Dead Bug 2 (arm movement with legs)

Dead Bug 3 (knees/feet start in air at 90 degrees)

Dead Bug 4 (same as 3, arms move with legs)

Single-Leg Lowering

This exercise is a little tougher than the original dead bug, but not by too much. Start in the same position (supine with hips/knees flexed and feet flat on the floor). Extend one leg so it's straight up and perpendicular to the body, and then posterior tilt and lower the leg all the way to the ground.

Much like unilateral work for the upper or lower body, if you have one side that's weaker than the other, perform all the repetitions on that side first before switching.

Single-leg lowering

Double-Leg Lowering

While I'm typically not a fan of training simply to beat the test, this is a pretty good exception because it's a functional and hard movement!

All you're going to do is set-up just like you're taking the leg lowering test and perform repetitions, maintaining that posterior tilt for as far down as you can go. I'd start off with low rep sets (3-5) until you get those abs up to par!

Double-leg lowering

Dragon Flags

Let's get one thing straight: If you can't consistently and repeatedly smash the leg lowering test (or double-leg lowering exercise), you have no business even trying dragon flags! This exercise, along with the straight leg raise, are the toughest ab exercises you're going to perform.

Lie on a bench, grabbing it with your hands at approximately head level. From here, press your entire body up in a straight line, with your upper back (not your neck!) supporting your weight. Keeping this nice straight line and a tight posterior tilt, lower the body under control as far as you can go.

It may just be me, but I'm assuming ankle weights are a long way off!

Dragon Flags

Hanging Leg Raise

The hanging leg raise is one of those exercises that everyone wants to do for two reasons:

But herein lies the dilemma: Most people don't do them correctly! Remember, the goal here is most definitely not strengthening the hip flexors.

To perform hanging leg raises correctly, grab a chin-up bar with legs straight, then posterior tilt the pelvis. From here, slowly and under control bring the knees to the chest, maintaining the posterior tilt throughout. Lower under control to the starting position.

When you can do multiple sets of 12-15 with no problem, feel free to give the straight-leg version a try.

Hanging Leg Raise – Knees Bent


Now that we've talked about the lower rectus exercise menu, let's discuss some tips to get the most out of these exercises.

First and foremost, keep in mind that proper execution of these exercises is absolutely critical! If you aren't able to maintain a posterior tilt throughout the movement, you need to get your ego in check and try an easier exercise. Once you get the basics down, then start challenging yourself with tougher variations.

Remember that we're posteriorly tilting, not just hollowing! Yes, it's true that any time we posteriorly tilt we're also going to get some hollowing, but that's not the intended goal. Focus on using the proper musculature throughout the entire set!

It can (and probably will) help to statically stretch the hip flexors prior to performing these movements. More on this topic below.

Miscellaneous Odds and Ends

Now that we've covered the major topics, let's touch on a few odds and ends.

1) Get some ART!

ART stands for Active Release Techniques. Just as the hip flexors can inhibit the gluteals via reciprocal inhibition, they can also decrease the firing/recruitment of the synergistic muscles (e.g. obliques and lower rectus) via synergistic dominance.

Now, you can stretch and stretch those hip flexors all you want, but if you have any adhesions, scar tissue, or flat-out shortness of the muscle, you need to have it worked on to restore the full length of the musculature. Simply put, if you haven't had any ART done on your psoas, iliacus, rectus femoris or TFL, get it done!

2) When doing upper rectus work (e.g. crunches), do it right!

I'm sure some people are going to fly off the handle after reading this and say, "Mike Robertson says not to do any trunk flexion work!" No, that's not what I'm saying. I just want you to prioritize different aspects of abdominal training for a while (e.g. the movements I've outlined above).

Now, when you do include trunk flexion work, think about trying to pre-tense both the lower rectus and external obliques via a posterior tilt. Not only will it make the movement that much more difficult, but you'll elicit greater contractions from the muscles you want to get stronger!

3) Respect key training principles.

There are two specific principles in training I'm not sure enough people understand yet:

So, an exercise that's placed first on Monday (bench press for 99% of the population) is going to get the largest training effect. An exercise that's placed last on Friday (abs for 99% of the population, if they even make it to the gym!) is going to garner the least training effect.

Simply put, if you want and/or need to prioritize your ab training, respect these principles and plan accordingly.

4) Modify your behavior.

I'm not going to harp on this topic too much, but here's the money statement: If what you're doing for extended periods on a daily basis is negatively affecting your posture, you need to fix it!

In other words, if you're sitting at a desk all day, find a way to get up and move around. It's really not that difficult when you think about it. Behavior modification is every bit as important as the training you're doing.

Just remember that even if you're training four days a week for an hour or more, that's still only 2% of your week. What you do when you're working, sleeping, etc. is going to have at least as much bearing on your posture as anything you do in the gym.


Before you mindlessly blow through another set of old-school crunches, think about all the benefits of intelligent core training. Whether you want a better body or a better total, the exercises I've outlined here will get you there faster!

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