There is nothing more impressive visually, and useful in a functional sense, than a well-trained and toned midsection. Sure, “abs of steel” will do wonders for your social life, but the assistance they provide for function and injury prevention are even more important. even if the fighter or CrossFitter is unaware. Ab training should be ranked high on your weekly training protocol, and for some very good reasons.
Two major training mistakes often take place when it comes to targeting the midsection muscles for athletes. First off, the abs are often neglected. It is often way more rewarding and motivational to bench press, spar, squat, sprint, and hit the heavy bags, than to spend hours knocking out countless reps of ab training. Secondly, the midsection is often trained in an incorrect manner. Many athletes, even those with years of experience on the gym, over-train the upper abs and neglect the other sections. What’s that? There is more to abdominal training than just crunches? That is correct!
Athletes should understand that their “abs” are actually comprised of three separate groups of muscles, and these three groups are actually targeted with different exercises. Training only one area of them will leave you looking asymmetrical and functioning in a dangerously imbalanced manner.
The upper abdominals, best estimated as the “top 4” abs visible, are hit with crunches, situps, and any machine which emulates this action of moving the head toward the knees. In most athletes, this section of the abdominals if usually not overlooked, as they provide a great deal of assistance with moving the upper body.
The lower abdominals are the next group. They are comprised of the “lower 4” abs, two of which are visible above the belly button, and the other 2 fading below the belly button. These muscles are targeted with leg raises (of multiple varieties and angles) and movements like frog kicks. They provide core assistance with many lower body shifts and movements.
Finally, the side abdominals, or the obliques, are perhaps the most overlooked muscles in the body by trainers. This is a shame, since they should are utilized a great deal by CrossFitters in compound lifts and by MMA athletes and boxers for both twisting the torso and absorbing opponent blows. The side abdominals are targeted with movements such as broomstick twists and one-armed side dumbbell lifts.
When training all three areas of the abdominals, you should use the clock, and not a standard set count which you would employ for movements such as bench press or chin-ups. Each set should last 20 to 30 to 50 repetitions, and you should train abdominals for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, as opposed to knocking out 4 or 8 sets then running out of the gym. Put on your headphones, use minimal weight, and just focus on making the muscles of the abdominals do the work!
The key to success in training for any sport or functional lifting system is balance. Midsection training is often neglected by athletes, and the resulting imbalance leaves physiques looking incomplete and more importantly, functioning at less than optimal levels. Train balanced, targeting all three areas of the midsection, and you will look and perform at the highest optimal level.