How do you work out abs? Likely with the usual litany of core workout exercises – planks, crunches, leg raises, and maybe even dragon flags. But are all these mid-section movements necessary? Can you work out abs indirectly just as a byproduct of doing your regular gym routine? Read below to find out.
Primary Functions of Abdominal Muscles
Everyone knows that one of the main functions of abdominal muscles is to curl the trunk, bringing the upper body and lower body closer together. However, their other main function is, along with the other musculature of the core, to support and stabilize the body. Read about core stability here.
When performing exercises where the torso needs to be stabilized (such as squats or standing overhead presses), the abdominals come into play. They are also heavily involved whenever a full-body activity is being performed (such as a clean and press or snatch) where multiple body parts have to work together as one unit.
What this means for you is that by incorporating such movements into your workout, you can work out abs quite successfully without directly targeting or focusing on them. That way with a strong core, your training can not only be more efficient, but actually improve your performance on the big, strength-based movements.
Franco Columbu’s Pushdowns
Franco Columbu is known for being one of the strongest pound-for-pound bodybuilders of all time, being a 2x Mr. Olympia winner, and long-time training partner of Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, something few people know is that Franco didn’t do much direct core work. Instead, he favored finding ways to work out abs while doing other exercises.
One of his favorite ways to work the abdominals was during triceps pushdowns. Instead of standing fairly close to where the cable attachment hangs down, he advocated taking roughly half a step backwards and performing the movement from there. This engages the abs the entire time, giving them a great workout.
This calisthenics movement is not only a fantastic conditioning tool, but a great way to indirectly work out abs. Keep your torso as horizontal as possible, minimizing any twisting of the hips. As you bring each knee to your chest, concentrate on pulling with your lower abs to hid the mid-section hard.
In much the same way mountain climbers can indirectly work out abs, so can sprints. This is because you’re performing a very similar movement pattern, only with your torso upright instead of horizontal. As you sprint, try to keep your torso fairly vertical, pulling each knee as high as you can with every step. This will not only work your lower abs hard, but the vigorous pumping of the legs will have your upper abs contracting hard as well to keep your trunk upright.
Not everyone has access to a sled, but if you do, they can be a great way to work out abs. To do so, you’ll want to be pulling the sled in such a way that your torso needs to be leaning forward. A perfect example of this would be to have two handles attached to the sled.
Stand in front of a heavily loaded sled, facing away from it. Grab a handle in each hand at your sides. Take a step or two forward until the rope is taut. Lean forward with your torso, starting to pull the sled. At this point, you’ll be leaning forward at roughly a 45-degree angle, and your arms will be at a similar angle behind you, in line with your torso. Though the exercise focuses on the legs, your core will be hit hard trying to keep your body tight as you drag the sled forward.
You shouldn’t ignore core work. However, not doing it doesn’t mean you can’t still have a good set of abs. Incorporating big compound movements like squats and standing presses will have the abs contracting to stabilize the body. Then add in or modify movements such as pushdowns or sprints as a part of your workout program as a whole, and your abs will have gotten more than enough stimulation.