Even while sitting, K-Star is bracing his abs.
(In the last article, in this ongoing investigation on how mental toughness can enhance your physical appearance, I talked about the myths of long distance running. The current scientific studies suggest that slow and steady cardio is a poor method it lose body fat. A better alternative is doing high intensity interval training or HIIT workouts. High intensity WODS like CrossFit, the Litvinov and barbell complex movements stimulate your muscle building and fat fighting hormones. Also, high intensity training raises your metabolism level which is the number one factor to shedding unwanted flab around your body.)
One of the biggest questions I get about the exercises in this mental toughness program is the lack of direct abdominal movements. Sure, there are some WODs with sit-ups barbell roll-outs and toes to bar, but that’s about it. I don’t have a lot of direct abdominal movements like crunches or leg raises. Or better yet, I don’t have extremely high rep ab movements like a doing 500 crunches that you see at a lot of people do at your local global gym.
When asked this question on the lack of ab exercisers in this mental toughness program, I try my best not to sound like a smart ass, but I can’t myself. My response to this question is always because all the movements in this program are abdominals movements. These full-body movements from deadlifts, squats, pull-ups, push-ups all the way to sprinting require you to use your abs.
Before I explain to you how to get those computer enhanced abs that we all see in the fitness magazines now, let me explain the function of your abdominal muscles. The main job of your abs is to stabilize your spine while your move the rest of your body. Without your abs, your spine will collapse. Your abdominals are there to hold you upright and protect your spine from falling due to gravity. In other words, your midsection is there to prevent your spine from flexing.
Having a healthy spine may not be a big concern for many of you youngsters, but if you continue to pound away at your spine with crappy form, you will pay the price and welcome the floodgates of painkillers. Most people think spinal flexion movements like crunches or sit-ups are the best way to get you a six-pack, but the constant bending is the worse thing you can do for your spine.
If you herniate a disk or injure a joint in your back, you will not only be out of action for a while, but doing the simple things that you take for granted like walking, tying your shoe, or sitting while watching your favorite show (I hope it’s Breaking Bad), it can be quite painful. I’m not even talking about doing anything remotely athletic yet either. Your whole body mechanical system shuts down and you might as well forget about going to the gym. Watching others workout while you can’t, is one of the biggest tortures known to mankind.
So now that I got your attention, if you like working out, it is crucial that you take good care of your spine and prevent it from overly flexing. The best way to learn how to protect your spine from unnecessary bending while working out is the bracing method. What makes this spine bracing method so vital and imperative is that it is twofold. Not only does it saves your spine from outside pressures, but one of the best ways to work your ab muscles. In other words, “Save your spine and get ripped abs along the way” is what I should have titled this post.
There a lot of ways to learn how to apply this bracing method. If you want extensive information on this subject, I highly refer you to Dr. Kelly Starrett of mobilitywod.com. He is an expert on midline stability and wrote an amazing book called “Becoming a Supple Leopard.” This book is required reading for all athletes that like to push themselves.
In terms of Kelly’s bracing technique, I will simplify it for you. The overall concept is to keep your whole body as tight as possible. The first thing you must is stand up tall and screw your feet in the ground. You want keep your toes pointed forward while trying to “spread” the ground with both of your feet. Next, squeeze your butt as tight as possible. This will help you set your pelvis in a neutral position. Now get your belly tight while maintaining a neural spine. You want to continue to have a flat back as you brace your stomach hard as if somebody is going to hit you there. Lastly, look straight ahead so you keep your head in neutral position as you get shoulders back and down.
If your whole body feels stiff as board, you are bracing correctly.
(To be continued)
Strength Day WOD –
5 reps for 5 sets
1. Strict military press
2. Back squat
3. Bench press
4. Good mornings
5. Toes to bar
Now that you know how to brace yourself, you are ready to put your body into action. However, getting your body all tight and stiff while standing up is one thing, but moving your tight body into a deadlift or squat position, now that’s whole different story all together. It takes a lot of practice as bracing while moving is a skill in itself.
In the meantime, you can still practice the bracing method, one body part at a time. For now, just concentrate on bracing your abs as hard as you can before you begin the movement and during it. For example, before you begin the military press, brace your midsection first and then get under while maintaining the tension in your abs. The same goes for the bench press. Even though you are lying down, you still can make your stomach hard and tight. Once you got your tummy braced, grab the bar and then pump out some reps while still maintaining this tension in your abs. Instead of focusing on just your chest muscles, you now make the bench press into a full-body movement because you are working your abs too. As you get used to bracing while benching, you can later add your legs, backs, shoulder to make the bench press even more of a complete total body movement. This strategy is coming up in upcoming posts. For now, just concentrate on keeping your stomach tight. The tricky part now is how to breathe while keeping your abs nice and firm. Here is a good article on what you can to practice this bracing method while breathing.
Like any other skill, it just takes a lot of practice on your part to do. However, with diligence and focus, breathing while stabilizing your midsection will become second nature. This post may not be the sexy abs article that you may have been expecting, but I hope you take the importance of bracing your midsection seriously. In future posts, I will go further in how to get those washboard abs, but in the meantime, please take the time to work on this method of getting your body as tight as possible at the gym and out of the gym.
So the next time you are standing up and having a casual conversation with a friend, in a long line at the bank, or talking on the phone, do the following: screw your feet in the ground, get your glutes on, tighten up your belly, look forward and get your shoulders down and back. Get your body as tight as you possibly for ten seconds without letting people aware of what you are doing. If you do this ten times every day, you are not only practicing saving your spine, but working your abs better and definitely safer than if you just did 100 sit-ups.
Now stand up and get tight.
Scale back version of the WOD –
1. Do three reps for three sets.
2. Omit the toes to bar.
Acceptable alternatives –
1. You can use dumbbells or a barbell for the military or bench press.
2. Lifter’s choice for the bench press. You can use a flat or incline bench.
3. If you like, you can do RDL instead of the good mornings.