In other ab-related news yesterday I received an advance copy of The New Rules of Lifting for Abs from my friend Lou Schuler. This is Lou and Alwyn Cosgrove's third book in the phenomenally successful New Rules series. If you haven't read the other two I highly suggest buying them. As a trainer I still refer back to those books for useful bits of information, and the programs are great for everyone from newbies to people that have been training for years.
When three should be sixEvery body is different and, even if you’re following an intense training plan and flawless dietary regime, six abs popping out from your midriff with West End-worthy choreography isn’t guaranteed. A little variation in the size of your six (or, if you’ve really been gunning your core, eight) is nothing to worry about, of course. But if you find your rectus abdominis developing in a noticeably lopsided way there may be other issues afoot. Personal trainer Chris Bathke explains how to deal with abdominal imbalance.
A question of posture“Perceived imbalances in the abdominals are complicated, and there may not be one magic movement to fix a three-pack,” explains Bathke. “Your six-pack is made up of one muscle separated by tendons, so it’s doubtful what you see as a deviation has anything to do with the size of the rectus abdominis.” (And you can’t isolate half a muscle, anyway, so don’t go trying acrobatic sit-up variations in the hope of shoring up your symmetry.)If the problem is with your abs, often the underlying cause will be postural. “It might be an issue in your hips that is causing your torso to compensate with a slight twist, or it might be tightness in one side of your back resulting in a similar postural misalignment – but you’ll need to consult a physical therapist to be certain,” says Bathke.
Not so bleakIf, on the other hand, your imbalance is down to your obliques, there are practical training steps you can take to fix it. “If you feel one side of your stomach is more muscular than the other then first measure how long you can hold a side plank on each side,” says Bathke. “If one side is noticeably weaker then add woodchops into your program and do a 2:1 ratio of reps from the weaker to the stronger side.”
How to do the side plankLie on your side with your forearm on the floor under your shoulder. Push your hip up off the floor and hold for as long as you can. People often stick their bum out to take some of the load off the obliques. Don’t. “Your body should form a straight line from your feet through the hips to your head,” says Bathke.
How to do woodchopsFor our purposes you will want to do anti-rotation woodchops so that the hips are not working, only the core. To do this grab a cable as in a regular woodchop but resist the twisting of your torso as you bring your arms across your body and back.
I won't reveal too many details about the new book yet other than to say Lou does a fantastic job at presenting core training in a way consistent with the most current and advanced research on the matter. In other words no crunches, sit-ups, or leg lifts, but lots of full body movements that remind us that the core is not just the abdominals, but is really all the muscles that attach to your his, pelvis, and lower back.
So yes, your "core" training should include exercises that work the glutes, adductors, hip flexors, and lats in addition to the usual abdominal muscles.