My Current Vision of Abdominal Training

This post was inspired fully by Mike Robertson’s awesome article published a few weeks ago titled: Should We Train The Rectus Abdominus. I strongly recommend you click on that link above and read that article. Mike Robertson has been a huge influence on me and when he says something crazy, there is usually something behind it.

In his article above he discusses a couple of the finer points of the neutral spine. I too have been using the chest-up cue for the entire time I’ve been training clients. It’s a simple cue to help people understand how to keep their thoracic spine extended rather than flexed during various exercises. As a matter of fact, I cue neutral spine for pretty much ALL free weight exercises. I’m fully aware that there are various body positions, where having a rounded back won’t injure you, or cause a decrease in performance (such as supported rows). I still think that if you’re going to teach neutral spine, you may as well have clients using that spine position as often as possible to groove the pattern.

The main point of Mike’s article is that yes, the thoracic spine needs to remain extended, however, your rib cage should not be flaring out. Mike touched a little bit on cueing to eliminate rib flare. Dr. Stuart McGill would tell you to lock the rib cage onto the pelvis during training of the core musculature. They are the same thing. In this article, I want to go over a few exercises I’ve been using with my clients to help them lock their rib cages to their pelvis statically and in the presence of movement. You can begin remedial training, by showing them how to depress their rib cage without movement first.

Ribs flared

As you can see in the above pic, the ribs are flared out and visible. The chest is puffed out, and the lumbar spine would be considered extended. We don’t want hyperextension though. We want neutral, or a natural lordosis. In order to do that from the standing position, you can simply tell your client or athlete to depress (move their rib cage down) the front of their rib cage. When you depress your rib cage, you should be able to feel your rectus abdominus contract isometrically. You should be holding this contraction.

Rib cage locked onto pelvis.

This drill of locking the pelvis to the rib cage can be taught in standing position or in supine. Simply, lie on your back, puff your chest out as much as possible, and then depress your rib cage. Hold it for a few seconds then go back to puffing your chest out.

There are a few more exercises that I really like once you learn to keep the ribs depressed. I like the McGill curl-up. Fast forward to around the 3:00 minute mark of this video to see Stuart McGill himself demonstrate the proper form for this exercise:

A few additional points I like to make on this exercise is to get the client to think about locking that rib cage onto the pelvis as they slightly move their head and shoulder’s off the ground. This teaches them the proper feel of that position and strengthens the rectus abdominus without causing injury to the lumbar spine.

The RKC plank is another amazing exercise that I love. It was invented by Pavel Tsatsouline, the creator of the Russian Kettlebell Challenge. The RKC plank at it’s core appears to be a simple plank. However the numerous cues added to this exercise change it substantially. The video below is excellent for learning how to perform this exercise properly.

With this exercise, you should be trembling almost immediately. You’re entire body creates tension, which means you only need to perform this exercise for about 10 seconds. I feel this exercise teaches you a form super-stiffness. Which is a term that Stuart McGill uses often to describe a state in which your entire core is stiff and allows for the proper transfer of energy through the core. Make sure when you are performing the RKC plank that you again are concentrating on keeping the rib cage locked onto the pelvis. I’ve tried doing this exercise without concentrating on keeping your ribs depressed and their is a noticeable difference. When you lock your rib cage onto your pelvis, you can feel your abdominals contracting like crazy and they will get sore (if you like that kind of stuff… Which we all know you are)

Another exercise I like that is super simple is the quadruped rock-back. Here is a video of the exercise being performed:

This isn’t a hard exercise by any standards. It’s meant to teach you a few things. For the most part, it’s to teach you to pull your hips into flexion using your hip flexors while maintaining a neutral spine. Again, you can focus on depressing your rib cage as much as possible during this exercise. The trick is to maintain a neutral spine while pulling your hips back. It’s very hard to “feel” when you lose your lumbar curve in my opinion. This is why I like to use a water bottle or foam roll to give you automatic feedback. Simple put it on your lumbar spine, and don’t let it roll off, also try to not let it move around on your spine while you perform the exercise.

So there you have it folks. A few more cues and exercises to add into your arsenal to help strengthen your core, and make yourself an overall stronger, faster and better athlete. Whenever I lift heavy weights, I use this technique. It’s become natural to me over all the years of practice. This is what you want to happen eventually. It may seem trivial at first, but if you keep concentrating on keeping a proper neutral spine over long periods of time, your strength will increase, you will be able to push more weight, and you’ll reduce your chances of injury. More time pushing heavier weights and staying injury free leads to more muscle and more playing time!

Resistance Training for Fat Loss: Sets and Reps

This is something that I’ve been wanting to write about in the last little while. Seeing as I usually work with clients who are interested in body composition, I though this might be helpful to many others out there. I’ve already covered my top 5 lifts for fat loss here. If you haven’t read that yet, I strongly suggest you check it out, it’s a quickie!

Anyways. The old adage of doing sets of 20 reps for fat loss is completely bogus, yet that myth refuses to die. As an addition to this myth is the fact that loads will be incredibly light in order to actually be able to perform 20 reps. Why does this matter? If you aren’t lifting a weight that will induce some sort of hypertrophy, your ability to retain lean mass decreases. If you aren’t retaining lean mass while trying to burn fat, you are retaining fat and burning lean mass (it’s obviously not 100% fat or lean mass, but you get the picture). So now I hope you understand why doing endless sets of 20+ reps is pretty much useless.

Why do individuals feel that doing high reps is useful for retaining mass you might ask? Well there are several possibilities. I’d say the first one is simply bodybuilding magazines. If you look at bodybuilding magazines you will see awfully constructed programs that are created by editors to give content to the pictures. These aren’t the actual routines these guys are using. These guys are also using an entire bar of chemical cocktails that would make their pharmacists jealous. In other words: these guys aren’t doing the ‘programs’ you see in popular magazines and they’re chemically enhanced (they also have ridiculous genetics and are advanced in their sport).

The other possibility is referred to as ‘bro science.’ Bro science is: “the predominant brand of reasoning in bodybuilding circles where the anecdotal reports of jacked dudes are considered more credible than scientific research.” This quote is from urban dictionary, but it’s spot on. Along the same lines of bro science is simply hearsay. Someone hears some ridiculous claim that began when his friend read the pre-competition routine of Mr. Olympia in some bodybuilding magazine. He then tells all his friends how he did this program and got RIPT ABZ.

The other reason people do this method of endless reps is spot reduction. I’ve already written an entire article which discusses this topic. If you’re too lazy to click the link above I’ll give you the recap: it doesn’t exist.

So what is the way to do things properly? Who can you trust and listen to. Since you know me as an evidence-based guys, I’m going to trust science. I’m also going to trust other coaches and trainers who have transformed their clients physique. I’m not going to listen to bodybuilding gurus who work with already large bodybuilders with crazy genetics and a myriad of drugs at their disposal.

Now that I have all that stuff out of the way, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of simple sets and rep schemes. These can used to maintain your lean mass and actually look like you lift weight once you lose that fat rather than that emaciated Justin Bieber look (if that’s what you’re going for then feel free to close this window and not return to my site…) There are a ton of ways to induce hypertrophy, I’m not really going to go over all the ways this happens, or all the programs that you can follow. I will simply give you a few set/rep schemes that I’ve found to work.

A very simple way to make sure you are working in a zone where you will actually be able to retain mass is to think how many total reps you need to complete per exercise. I like 24-30. This can be spread out over many sets, or few sets. This was a method popularized by Chad Waterbury some years back. I never really think about hitting that many reps, but when I look at my programs, it usually ends up being in that general range.

So a few set/rep schemes that can be used would be the following: 3×10 (yes it actually works!!!), 3×8, 4×6, 6×4, 5×5, 8×3, 10×3, 2×12. There are many ways to do it. If you don’t care at all about strength you can use higher reps per set. If you want to retain your strength, use less reps per set. Simple.

Many coaches, including myself will use a higher amount of reps for conditioning purposes. This is a different article entirely. For the purposes of retaining lean mass, you will want to include these set/rep protocols in your program. So stop doing 20 reps of tricep kick backs to increase the tone of your triceps!!!! Get in the gym, do heavy compound lifts, and you will look awesome when you shed that fat.

My Go-To Meals

As anyone who reads my blog knows I only eat two times per day. I generally only cycle through around 6-8 meals that are all pretty much equal in terms of calorie content. This gives me the opportunity to easily cycle through different meals while consuming the same amount of calories in a given day. A few of my clients have asked me to write a few of these meals in a post for everyone to view.

I don’t think I eat anything that’s revolutionary, but perhaps you can get some ideas from this quick post. My first meal is usually some sort of oatmeal concoction. The second meal is some sort of meat-based meal. Here is what these two meals would look like:

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Oatmeal with a side of fruit salad
Chocolate-Peanut Butter Oatmeal
(A lot) steel cut oats
3 Scoops of protein powder (whichever tastes good and has chocolate flavour. I’m currently using Whey Maxx)
1 heaping tbsp of peanut butter (I usually use one that contains only peanuts, but it’s really up to you)
1-2 Bananas chopped into 10+ pieces each

A beautiful picture of my pulled pork sammich w/ a heaping side of asparagus
Pulled Pork Sammich
300 grams of pork tenderloin
4 Slices of bread (doesn’t matter what kind, I usually use whole wheat or white)
Frank’s red hot sauce (I use a lot because it’s awesome)
Horseradish mustard (I use a lot of this too because it’s almost as awesome as Frank’s)

There aren’t any veggies in either of these meals because it wouldn’t enhance the taste in my opinion. This doesn’t mean I don’t eat veggies. I will eat them on the side. Celery is a great addition to the oatmeal for me. As for the pulled pork sammich, I’ll usually have boiled spinach or asparagus with lemon juice and salt/pepper to taste. These are both incredibly simple to prepare.

For the celery, you simply take a stalk off the bunch, and eat it!!! For the spinach and asparagus, you put it in a small amount of boiling water and let it boil covered for 2-3 minutes. Pour the water out and add the lemon and S&P to taste. Super easy.

So there you have it folks. Two simple meals that I eat on a regular basis. I’ve been told that I’m pretty lean and pretty strong so I must be doing something right! Let me know what you think of these recipes in the comments section!