Last Updated on March 28, 2010 by Jimson Lee
Whenever I go to a party and people discover I coach Track and Field, non-athletes always ask for free advice on how to get a six pack.
Usually I give a smart-ass response in 4 words: eat less, exercise more.
But when I give personal training advice to a friend on how to strengthen the abs and core, I usually start with my classic 2-pause-4 workouts. I didn’t invent this, as I learned this technique from my early days at Nautilus Plus in Montreal.
It goes like this: Lie on your back on the ground using a mat. Bend knees 90 degrees. Place hands on thighs. Now go up and EXHALE in a two-count (2 seconds) until your hands reach your knees. Pause 1 SECOND. Then EXHALE and return back to the original position on a four-count (4 seconds).
The last thing I want is to further damage a lower back problem.
The whole rep is 7 seconds (2 + 1 + 4). Start with 1 set of 8 reps, and build up to 3 sets of 15 reps. That’s it. Keep it simple, then go home.
This should strengthen weak abs, and along with hamstring and lower back stretches & mobility exercises, your lower back pains will be reduced, if not eliminated.
The above example is a combination of concentric (2), isometric (1) , and eccentric (4) exercise.
The Plank and Side Plank
Now one of the best isometric exercise is as follows.
For myself, I end a workout with a simple Ab-core torso exercise, called the plank and side plank (see image on left)
I do a single 90 second hold for the plank, and 60 seconds each for the side plank. Total time: 3.5 minutes.
If you need a challenge to make this tougher, you can go longer in duration, or put your feet or legs on a Swiss Physio Ball or a Bosu ball.
Other Isometric Exercises
Another isometric exercise is called the Hundred Breaths Exercise, from Pilates. Lee Evans does a similar exercise called “V-ups” in his book but with less focus on isometrics.
I personally do not do these, but you can always use your good friend Google to find out more if you are interested.
Taking a good thing too far?
As a Canadian, we are generally considered “nice and polite” but now I’ll drop my hockey gloves and start ranting.
There’s been a lot of discussion from various forums from a guy named Barry Ross. I never met him, and I’m sure he’s a nice guy but the point I’m trying to make is to discuss his claim for using isometrics as the best exercise. It’s okay to disagree, but do we have to be so disagreeable? (to quote from John Wooden)
I’m not disputing his claims or trying to trash his methods.. that’s not my point. I just want to dissect the isometric part for abs.
The mid-torso muscles are stabilizers with the primary function of maximizing trunk stability.
Isometric or slow isotonic training in a range of non-specific and sprinting specific body positions offers a much better workout for the mid-torso musculature. <NOTE: He recommends 2 exercises ab-45, ob-45… you can guess the workout intelligently by the name ab and obliques at 45 degrees)
The aim is 3 sets x 5 reps for 5 seconds, with a goal of 5 x 5 x 12 sec.
My biggest problem with isometrics is that they only strengthen one particular position. You need strength throughout the entire range of movement.
Isometrics for Abs are great for boxers or UFC-MMA
fighters athletes for taking a punch in the abs.
Just make sure you have a comprehensive program for you ab and core work. Yes, some exercises like the classic crunches will work your hip flexors, but don’t tell me you don’t need hip flexors in the last 100 meters of your 400?
I feel you need all 3 types of exercise (concentric, isometric and eccentric) with varying degrees of difficulty and volume.
And remember you need both strength and strength endurance. Power cleans and dead lifts will definitely give your hip flexors strength. I’ll discuss dead lifts and cleans in an upcoming article.
I used to be a firm believer in the 60-90 second plank hold, and would have my high school athletes do 3 sets of this after workouts. Most would be able to do it with some difficulty. Now I have them do 3 sets for only 10seconds, yes 10 seconds. The difference: I make sure they “draw in” their abs and “fire” their glutes (tighten your butt cheeks). The kids say it is way harder than how we used to do it, and I’ve tried it myself and it really does work.
Note: Abs drawn in does not mean inhale, you need to be able to inhale and exhale keeping them in. Hope this can help some people.
Jimson Lee says
@Jordan @Chris — Thanks for the ideas! I`ll give it a try.
Pat Pawlowski says
I agree whole heartedly on the multiple movements and with the tightening of related muscles during static work. I would further that trying tightening and relaxing on and off during static holds might add to athletic movement as while torso muscles may be stabilizers during limb movements the electrical impulses of the related muscles vary in intensity during movement.
As a test, have your athletes ever tried a flag movement. One of Bruce Lee’s old favorites. It is the hardest isometric ab exercise I have found and my non-weightlifter/powerlifter athletes have great difficulty with it but love trying it. Lie on your back on a bench and hold on with your hands up behind your head. Keep your torso and legs stiff and straight and try lifting your entire body up off the bench touching only the top back of your shoulders on the bench. Hold for up to a minute,if you can, and repeat.
i also like to have my soccer players hold a 45 plate overhead and walk the distance of the pitch, @100m. Hard on the shoulders but builds up functional torso strength.
Run Fast, Jump High, Math Rocks! Pat
It puzzles me why most sports haven’t stolen more from gymnastics in terms of core work. Gymnastics pretty much requires an insane amount of core strength to hold body positions with extreme amounts of torque in twisting and rotating movements.
That said in running/sprinting the core is resisting axial rotation of the spine given the arm and leg motions. In fact, this is the case for most sports including golf and baseball. The core braces the power from the hips and transfers it to the shoulder girdle and arms. The core provides very little concentric or eccentric motion and thus contributes little to the power being generated.
Why would you say that concentric and eccentric movements are necessary if this it the case? Would not the a solid couple isometric movements with increasing progression along with heavy lifting such as deadlifts, olympic lifts, and possibly squats provide enough core work for this to be effective at elite levels?
I do not agree that you strengthen only one position. While you hold after a while all the muscle fibers are being recruited. I fact with movements body finds a way of “the easy way up” but with isometric your body cannot find the way to make it easier because after 20-30 seconds at right position whole muscle group is activated…
p.s. sorry for my english