Last Updated on April 10, 2013 by Jimson Lee
This is a continuation of a previous article titled Isometrics and Ab Core Exercises – The Hidden Secret?
A recent article in the Guardian quoted Sanya Richards doing 1500 sit-ups per day:
As an elite athlete who is known for doing 1,500 abdominal crunches per day, Richards-Ross should not have been a bride who needed to worry about her weight
First, I think the term sit-ups and crunches are really a misnomer. I think the journalist isn’t aware of the proper lingo. I like to use the terms “core muscles” or “trunk muscles”.
I really can’t imagine a world class athlete under Clyde Hart would prescribe 1500 regular crunches per day. Seriously. Unless she wants uber-hip flexors? If that was the case, I’d recommend standing exercises (more specific) and use resistance bands.
Define Rehab, Health, and Training
I’ve been to several Strength & Conditioning conferences so I have enough material to fill several binders. I can’t help it, because I am the camera man! The name that pops up time and time again is Stuart McGill. Two of his landmark books are Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance and Low Back Disorders, Second Edition (CAVEAT: They are not cheap!)
Basically, doing core exercises fall into 3 different camps:
- Rehab patients
- Optimal back and spine health for the average Joe
- Elite training for maximum performance
All I care about is #3. At least for now. Maybe when I’m old I’ll worry about #2. And I’m not in a position to clinically diagnose back problems to safely help those in #1.
What do I do?
I am turning 47 and I still have a 6 pack. It used to be an 8 pack, but 2 went into hiding.
I don’t go overboard on the latest craze in ab or core exercise. Motivation to run faster is my biggest decision maker.
In 1997 after injuring my hamstring, I went to my physio Alex McKechnie at Burnaby 8 Rinks (Yes, in Canada, hockey rules!). The name may sound familiar as he moved to Los Angeles and became Shaquille O’Neal’s personal trainer. He’s now famous for his Core-X System. He performed an analysis on me and found my core extremely weak for a big strong guy.
Alex is famous for his high intensity loading types of core training with a variety of gadgets like swiss balls and resistance bands. All of a sudden, everyone was doing them. The late 90’s was also a boom period for several professional athletes (i.e. mostly basketball and hockey players) with abdominal strains and injuries. Too much may be a bad thing. My opinion, that’s all.
Shortly after, I attended a Charlie Francis seminar in Southern California in 2001. Not a big deal for me as I was working in Silicon Valley. (I love the I-5… or is it the 5? or is it “5”? sorry, just a NorCal-SoCal joke) The Charlie Francis Training System recommended 1000 reps per day, or 6000 a week with low intensity endurance training for the core musculature.
I was shocked to see 6000! Especially when you read how Lee Evans only did 30 pushups and 30 V-ups (straight leg sit-ups) PER DAY leading up to Mexico’s 43.86! So Sanya Richards’ 1500 reps a day isn’t too far fetched.
After researching and some trial and error, I believe core training should consist of low intensity endurance training for support and stabilization.
6000 was a bit too much for me, but I do believe in a “strong” core, and thus I do 1000 reps on easy days, but “only” 500 on hard days. That’s 3000 reps a week, based on 1 speed, 1 speed or special endurance, and 2 tempo workouts a week. I’ll get into specifics on the microcycle in a separate post.
Sometimes when I do 20 x 100m tempo runs on easy days, I add 10-20 core exercises at the end of each 100m run. Do the math and 20 x 20 = 400. So I do another 600 or 20 different sets of 30 reps (or 12 x 50) afterwards of other exercises. This includes med ball toss and other core exercises of low to medium intensity. I do NOT do crunches with 2×45 lb. plates behind my head. Those guys in the Gym freak me out.
And I finish with a plank and side plank. 1000 isn’t really that much, is it?
So this is the schedule I like to keep.
The core for a 400 meter sprinter is support and stabilization to the muscles. We are told to run tall all the time (the ghost of Bud Winter keeps repeating in my head) and what better way than to promote good posture? Even when sitting in an office chair.
I mentioned Barry Ross as he states in my previous article Isometrics and Ab Core Exercises – The Hidden Secret?:
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
I certainly agree with the first half of that statement, I just don’t agree Isometrics are the ONLY thing, and the word “better” is a pretty strong word. I do, however, end my workouts with a plank and side planks.
Some Extremes and the Swiss Ball Movement
Speaking of office chairs, there are those people who gave up their Herman Miller Aeron chair for a swiss ball at the office.
Yes, the same people who are jacked up on caffeine and eating processed carbs all the time.
As Charlie Francis would say, it’s okay to do bench press, and okay to do swiss ball exercises, but please do NOT do two things at once!
So why do we keep seeing these shortcuts in the gym? To save time?
The bottom line is if you have access to swiss balls, and you enjoy doing swiss ball exercises, then go ahead. Same goes with any balance board contraption like the bosu ball.
Just keep the range of motion at a functional level. No need to train the muscles where no muscle has gone before.
Types of Core Exercises
Along with isometric exercises like the plank and side plank, more dynamic movements (like the bird dog) should be incorporated, as well as med ball workouts. I love med balls because you can easily change the intensity with different weights. I’ll need another article to go through the various routines and types of med balls. You can start with forward toss, upward toss, and backwards toss. The basic three.
For the obliques, there are the wood chop side throws or wood chop side passes. You can do these alone against a wall (you’ll need a plyo ball that bounces) or get a training partner.
When to do Core Exercises
With the exception of easy Tempo days where I do core during the main workout, core exercises are always done after the workout.
If you do 2 workouts a day, the morning workout is usually a warm-up, stretching, and some core, but not to the point of fatigue or exhaustion.
A good warm up during training camp are med ball tosses on the beach (or grass) for the morning workout. Simply grab a ball, toss in various ways, jog to the ball, pick it up, toss again. Go out 10 minutes, then turn around and come back for a total of 20 minutes. Good for core, conditioning, staying lean, and you enjoy breakfast more.
Testing for Core Strength – USELESS!
You really can’t test pure core strength… you can test core strength ENDURANCE like the plank test.
Because there really is no event that requires pure core strength as an Olympic event. Don’t get me wrong, core strength is important in doing a gymnastics L-sit position on the rings. Devices in the weight room have at least the lower back support for stabilization to do leg raises!
If you really want to test of your core strength, do the Olympic snatch and report back your numbers (or cleans to a certain extent).
The Shopping List
If you look at my abs, I could easily promote a cheesy gadget for abdominals and tell you this is how I got my abs (see ad on left). While I’m at it, I’ll tell you how to make four easy payments of $9.95 like a Ron Popeil infomercial.
But that’s simply not true.
If I had to advocate 2 products, number 1 would be an exercise mat (or towel if you workout on grass surfaces).
Number 2 is a med ball or plyo ball.
And get to work.
Current research has shown that plyo/swiss ball exercises aren’t that effective for developing core strength and squatting is the most beneficial.
How do you feel about lifting heavy weights for only 1-4 reps: http://bit.ly/cpB9Ah? What research backs up the theory of doing thousands of reps?
Jimson Lee says
@Fitz – I agree 100% that squats, cleans and snatches will work your core strength. Since the 400m is about 180 steps for me (assuming 45 steps per 100m) then I also believe in a core strength endurance.
Besides, a six or eight pack gets noticed at the beach. So does my doo-rag.
AB 19 says
Great Read Jimson! I personally need to encorporate a lot of what this article suggests.
Andy Cano says
Like my buddy once said, “the key to running fast is to have powerful leg muscles.” If you don’t believe that axiom, see how fast your arms and core can propel you if you don’t move your legs!
I dont agree about the thousand of reps !!thats in no the best way, you should train yours abs like other part of the body following with good nutricion.
Edward J. Edmonds says
As a distance runner my approach has always been to try to mimic some of the positions I’d be in while running. I only do core work twice a week at least 2-3 days between workouts after a moderate-hard run in which I’ll do core and upper body work. For my core I’ll do 10-12 x 1 min. planks w/ 1 min. rests sometimes with a light sandbag on my back on one day and the later week’s workout I’ll change it up a bit and do 3-4 x 3 min. planks with 3 min. rests. For the rests I’ll flip over and do a bridge. While I’m holding the planks I’ll rotate my torso from side to side to hit my obliques much like the slight twisting motion during running. Other core work I do is regular arms across the chest sit-ups usually holding 10-20 pounds on my chest sometimes with my legs bent like normal and sometimes straight legged. I’ll do 3-4 x 30 sit-ups with 1 min. rests. I also like to do 3-4 x 30 leg lifts with 5 pound ankle weights. For those I start with my legs open parallel to the ground and as I move my legs up I draw them together and then as I go down I open my legs back up essentially making an upside down “V” shape. I’ve found that as you open your legs both in the up and down that this hits the obliques if you focus on keeping your back as hard down to the ground as you can. I’ve also do these (leg lifts) on a bench laying down with my legs out far enough so that I can bring my legs down further than parallel to up the intensity.
After some experimentation I’ve found that all this works best (for me) at the end of the day after a moderate-hard workout, this way I can spend the next few days on easy runs recovering. In the past I’ve done these routines on easy days and found that it effected my hard days workouts. This way I can dedicate my easy days to truly easy efforts which helps to greatly polarize my training and also allows me to truly recover in between hard sessions. I really do believe in the effectiveness of this routine especially the planks and bridges (when done correctly they really get you used to having your pelvis sit where it’s supposed to), it really gets you running with proper form when done in combination with hill sprints and plyometrics.
On a side note, I really enjoy the information on this site, I’ve ordered and read the book (So You Want to be a Sprinter) over on sister site and have used the drills in there in combination with my distance training (a lot of it I was already doing I just didn’t know other people where doing it for the same reasons), I really believe there is a lot of value in adding sprint training (minus the anaerobic stuff during base building) and sprint type drills to distance training, I think it makes you a stronger and more durable athlete, it opens up your stride, and builds strength.
Thanks for providing all of this information in one spot.