Abdominal Function 2: Total-Body Ab Workouts Without the Crunch

“People should focus on what they eat and do between New Year’s Day and Christmas instead of between Christmas and the New Year’s Day.”

Your eyes may be bigger than your stomach can handle.

As the New Year approaches, you might be concerned about your expanding waistline because of the delicious food that your family and friends have prepared with long hours of sitting, sipping wine and laughing (or arguing, for some people). Once you hit the gym after the New Year, you might spend dozens of minutes doing dozens of crunches and other exercises that focus on your abdominal region.

Doing countless sit-ups to get a flatter tummy is like chewing gum all day to get skinnier cheeks.

However, doing countless repetitions of abdominal exercises won’t get you a flatter tummy than chewing gum constantly to get skinnier cheeks.  Fat metabolism occurs throughout your entire body, never in any specific body part, according to exercise physiologist William McArdle, who is a long-time writer and contributor to numerous exercise physiology textbooks. Perform countless sit-ups could make your abdominal muscles bigger, pushing the fat layer out and increasing your waistline, as Jack LaLanne once said.

If you want to burn the most of amount of calories in your workout, you are better off doing total-body exercises rather than isolating muscles groups. In fact, almost all exercises you do work your abdominal muscles to some degree.

Push-ups and Pull-ups:

The bench press, the cable rows and other bodybuilding exercises may give you a bigger chest and back, but they won’t improve abdominal strength and  stability the way push-ups and pull-ups can. If you want a strong upper body and burn more calories at the same time, perform these exercise will get you there. Plus you don’t need any equipment other than a pull-up bar or a similar apparatus.


Your abdominal muscles act as a corset around your torso to prevent your spine from moving when you squat. You do not need to do squats with big weights over your shoulders to engage your abdominal muscles. Just stand with your legs about shoulder-width apart, and raise both arms above your head. Squat down as low as you can while keeping your feet and knees pointing forward, your torso upright and your arms straight up. Sit-ups isn’t going to make your abs stronger or make your squats better.

Kettlebell Deadlift

A deadlift is a hip-hinging exercise where you lift a dead weight off the ground by using the hip and leg drive and abdominal and spinal stability. A hip and leg drive is where you push your hips forward and your legs against the ground at the same time. This generates strength from your lower body and transfers energy to your upper body. Many athletes, martial artists and construction workers use this method to lift heavy objects or overcome a larger opponent that they normally would not be able to do so with their upper body strength alone. Along with the squat, the deadlift is a must-do exercise for everyone. Here, my mentor Gray Cook explains the background and practicality of the deadlift.

Soccer Throw

Your abdominal muscles have be able to extend before it can contract to produce force. You can test this statement by throwing a baseball without moving your torso or lean and rotate your torso back before throwing it. To do the soccer throw, use a 6-lb or 8-lb medicine ball. Bring the ball over your head, and lean back slightly. Step forward and throw it against a sturdy wall or toward your workout partner. Catch the ball after it has bounced once on the ground, and repeat the movement as fast as you can. Can you feel your abdominals work the way they should?

Chop and Lift

Photo by Nick Ng

The chop and lift exercises provide the fundamental movements and stability to your abdominal and hip regions. In fact, they are the few fundamental movements patterns that occurs in all sports and activities, including baseball, martial arts, gymnastics, yard work, bowling and golf. The chop is simply a diagonal movement of your arms across your body from a high position to a low position, while the lift is the mirror image of the chop, moving from a low position to a high position. You can do this exercise with a cable column machine at the gym or hook a resistance band or tubing around a hook installed on a wall. When you do the exercise, keep your body and legs still as you move your arms.

Photo by Nick Ng

Try different leg positions, and see which side of your body or position is the most challenging. If there is one, perform two extra sets on that side. Eventually, both sides will feel more balanced after one month of training. Do the chop and lift exercises as part of your warm-up or a workout by themselves. You do not need a lot of resistance.

These exercises are a few of the hundreds of other exercises and activities that improve abdominal function without doing unnecessary crunches or other ab exercises that you often see at late-night infomercials. Your abdominal muscles are a part of your body’s engine and are interdependent–not independent–with other muscles and connective tissues.

Want to learn more? Call us at 858.722.5216 to get your own personal exercise program. Give us four weeks to make you a stronger person.


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