The routines in this course are the result of four years research at Stanford University. A research team spent hundreds of hours observing body-builders, gymnasts, martial artists, and wrestlers to learn how dedicated athletes approached abdominal conditioning. The researchers pored over existing physiology studies, and conducted and evaluated new ones. The findings formed the basis for the most economical and effective program ever developed.
And the results.? Quite simply-amazing! 95% of those using the new program showed improvement in abdominal tone in the first two weeks. Body-builders found they could develop and maintain the kind of muscle definition previously thought to require daily 30-minute Roman Chair workouts just using a simple, 6-minute program four times per week!
Because of your interest in conditioning and exercise, you probably know more about the subject than most people. You may even be doing some of the exercises in this course. Please note: The research behind the program was aimed not only at determining which ab exercises are most effective, but more importantly, at discovering the optimum way to combine them. This is Synergism-creating a whole greater than the sum of the parts. The exercises described in Legendary Abs become many time more effective when used as indicated. It is the specific per-level sequence, timing, and overall progression that makes our program such a powerful conditioning tool.
It’s interesting how far off the mark traditional training advice falls. Did you know, for example, that the straight-legged sit-up is not an efficient abdominal exercise? And that it’s actually bad for you?
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. To explain this clearly, we must trace the course of our research through some areas of kinesiology and physiology, to the conclusions that shaped this unique program.
IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS MUSCLE….
(Later, unfortunately, came fat)
Muscle is the powerhouse of the body. It has a very special characteristic: it contracts. Given stimulus by the central nervous system, muscle fibers shorten to about two-thirds of their original length. And because of the clever ways in which those fibers are positioned, humans can do amazing things: like run 4 minute miles, climb impossibly high mountains, and make quick recoveries when they trip over their own shadows in public.
Muscles also protect your body from injury. The abdominals in particular, running from the bottom of the rib cage to the top of the pelvis, shield the delicate internal organs.
Finally, the abdominals are essential to good posture. They act in concert with the Spinal Erectors to hold you and your spine upright, much the same way guy-wires support a tent pole.
At least, that’s what they were designed to do.
Soft, out of shape abdominals do little supporting or protecting. They don’t look great, either-hence the many diet and exercise programs available today. These programs, however, usually fail to distinguish between toning abdominal muscle and getting rid of excess fat.
Muscle and fat lie next to each other in the body, but they are distinct and separate layers.
Fat is the body’s way of storing “extra” food. If you eat more than you need to sustain your daily activity, the excess ends up in your thighs, on the backs of your arms, and around your middle in the form of enlarged fat cells.
Getting rid of unwanted fat, if that is your goal, simply requires you to observe the tried-and-true formula:
DIET + EXERCISE = WEIGHT LOSS
No secret here. Doing muscular work requires energy. That energy is derived from the food you eat and the fat stores. If you decrease food intake and/or increase energy output, you lose fat. Simple.
Some people, though, mistakenly assume they can “burn” fat from around their middles by doing exercises involving the muscles in that area-sit-ups, side bends, and the like. Not so. Doing exercise for any single muscle group doesn’t burn enough calories to noticeably reduce fat. Furthermore, when fat does come off, it comes off evenly from all over the body-not just from the area being worked. To get rid of fat, you must force your body as a whole to burn lots of calories by involving as many major muscles groups as possible. This means doing exercises like running, swimming, cycling, aerobics dance, or jumping rope, and doing them consistently over a period of time.
So much for fat. To condition abdominal muscle, it’s necessary to do exercises that…
* involve the abs,
* overload the abs-forcing them to do more work than they’re used to,
* work the abs from a variety of different angles so that all the fibers get a workout.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the two most common abdominal exercises.
THE GOOD WORD ON SIT-UPS:
Don’t Do Them!
At first thought, straight-legged sit-ups or Roman Chair sit-ups seem reasonable candidates for an abdominal toning program. The stomach muscles appear to be in the middle of the crunch that occurs when you sit up, and they “burn” during the course of the exercise. So they must be doing the work, right?
Actually, no. It’s true the abdominals contract when you do these exercises. But the abs have a much narrower range of motion than these exercises require. If you lie flat on your back with legs extended, your abs have the capacity to raise your shoulders about 30 degrees off the floor. No further. Any motion above and beyond that is not the work of the abs. Since the Straight-legged sit-up calls for about 90 degrees of trunk flexion, two thirds of the motion is wasted on other muscles.
As for the Roman Chair sit-up, except for getting into position, the movement does not call the abs into play at all! The most you get out of rocking back and forth is a bit of thickening of ab muscle tissue at the point where it joins the rib cage. As with Straight-legged sit-ups, other muscles do all the real work.
These “other muscles”, the Psoas Magnus and Psoas Parvus, run from the front of the legs up through the pelvis, connecting to the lowest six spinal vertebrae. They pull your trunk toward your legs, as do your abs. But unlike the abs, their range of motion is huge: they can pull you forward all the way from a full backbend until your chest touches your knees.
Unfortunately the psoas do their job of raising your torso most efficiently when your legs are extended and/or your feet are held-as in Straight Legged sit-up posture and Roman Chair posture. When you start an exercise in this
position, the psoas compete with your abs for the first third of the movement, and then take over entirely for the remaining two-thirds.
This make a strong case of inefficiency against the two old favorites.
Besides their inefficiency, the real problem with these exercises is the stress they put on your lower back. With each straight-legged contraction, the psoas tug at the place where they connect to the spine. That tug doesn’t do much damage as long as your abs remain strong enough to prevent your back from arching. But the abs tire fairly quickly even when you’re in great shape, and then you do arch. This allows the vertebrae immediately above and below the psoas insertion to grind together, and in a decade or so you may be stuck with permanent lower back pain as a result of disk degeneration.
Every kinesiology text we have ever seen warns against any supposed “abdominal” exercises where both:
1. the psoas come into play,
2. your position allows-or worse, encourages-your back to arch during the course of exercise.
Based on these criteria, we can eliminate these and other similar exercises, from our program: the Roman Chair Sit-Up, for its inefficiency, and the Straight-Legged Sit-Up for its damaging effect on the spine. Fortunately, there are exercises that fit our needs perfectly; these will be explained in the Program Section of this course. Some may be familiar to you, but remember-there’s much more to this new approach than the exercises themselves.
3. SYNERGISM: The Critical Element
Research has demonstrated that there is one particular sequence of a given series of exercise that affords maximum benefit to all the muscles involved. That sequence makes each of the exercises more effective than those very exercises performed individually. This is Synergism: combining elements to create a whole greater than a mere sum of the parts.
The ideal order of a series of exercises is partly defined by a principle called “The Interdependency of Muscle Groups”. Let us explain this way:
Imagine the stomach muscles divided into upper abs and lower abs. The line is usually drawn between the top two and the bottom two abdominal lumps. This isn’t a technical division, and you won’t find it listed in Gray’s Anatomy, but for the sake of discussion it exists nonetheless.
The upper abs can in turn be divided into center and outer sections. From now on we will use the term “upper abs” to refer to the center section; the outers we will call by their actual name: the External Obliques.
First consider the upper(center) abs and the lower abs. They are inter-dependent in this way:
To work the lower abs, you need to use LOWER ABS AND UPPER ABS.
To work the upper abs, you only need to use the UPPER ABS.
Notice the upper abs play a role in the work you do for both areas. As a result, if you tire the upper abs first, their fatigue will limit the amount of lower work you can do. The solution: exercise the lower abs first. That way you can exhaust the lowers completely, and then work the uppers to their limit with exercises that concentrate on them.
A side benefit of this approach is that the upper abs, once tired from lower ab exercise, don’t have to be pushed as hard to get a good workout.
Bringing the obliques into the picture, we can make a similar argument for twisting(cross-knee) versus straight ab exercises. Twisting movement involves both the obliques and the upper abs. Straight movements primarily involve the upper abs. If you do straight movements first, the upper abs get tired, preventing you from pushing the obliques to their limit. So twisting exercises should precede straight-ahead exercises.
At this point we have three rules needed to begin putting together a synergistic abdominal conditioning routine:
RULE 1. Avoid exercises that activate the psoas muscles and require a body position that allows the back to arch.
EFFECT: We eliminate many “standard” ab exercises-straight-legged sit-ups, Roman Chair sit-ups, bent legged, and feet-under a couch sit-ups.
RULE 2. Work lower abs before upper abs.
RULE 3. Do twisting(oblique) upper ab exercises before straight upper abs motions
EFFECT: We sort the remaining suitable exercises into general categories reflecting the order in which they should be performed-
First: exercises mainly involving the lower abs;
Second: exercises involving twisting movements; and Third: exercises mainly involving upper abs.
4. Remember, synergism means finding a way to exercise so that each bit of work you do reinforces all your other work. The most effective specific order within the categories must be determined by experimentation and a bit of physiological detective work. Our researchers have done this for you; their findings shaped the routines described in the Program Section.
The Legendary Abs routines will take you as close as you wish to the ancient Greek sculptors idea of a well-defined mid-section. The total amount of time you will spend on any particular day will never exceed six minutes.
The time it will take to reach your goal depends on your present physical condition and the consistency with which you train. It won’t be long, though. If you don’t have much extra fat, you should see results within a couple
weeks. Mild soreness should come after the first or second workout (a definite indication that something is happening!).