Strengthening the abdominal muscles is one of the most desirable goals males
AND females have in their strength training & fat loss goals. It makes sense. Who wouldn’t want a nice set of abs? Personally, I’m not willing to go through the rigors of having it. Strength suits me fine. But some simply want that look similar to those of the Greek statues. And a flat stomach gives you a lot of flexibility to try out various different types of clothes. There is nothing wrong with wanting them. But how you get there is another story.
Like countless topics in the fitness industry. Ab training has gone down the same path that many well intended topics do.
- Taken in black or white. So either you are all in with training them or you do not do them at all.
- They say it’s either too important or they make it be all about it’s appearance and functional strength/stability be damned!
- There is literally no discussion on nutrition. Which is a different topic for a different day.
Great looking/Lean Abs= Strong Abs?
A common misconception with having strong abs is the idea that it means you’re strong. Visible abs are not indicative of strength. It is merely indicative of low body fat. Yes, if you want to be strong you need to have well-developed abs. But, well-developed does not mean they are seen under the skin. If you have low body fat you WILL have an impressive set of visually pleasing abs. Low body fat does not mean strength either. In fact, the extreme low levels of body fat typically are the complete opposite of strong! Ask any physique competitor how they feel in the last 4 weeks of their contest prep 😉
Physique competitors typically go into a contest with an impressive/lean physique. The weeks and weeks of dieting allows them to have VISUALLY pleasing abdominal muscles. But with leanness comes a lack of strength. And many men and women who delve into these types of competitions are at their weakest come show day.
Well-intended people have this odd idea that abs need to be trained with high reps (more than 12+ sometimes even 20+!) in a flexed spine position. It makes sense… you flex the spine, it burns, so that means it’s working right? Not entirely true, in fact there is some evidence that shows excessive amounts of flexed spine movements may cause neck and other spine related problems.  That’s not to say that there is not a place for high repetition ab work. But like I discussed earlier, we take it as black or white instead of the shade of grey in deserves. We spend so much time flexing the spine in order to make it stronger we miss out on the other MAJOR function the abs do… BRACE the spine. So you know… the ability to brace the torso when you lift heavy objects. And brace against Mike Tyson punching you in the gut!
Strong Bracing Technique Needs A Strong Core!
The anterior (front) abdominals make up two different large muscle groups. The rectus and transverse abdominus. The rectus works to flex the spine while the transverse is deeper and works to tighten the belly to protect and strengthen it. Rectus abdominus is the figure head. It’s the “Six Pack Abs” that we see on people. But the transverse abdominus in the background and it is a MAJOR player in bracing and protecting the spine. So how can we train the body to brace effectively while giving everyone the ab burn we all crave?
In Comes The Body Saw
This exercise sounds like some sort of finishing move from the old WWE days. The hardest part about training the abs is finding a way to stretch and shorten it while keeping some load on the spine so it works in the fashion we want it to. The body saw comes in handy for this. The body saw as shown in the video places you in a plank position at the start. From there, you try to slide your legs up and down the foam roller with your forearms while keeping your back in a straight line. Do not stick your butt in the air and do not let your belly button fall towards the floor. Think about pushing your belly button into your spine!
What You Need
You need a sturdy foam roller. It should be soft enough to be placed on your shins without feeling any pain in your shins from the roller. But it should be hard enough to roll on the ground without much interruption. If the foam roller is too soft your shins may sink into the roller and you won’t be able to push yourself forward and back. I recommend a high density foam roller from Perform Better. (The one show is not Perform Better but it’s close enough!).
The more carpeting an area has the more difficult the exercise will be. So the floor you perform this on could be something worth noting to track progressions. But when in doubt, do so on a hard, rubber surface.
When and Where?
Core training is something that can typically done on a more frequent basis than say squats and deadlifts. So you can incorporate this exercise several times per week. If you are new to this one it’s going to create some pretty intense soreness at first. Soreness does not mean you cease activity, but it does mean it may make the rest of your workouts more difficult, so plan accordingly.
If you have acute lower back pain this one may not be for you. Also, if you have difficulty hold a plank on the ground it would be silly to do this one since you will not have the strength to perform it without compromising form. compromised form under load for reps is the main recipe for pain down the road.
The body saw on the foam roller is an excellent drill for people looking to train their abs for appearance AND performance enhancement for their given area of training. Remember this is only one of hundreds of ways to train your core. But I am fond of this one due to it’s simplicity in nature. When it comes to training your abs it doesn’t matter how much you train if your nutrition is junk. If your nutrition does not facilitate muscle growth and repair along with fat burning…you will not see any progress in strength or physique. So train hard but eat hard too!
- Callaghan JP, McGill SM. (2001). Intervertebral disc herniation: studies on a porcine model exposed to highly repetitive flexion/extension motion with compressive force. Clinical Biomechanics, 16, 28-37