McAfee Secure sites help keep you safe from identity theft, credit card fraud, spyware, spam, viruses and online scams
Share Print

You have not viewed any products recently.




Ab Matters…

June 25, 2010 11:10 AM

Brett Jones, Master RKC

Abdominals, Abs, Core, whatever name you give it the concept of core training is a continued hot topic in the fitness industry. Hard to walk by a magazine rack without seeing the latest and greatest core routine. A flat stomach promised in no time! 4.3 minute Abs! You get the idea?

As many flat ab and core training routines that are available you will also see many recommendations that tell you not to worry with direct ab work since exercises like squats, deadlifts, etc? will train the core well enough. Just pick up heavy weight and you will get all the abdominal work needed.

The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle.

The core can be trained in two different ways as a reflexive stabilization unit and with feed forward tension techniques. Training the core as a reflexive stability unit is what we teach within the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) system. In the real world your core musculature needs to be able to fire first to create stability before we move. It?s about the timing of the muscle firing and this must precede the application of feed forward tension techniques. Within the FMS we test your reflexive stability in various foot positions and postures to ensure adequate stability combined with adequate hip mobility. Then corrective exercises like, Get-ups, Chops and Lifts are performed. These are beyond the scope of this article so visit for details (and downloadable articles on the chop and lift) and find a CK-FMS professional to assist you at

Feed forward tension techniques for the abdominals include a variety of exercises including: Pull-ups, Hanging Leg Raises, Janda sit-ups on the Ab Pavelizer? II, and a select few others like the Full Contact Twist. I can sense the eyebrows raising at the mention of the pull-up being a great feed forward tension ab exercise but as someone that recently had an abdominal surgery (ventral hernia repair) I can tell you first hand that your abs are WAY more involved in a properly performed pull-up then you would ever think. The properly performed pull-up I am referring to is the tactical pull-up as taught by Pavel. But what does feed forward tension mean? Essentially it involves using the proper positioning and set up and creating a very high level of tension in the abdominals before an exercise is executed. For pull-ups and hanging leg raises this means achieving the hollow position similar to gymnastics. And for the Full Contact Twist it means bringing energy from the ground through the hips then up to the bar instead of just flailing away with the arms slinging the bar side to side.

So what does this mean for you? It means that you need a method for assessing reflex stability. I recommend the FMS. And you need to have a select group of feed forward tension exercises to optimize your abdominal strength once you have the reflex stability dialed in.

But let?s dig a bit deeper? What is the Core and why can?t I just deadlift my way to great abs?

What is the Core? According to Physical Therapist, Dr. Kyle Keisel? ?we divide the core into two basic units, the inner core and the outer core. The inner core can be conceived as a cylinder made up of the pelvic floor as the base, the diaphragm as the top, the transverse abdominis (TrA) muscle as the anterior border and the lumbar multifidus (LM) muscles as the posterior border. The function of the inner core is both physiological and mechanical as its main role is to provide the muscle activation required to sustain respiration, continence, and segmental spinal stabilization. It may not be immediately apparent why it is important for the exercise professional to be aware of this inner core function, until we review recent research, which has helped us understand how the core automatically adapts in stressful situations.

The outer core is what most exercise professionals naturally think of when we discuss core training. The outer core is composed of large multiarticular muscles such as the erector spinea, rectus abdominis, and external oblique. The function of the outer core is to provide postural stability, resists external load, produce movement, and perhaps most importantly in many athletes, to transfer rotational energy for throwing and hitting. To efficiently function, the outer core must be free of trigger points, have adequate joint mobility, and have normal input from the central nervous system (CNS).?

transversus abdominis

Now what should be noted here is these inner and outer units influence each other. In the presence of pain or dysfunction the inner unit will basically shut down and move activation to the outer unit. This is called a ?high threshold strategy? and it is an attempt by our body to ?lock us up? so to speak to prevent pain. Unfortunately this usually just reinforces bad patterning and pain. This is why you need a screening tool to find these high threshold strategies and corrective strategies to deal with the situation.

For athletes and the physically active the focus usually goes to the outer unit for the postural stability, resisting external load, producing movement and transferring energy. This is where we can run into the mindset that ?lifting heavy? is all you need to do with your ?core?. But producing optimal activation of the outer unit using feed forward tension exercises is a skill set that needs practice. Yet again I can speak from personal experience of having eliminated direct abdominal work with the feed forward tension exercises. I feel that it affected my performance in a negative way. But rather than look to crutches and side planking there are high-tension exercises that can save us from ?the scrap heap?. (Anybody get the reference?)

Pull-ups and Hanging leg raises are unique choices because they integrate some old school training methods. In my work with Dr. Ed Thomas I have been exposed to the Turnveriene training methods. The Turners, as they were known, believed that you could not become truly fit without ?off the ground training?. Well pull-ups and hanging leg raises are performed off the ground and there is an additional aspect to these exercises. They are also a form of brachiation or hanging from the limbs, which Dr. Robert Martin indentified as one of the ?uncommon? postures. (See the Club Swinging Essentials manual for details)

Janda sit-ups on the Ab Pavelizer? II and the Full Contact Twist are excellent examples of ground based feed forward tension exercises. Both of these exercises are explained in detail in Pavel?s book Bullet Proof Abs. So rotating your choice of ground based and off the ground feed forward tension abdominal work will round out your training routine quite nicely.

Once you have screened and corrected reflexive stabilization and chosen your feed forward abdominal exercises you will integrate these into your overall training routine. Keep in mind that if you still correcting reflex stabilization it is a bad time for heavy loads so take a couple of weeks to de-load and make the corrections. As you begin to apply the feed forward tension drills follow a Power to the People style approach using 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps. Squeezing high tension into and out of your abdominals should be treated the same as any other high tension exercise like a deadlift.

Keep us posted on your progress on the forum


Brett Jones is a Pittsburgh, Pa based strength and conditioning professional available for workshops and consulting. A Master RKC and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, he pioneered the CK-FMS program with Gray Cook. CK-FMS integrates the Functional Movement Screen system with the RKC school of strength. Co-author of several DVDs including: Kettlebells from the Ground Up ? Kalos Sthenos, the Secrets of.. Series with Gray Cook, Club Swinging Essentials and others.

You can contact Brett by email @ and keep up with him on his blog at