Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Making the Abs Functional

I admit it...I was into the "functional craze" back in the day. I used them all: Dyna disks, Stability Balls,  BOSUs, and Balance Boards in an effort to challenge my clients and introduce an unstable surface into their training. Back then it was cool... Many of today's guru's were probably still in school when the "functional craze" swept the fitness industry, so it is easy for them to downplay its impact on training.  I think in an effort to understand the impact of the functional craze and really 'ridicule' it, you should have at least tried it. Sadly, many trainers today simply rely on unstable tools to make exercises more difficult or challenging without adding load. Although there is a time and place for those gadgets, the premise of a good exercise program revolves around adding progressive loads at the appropriate time

Making exercises more challenging is not a bad thing. For the personal trainer, it adds variety and motivation to a session --when it is properly inserted into a program.  One of the coolest gadgets that I use for progressive movements is the Slide Board. The Slide Board is technically known for it's close similarity to ice skating and frontal plane movements. 

Stroops 7' Slide Board with Boots 

In the past, I used many ab crunches on the Stability Ball in hopes of  "developing core stabilization". I mean, c'mon...the body is sitting on spherical object that rolls. The abs should engage? Technically, yes...but stabilize the spine? Not necessarily.

However, after reading much of McGill's work on abdominal function, I have found a way to use the Slide Board as a true abdominal exercise. The old conundrum that the "abs simply flex the trunk" was really put to rest by McGill as he stated that if the abs were to function solely as a trunk flexion unit, they would look like hamstrings. Hmmm...makes you think? McGill repeatedly states that the abdominals work functionally to stabilize the spine and resist rotation (mainly obliques). That is why he says they are shaped the way they are.

Using the slide board for ab work not only intensifies the movement, but it allows the anterior chain to work together to stabilize and decelerate at the point the body reaches a lengthened lever position. A similar action to the ab wheel, the prone jackknife also creates an autogenic stretch for the thorocolumbar region—the antagonistic of the rectus abdominal sheath fascia. The more explosive the movement, the more muscle action needed from the upper extremities, which makes this, exercise a great unifying piece for the upper and lower body segments.

To execute, position yourself with knees and torso over a slide board. Keep the hands off the slide board and placed in a push-up position. When ready, lift the hips high and keep the shoulder girdle stiff. Slide the feet down and powerfully, retract back so that the hips flex and the buttocks rise high. It is very easy to lose the stiffness in the trunk when the feet slide down, so make sure to keep the abs braced and not let the hips over extend.

It is important to really think about the exercise as the movement is being performed. Many people that do not possess the mental toughness to progress to more challenging tasks, usually focus on the "pain", "discomfort", or unfamiliarity of a new movement. When their mind is preoccupied with those factors and they will forget to engage the deep abdominal muscles to stabilize the torso. Of course, an unstable surface like the Slide Board will make stabilization more challenging--therefore, really emphasizing the need to THINK about the movement and conduct muscular activation as necessary. When the exerciser is not engaging the deep intra-abdominal muscles and obliques, the Slide Board Jackknife looks like this:

Here are some basic prerequisites to meet before going out and buying a Slide Board and trying this exercise out:

1.) Check your weight. If you are 15-25 pounds overweight, you don't need to try this exercise--you need to diet.

2.) Shoulder issues. If you have any type of shoulder pain; this movment will expose them.

3.) Planks. If you cannot hold a plank (a good one) for at least 3 minutes; do not move to this exercsie.

4.) Bracing. If you do not know "how" to brace your abs, that is the first thing you must learn on a stable surface.

5.) Low Back Pain. If you have lower back pain from tight hip flexors or you are simply inflexible, chances are this exercise is too advanced for you.


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