MON: Why We Don’t Program a Ton of Fatigue Based Ab Work
I was having a conversation with a member the other day who mentioned how challenged he was on hanging knees to chest. He is a long-time member and one our strongest performers, and he was shocked at how weak he felt in that position, and asked about why he doesn’t often see more movements where his core was challenged in this manner. That feeling of fatigue in the muscle that often signals that a body part or muscle group is being “worked.”
Understandable, and opened up good dialogue into why we program core movements the way that we do and why the mirage of fatigue in the abs doesn’t really mean much (and could in fact be detrimental).
First and foremost, it helps to understand that “core” work as we typically see it in here should really be called “pelvic” work.
Last I checked, calling something Pelvis Class isn’t exactly a magnet for attendance, though. The challenge of the core movements that we perform in class are more postural based than they are about fatiguing the musculature through repetition, most notably in the form of anti-extension, anti-rotation, and anti-flexion (you can read about all three, here). This most frequently manifests as holds, planks, roll outs, carries, and resisting rotation like renegade rows, pull throughs, even standing rope pulls.
However, in all of these, the posture in which we perform the movement is critical to its benefit. Specifically, we are looking for a neutral pelvis and avoiding a condition called anterior pelvic tilt. APT is a condition where weakness in our abs and glutes leads to the pelvis dumping forward and creating a state of chronic compression in the low back. When we are in APT, we are compromised in 100% of movements we do in the gym, so we are very concerned with either getting you out of it, or ensuring you don’t develop it.
The most helpful example of articulating this would be the hollow hold (anti-extension).
While you might not feel a deep burn in a 20″ hollow hold (though that means you can likely perform it tighter), rest assured that your core is working. The deeper, less superficial abdominal muscles are working to prevent your lumbar spine from extending. This is why it’s crucial you listen to cuing, such as driving your low back into the ground. If it elevates, you are now in APT and it is a useless movement that isn’t challenging at all.
Same thing for ab roll-outs. If you find these easy, you are likely allowing a state of APT to take place, meaning your abs are turned off, pelvis is dumping, and you’re driving all of that sensation into your low back.
The fix for both is to fix the pelvis.
Sure, we could throw lots of 100 sit-up days and leave you feeling productive from a fatigue perspective, but we likely will have set you back if we did that all the time (fine when dosed sporadically). The reason that fatigue-based ab movements can be detrimental is that our form gets sloppy and the exact posture we hope to correct goes out the window. This is why you’ll often see those movements performed in low rep schemes. A tired hollow rock performed in APT will not do anything at all, and likely is the reason you might not “feel” the movement working. Even a super long plank will ultimately result in sagging hips, APT, and loss of benefit.
Less time is usually more, with greater focus on position and activation.
If your goal is to develop visible abs, examine your nutrition.
If your goal is to develop stronger, more functional abs that create less back pain and stronger lifts, inquire with your coaches about how you can get more of the movements that we perform.
Posture trumps fatigue all day long when it comes to core work.
First. For Strength
3 Clean and Jerks
Every 4’ For 20’ (x5)
Then. For Time.
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