Are all ab workouts the same?

Recently at the gym we have been doing a “core circuit” consisting of exercises that are generally not done during our wods. This begs the question “why are we doing these.” This question can be answered by digging deeper into traditional “ab exercises”. When I went to fitworks or any other globo gym, I would see most people doing crunches, sit-ups, and knees to elbows to hit their abs. These are great ab strengthening exercises, but generally do not transfer over in a performance setting. So I will now break down the different ways we can train our core and how it applies to performance.

  1. Flexion or contraction

This type of core exercise consists of rounding our spine into a flexed position. This causes a contraction or shortening of our abs. The movements that include flexion are toes 2 bar, crunches, knees 2 elbows, ab mat situps. Studies have shown that this type of movement is the best way to strengthen the abs. Having said that this is a less than ideal position for barbell loading due to strain placed on the upper and lower spine.

  1. Stabilization

This type of core exercise consists of stabilizing our spine in a neutral position. The movements that are included here are planks, L holds, 6 inches, truck driver squats. This type of exercise strengthens not only our abs, but also our muscles that hold our spine in place. This type of movement is very ideal for extra loading.

  1. Extension

This type of core exercise consists of extension of our spine causing an eccentric or lengthening of the muscles. The movements that include extension are GHD situps and diagonal plate raises. This is a very uncommon form of training and gets overlooked because of the unnatural position it puts your spine into. Having said that, it really is no different than putting your spine into a flexion position as far as spinal loading goes. This would be equivalent to doing “negatives” on bicep curls or pullups.

  1. Application

So taking what we have learned from each method of core exercises, we now must see how these apply to our crossfit or athletic performance. In almost all of our power lifts (deadlifts, front squats, overhead squats) our core is trying to stabilize the spine so that we do not go into flexion or extension. This is why we say that these positions are not ideal for barbell loading. Pictured below is an example of a front squat performed where our spine is in a flexed position (picture 1), we may be able to complete this lift if the weight is light enough, however if this was my 1 rep max (I can actually do 65 #s not 45) I will probably be unable to complete this lift and will probably end up injured.  The picture below that shows me in an extension position on a push press. This is placing a lot of strain on my lower back and makes me very susceptible to injury (Picture 2). Doing this type of movement once or twice is not a big deal, however, with repetitive strain will cause severe injury. The last picture shows me in a neutral or stable position with a front squat. This is a very ideal position for barbell loading and if I am strong in this position, I will be much safer from injury and also able to lift heavier weight. (picture 3)





Being strong in all 3 types of core exercises is important, however being strong in the neutral or stable position is the most important for performance. This is the reason I have included the core circuit into our weekly routine. If you are having trouble increasing your pr on different lifts, adding a core routine in twice a week can be very beneficial and will surprise you in the improvements you will make. The reason it is important to be strong in all 3 positions is because of course when we are fatigued during a wod or during a max lift, we may over extend a little bit or flex our spine a little bit, but if we are tight and weak in these positions we put ourselves at greater risk for injury.  So if you are one to come in a little bit early and row 1000m, try and do some ghd situps, it may make a difference in injury prevention.

By Alex W.