Why You Shouldn't Train Abs To
And The 3 Keys to Smarter Ab Training
By David Grisaffi,
Author, Firm And Flatten Your
Smart trainees know that
progression is the name of the game in fitness and strength
training. However, as you continually test your limits of
accomplishment, whether that?s reaching a new level of
leanness, increasing your muscle mass or obtaining a new
strength maximum, you often fall prey to the belief that you
must push yourself to the point of complete ?failure.? This is
the point where you reach a level of fatigue and exhaustion
that causes your muscles to literally give out (?fail?) and
you can?t complete another rep.
Training with progression and intensity is
important, but unless you?d like to trade a nice set of abs
for a bad lower back, I?d strongly urge you to re-evaluate the
concept of training to failure, especially when it comes to
core and abdominal workouts and especially if you?re not a
Why do so many people believe in failure
Training to ?failure? became popular in part,
because of bodybuilding culture and bodybuilding gurus such as
Mike Mentzer and Arthur Jones, and then the information
filtered into the mainstream fitness world. Athletes, who tend
to be as competitive with themselves as they are with their
opponents, also sometimes push themselves as far as they
possibly can in their quest for sporting excellence.
This approach may be misguided and possibly even
There may be a small place for taking some sets
to the point of failure in low volume bodybuilding programs.
But even bodybuilders who train to failure too often may be
gaining less benefit than they think, while increasing their
chances of overtraining or even injury.
I believe strongly that the added stress of
training to failure or total fatigue can cause more problems
than it?s worth and the potential benefit is not worth the
risk. I have rehabilitated many back pain patients because of
their stubborn beliefs in ?pushing it to the limit.?
Stimulate, Don?t Annihilate
Exercise places a stress on muscles, joint
structures and the entire body. Exercising to failure places
extreme stress on the muscles, body and the nervous system.
There is positive training stress and negative training
stress. Properly applied, training stress is ?stimulation?
which prompts an adaptation in the muscle ? strength, stamina,
size, or power. Improperly applied, training stress is damage
beyond the point of necessarily stimulation. Even some of the
top bodybuilders understood this, as former Mr. Olympia Lee
Haney used to say, ?Stimulate, don?t annihilate.?
Out of all the muscles and movements in
particular, it is very important to stimulate your core and
abdominals and not ?annihilate? them. Be very careful not to
over-train or over-stress your abs and core and this means,
do not train your abs to failure.
One of the biggest problems with training the
core and abs to failure is that the more fatigued you become,
the more your form begins to break down. When your form breaks
down, that is when injuries are most likely to occur. This is
true for any exercise, but it may be truer for abs and core
than any other type of exercise due to the susceptibility of
the lower back.
Research by Dr. Laurence Morehouse of University
of California at Los Angles found that when doing abdominal
exercises, especially sit-ups, you over-work your hip flexor
muscles - the psoas and the iliacus. When the exercises are
performed quickly (form breaks) or all the way to failure
(form breaks), the hip flexor?s pull on the lower back is
When performing your core exercises, always be
conscious about form, especially as you begin to get tired
toward the end of a set. You should terminate your set at or
before the point where you notice that your form breaks in the
slightest, and that is usually a couple of repetitions before
reaching muscular failure.
Progression Can Occur Without Failure
If you believe that stopping short of failure
will hold back your progress, think again. Progress is a
function of progression and progression can take place without
failure. You can continue to improve your workouts and thereby
your physique and performance by increasing repetitions and or
resistance or even density? without ever training to
Don?t Teach Your Nervous System ?Bad
One point about proper form that few people
realize is that if you train to the point of failure, which
leads to a breakdown in form, this can lead to the development
of poor motor engrams. Your nervous system can develop ?bad
habits? so to speak, as your body tends to automatically
revert to what you practice the most. If the last repetitions
of every set are usually done with poor form, then repeating
that motor pattern is much more likely to occur in the future,
leading to additional muscle and joint damage.
I design core conditioning programs in a
specific way so you train smarter and avoid temptations that
lead to poor form and potential injury. And that leads us to?
The 3 Keys To Smarter Ab Training
First, I recommend that exercises are
performed in a certain order
By placing the more neurologically demanding and
form intensive exercises first in a carefully planned
sequence, I help my clients avoid a situation where fatigue
and form breakdown would be as damaging. If you attempt the
opposite, you increase the chance of over fatiguing the
segmental stabilizers of the spine and you produce poor motor
More details on exercise sequencing are beyond
the scope of this article, but you can learn more in my Firm
and Flatten Your Abs program and in my Six Weeks to Six Pack
abs report (visit http://aseafood.davidfit.hop.clickbank.net/
for more information).
Second, I constantly emphasize form and
Nowhere is strict form more important for your
safety and results than in core and abdominal training. The
simple advice of slowing down the tempo and focusing on form
will increase results and help keep you out of the doctor?s
There are times when you may want to perform
core exercises at a higher rate of speed with more velocity or
explosiveness. This is often the case with athletic,
sports-specific training. But speed and form are not mutually
exclusive and the same rules about fatigue and failure still
apply to explosive training.
I train elite boxers and when they first show up
at my studio, they are often set in their old ways of failure,
fatigue and overtraining. I?ve seen it over and over again: A
new client?s routine consists of ?workout till you drop? and
then 1000 flat board sit-ups. I simply ask: ?How is your lower
back?? The answer usually is, ?It?s sore? at best, or ?It?s
injured? at worst. Even if they?re simply experiencing
unnecessary soreness, that gets in the way of sport-specific
training and their progress is slowed all around or grinds to
Third, you must get clear about the desired
outcome of your training
Many strength trainers and bodybuilders are
convinced that the outcome of a workout should be ?burn,?
fatigue and failure. If you think that aching muscles is the
desired outcome, then why even go to the gym? Come over to my
garage and I?ll whack you a few times with my sledgehammer
then sit you up on my barbecue grill. You?ll ?ache? and ?burn?
Joking aside, you must get clarity about your
real training objectives ? they?re NOT pain, fatigue and
failure. If you begin with the right end in mind, you?ll set
about reaching that end more intelligently.
Your training objective is to strengthen your
core region for support, stabilization and protection of your
spine and body organs, and your ultimate outcomes are to be
healthier, perform better and look better (perhaps in that
order of priority!)
These objectives are best accomplished by
performing your exercises with strict, controlled form, and by
using movement patterns such as flexion, extension and
rotation. However, any one of those movement patterns taken to
extremes can eventually cause damage to joint structures,
which can put you on the sidelines and only take you further
away from your true objectives.
Train hard, but also train smart
Progression and intensity are often confused
with the need to train to failure. From this day forward, I
suggest you re-evaluate the scientific facts as well as your
mindset towards your training. Get clear about your true
objective and train to succeed, not to ?fail.?
Coach David Grisaffi,
About the Author:
David Grisaffi majored in physical
education and holds multiple certifications including 3 from
the prestigious CHEK Institute: Level II high Performance
Exercise Kinesiologist, Golf Biomechanic, and health and
lifestyle counselor. He's also certified by the ISSA as a
personal trainer and specialist in performance nutrition.
David has been a high school wrestling and baseball coach and
is currently an independent trainer and strength coach. He has
been sought after by some of the top athletes in professional
sports including world champion boxer Greg Haugen and
professional golfer Michael Putnam. David?s ebook, Firm And Flatten Your
Abs is an online best seller which teaches you how
develop ?six pack abs" while improving strength, function and
athletic power at the same time. Find out more on the home
page at: http://www.flattenyourabs.net/