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Powering Up Your Plank – Guest Blog Post

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Powering up your Plank

By: Chris Kelly

“Plank routines are dull, unsexy, and I don’t feel the burn” is the gist of the response I typically receive from most clients when explaining my approach to core training—and I can understand their frustration.

After all, when it comes time to train there are few things as boring as holding still when you could be going to war with sit ups and crunches.

But after hundreds of hours working toward a better stomach, I have either prescribed or witnessed every crunch, leg lift and torso twist variation known to man. And though some worked better than others in “feeling the burn”, one conclusion I quickly reached is that banging out several hundred at a time is more likely to lead to a bad back then six pack abs.

My beef is not with crunches themselves, but any exercise which does not result in maximal return on investment. And much like the plank, this approach amounts to a long duration, low load stress being placed on the torso.

The difference is that much of this stress is directed toward the spine versus the abs– probably not the best idea for those already hunched over a computer several hours a day!

While neither exercise fits the bill alone, the missing link for building a ripped and functional torso is understanding how to condense sufficient intensity and density (amount of work performed) in to a routine which does not jack up the spine.

In this article, I will address the problems associated with both the plank and crunch and explain how to incorporate each exercise in to a routine which will challenge even the strongest stomach while busting your ass in the process—all in around five minutes.

Overcoming Misconceptions

While planks are intended to provide a sustained, low load contraction to build endurance in the abdominals, the static variety clearly falls short when it comes to abdominal development.

That being said, everything changes when we incorporate movement of the arms and legs. Specifically, this is done by performing moves such as crawling and stepping in a plank position while maintaining a flat back and abdominal brace.

Suddenly, this exercise becomes infinitely more difficult and offers several benefits:

  • While crunches primarily target the upper portion of the rectus abdominus (six-pack or beer gut) only, planks can be utilized to systematically hit every area of the stomach to address muscle imbalances commonly seen in the lower abdominals and external obliques (side abs).
  • While an excess of crunches creates or reinforces a kyphosis posture (or a hunch back), plank variations have a positive impact shoulder and upper back stability by forcing the user to stabilize the trunk with the arms and/or elbows.
  • By training torso stability while moving the arms and legs, plank variations positively impact athletic performance and weightlifting by enhancing the efficiency of force transfer from the lower to the upper body.

Incorporating Intensity

Especially when combined with a high stress stimulus, dynamic planks suddenly become the ultimate accessory exercise by providing prolonged time under tension for the abs while limiting spinal stress.

This is accomplished by pairing low rep exercises which involve torso flexion with planking movements to increase time under tension. The decision on which exercise to use comes down to the area of the stomach you intend to target.

In a recent article on the Best Exercises for Abdominal Activation, strength coach Bret Contreas lists several choices for each area of the stomach:

  • Rectus Abdominis– Chin Up, Hanging Leg Raise, Ab wheel rollout Swiss Ball Crunch
  • Internal Oblique- Ab Wheel from Feet, Ab Wheel from Knees, Bodysaw, Tornado Ball Slam
  • External oblique- Ab Wheel from Feet, Hanging Leg Raise, Bodysaw, Turkish Get Up

Picking Your Planks

After determining the target area of the stomach, the next step is exercise selection. The idea is to choose one core strength exercise followed by two plank variations performed back to back to prolong time under tension.

While Bret’s article offers a comprehensive selection for strength exercises, we want to choose plank variations which incorporate limb motion in the particular area we wish to develop.

For the rectus abdominus and anterior external obliques, this would include two frontal plank variations which involve the arms and legs. For the lateral external obliques’, this would mean two side plank variations.

We will divide these two areas in to anterior core (front of stomach) and lateral core (side abs) for simplicity.

Sample Workout #1- Anterior Core focus

This workout is intended to target the lower rectus abdominus.

In order to do so, we have chosen an exercise involving leg lowering followed by two frontal planking exercises which utilize the arms and legs.

Because the rep ranges are kept fairly low, it is important to move slowly enough to maintain an abdominal brace and build optimal fatigue

1. Stability ball leg lower — 5 reps

2. Stability ball push out — 8 reps

3. Stability ball knee tuck — 8 reps

Video example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTdrbgv2VEU

Sample Workout #2- Lateral Core focus

The half get up is a favorite of mine for targetting this area while also promoting stability of the shoulder.

We follow this up with two weighted side plank variations which will the sides of the stomach. While each of these movements can be made progressively heavier, they do not require much weight to be effective (10-20lbs works well for most) and should also be performed with slow and controlled movement.

1. Half get up — 5 reps

2. Weighted side plank pulse — 8 reps

3. Side plank row— 8 reps

Video example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-ujk4RBBUs

Time is of the Essence

One thing you will notice from the above is that we did not include sets with our rep ranges. In our system, this is mainly due to the issue of time.

Because our clients are often faced with time constraints and short attention spans, our solution has been to incorporate timed circuits popularized in Charles Staley’s Escalating Density Training to really ramp up the intensity.

This can be done by simply setting a clock for 5-7 minutes and performing as many rounds as possible with proper form. Ideal for the time challenged trainee, this approach is also a great finisher after your strength training or conditioning work.

Putting It All Together

With a solid core (I couldn’t resist) of planking know-how, this sequence of exercises is all you will ever need to build superior strength and definition in your torso. Simply pick one strength exercises which directly targets your chosen area of the core followed by two supplementary plank movements from the list provided below.

Because the abdominals recover quickly, training for these muscles should be performed 4-5 times per week. Generally, we will rotate exercises and/or target areas of the stomach every two to three weeks.

But while more advanced trainees may benefit from a split which targets one area of the stomach only, a solid split for most beginners is devoting one day to both anterior and lateral core for overall development.

Sample split:

Mon: Anterior Core
Tues: Lateral Core
Wed: off
Thurs: Anterior Core
Fri: Lateral Core
Sat: Off
Sun: Off

Conclusion

For anyone doubters on the effectiveness of the plank, I challenge you to sample the workouts above and prepare for the plank beat your abs (and ass) in to submission!

Exercises

1. Lower extremity frontal plank examples: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKbcUeFfjF8

2. Upper extremity frontal plank examples: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQE8dVMChdM

3. Side plank examples: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snAVWltGpKM

About the Author

Chris Kelly is a strength coach, fitness writer and educator based in T
ampa Florida. He specializes in innovative strength, conditioning and core training solutions for athletes, models, actors and figure competitors preparing for show. Check out his blog at http://modelfit1.blogspot.com


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Powerful Pressing Power AND Core Strength with an Important Lesson

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Powerful Pressing Power AND Core Strength With an Important Lesson

In this new article I am going to discuss something that is of great importance.

But first, something really cool.

One Arm Dumbbell Press on Swiss Ball

This movement is awesome for:

  • increasing pressing power
  • improving core strength (anti-rotation, statics / dynamic isometrics)
  • improving shoulder stability

We cycle in this variation once in a while after the lifter / athlete demonstrates proficiency with horizontal and vertical pressing AND horizontal and vertical pulling (*Remember, we must create a balance in the volume of movements).

As the lifter goes through the range of motion of the press there is a torque across their torso that is very significant and this must be stabilized.  Once stabilized and braced and with the shoulder retracted and packed back, the lifter will begin their set.

MOST IMPORTANT LESSON #37

In the video you’ll hear me instruct John (the second athlete in the video) to switch hands on the press.  During his set I am always observing, instructing and providing lifting cues for form.  I saw his rep was slow and he was losing stability.  Once I see this, I must immediately jump in and instruct him to switch hands or end the set if he has already lifted with both arms.

This is the key.

NO GRINDING REPS.  There is no need.  In a fatigued set where the reps are grinded out, that is when injuries occur.  Also, if every set is taken to this “failure”, overtraining is much more likely.  We want to see quality reps and complete focus by the athlete.  They must be “in” the set the entire time.  As my good friend Rob Pilger says, “Fatigue makes cowards of men” and fatigue also puts the athlete into a compromising position.  Do you let them grind the rep out in a bad movement pattern, or do you cut the set and get another rep on the next workout?

My 20 years in the trenches advice?  Cut the set.

Step 1:

Coaching Cues:

  • Stabilize and Brace Core
  • Retract Shoulder
  • Drive Feet Down

Step 2:

Coaching Cues:

  • Stabilize and Brace Core
  • Retract Shoulder
  • Drive Feet Down
  • Drive Dumbbell to Lockout and Reset Your Air
  • Slowly Return to the Starting Point*

* Key Note:  A neutral grip is preferred for athletes as this is the most advantageous and safest position.

One Arm Dumbbell Press on Swiss Ball

Cool Testimonial for AMPED

You have to see this testimonial for AMPED Warm-up.  It is from Nicolas Amp (yeah I love his last name!) and it is awesome.  Not only does he provide great feedback, he also sent me a picture of him watching AMPED in his car during a traffic jam!  Check it out!

“As a strength coach, it is my responsibility to make sure my athletes get the best from their workout and do not get injured. Every training programs, no matter how good they are, can not be performed well without a proper and well-designed warm up protocol. This is where AMPED comes in action! Everything you need to know about warming up is explained. Self-myofascial release methods, mobility training and activation… everythig is in here. I’ve been particulary interested in mobility training and what I’ve found in AMPED totally answered my questions. Thanks to AMPED, I’m confident I’m going to bring my athletes to the next level. If you are a serious strength coach, you have to get AMPED!”Nicolas AMP


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3 Insanely Effective, FAST Upper Body Warm-ups – Repost

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

In honor of AMPED Warm-up, I am re-posting two previously released articles for all of our new subscribers.

Check out this essential upper body warm-ups, how to warm-up article below.

mf-ben

If you’ve picked up the latest edition of Men’s Fitness, there is a big 4 week AMD workout in it. You know from all of my posts here on Diesel and if you’ve purchased this innovative muscle building system, that I’m big on full range of motion movements, a thorough warm-up, activation exercises, SMR and everything else that helps you stay healthy and move better.

It is so important as you get older and it is so important for coaches and personal trainers who are responsible for helping athletes and fitness enthusiasts.

With this in mind, I created a killer new video. Each warm-up might look like a whole lot of exercises; more than you’re used to. But as you get proficient, you’ll flow from exercise to exercise and it should not take you longer than 10 min.

In this video you’ll find 3 choices.

Three different upper body warm-up routines that you can pick and choose from for your workouts.

What To Do Next?

1. Watch the Video

2. Rate at 5 stars

3. Print out all 3 Warm-up exercise lists on this page, or in the description on the YouTube video.

Copy and paste the following into word and print it out. Take it with you to the gym.

Upper Body Warm-up Routines

Warm-Up #1

Perform 1 Run Through

1a) Jump Rope, 3 min

1b) Foam Roller, 30 seconds each area

1c) Shoulder Bridging, 10 reps each side

1d) Push-ups, 20 reps

1e) Push-up Plus, 10 reps

1f) Kneeling Reach Through, 5 each side

1g) Banded Diesel Face Pulls, 20 reps

1h) Muscle Snatches, 10 reps

Warm-Up #2

Perform 1 Run Through

1a) Jump Rope, 3 min

1b) Foam Roller, 30 seconds each area

1c) Med Ball Wall Dribbling, Left to Right, 10 times

1d) Db Laterals, 10 reps

1e) DB Flyes, 10 reps

1f) DB Raises, 10 reps

1g) DB Presses, 10 reps

1h) Banded External Rotations, 10 reps each arm

1i) Standing Rotator “Y”, 10 reps

1j) DB Lateral Drops (Activation), 15 reps

1k) Plate Extensions into Halos, 10 reps

Warm-Up #3

Perform 1 Run Through

1a) Jump Rope, 3 min

1b) Foam Roller, 30 seconds each area

1c) Lat Stretches, 5 resets each side

1d) Band Shoulder Stretches, 3 Ways, Various

1e) Hindu Push-ups, 20 reps

1f) Cable Face Pulls with External Rotation, 10 reps

1g) Cable Face Pulls, 10 reps

1h) Side Lying External DB Rotations, 10 reps each side

1i) Blackburns, 10 reps

1j) Full Range DB Laterals, 10 reps

Highly Effective Upper Body Warm-ups

PS. If you want to learn how to pull all of this together into a complete workout, guaranteed to not only build muscle and get you stronger, but also help you rehab your injuries and feel better now, check out Accelerated Muscular Development

PPS. Want power? Want real core strength? Check out Combat Core Strength

Essential Hip Mobility – How to Warm-up Correctly

Monday, August 9th, 2010

In honor of AMPED Warm-up, I am re-posting two previously released articles for all of our new subscribers.

Check out this essential hip mobility, how to warm-up article below.

running-with-the-bulls

You Are Going to Get Injured.

Yes, you will.

Sooner or later, the choices you make in the weight room will lead to injury. A severe injury or something minor is in your future, trust me on that!!

But you have a choice and if you act on it, you will see immediate results.

And you must make it immediately! You must take action right now without hesitation!

Change your workout. Change it NOW!

Because I know what you’ve been doing.

You haven’t been warming up. You haven’t been doing full range of motion movements. You haven’t been raising your core temperature before touching ANY weights.

This stops now!

I am here to make your workouts better and make you feel better.

What does training do to your body?

The SAID Principle and The Principle of Progressive Overload is based upon the foundation of tension. The more tension, the more adaptation. Good or bad. You are constantly striving to create more tension and more time under tension (TUT).

Good adaptations include building muscle and strength (combination of increasing cross sectional area of the muscle fiber – sarcoplasmic hypertrophy AND an increase in the number of myosin/actin filaments (sarcomeres) inside the cell – myofibrillar hypertrophy ), improved neural efficiency, tendon / ligament density, greater work capacity, development of specific physiological qualities (dependent upon volume, load, speed, tempo, implement, application), and so on…

Bad adaptations include the consequences of the recovery from heavy and prolonged strength training. Shortening of soft-tissues, adhesions and inhibition in movement is increased dependent upon % of tension (vs. current capacity), restricted range of motion movements coupled with current mobility limitations.

What does this mean?

If you load up a ton of freaking weight, day in and day out, and only perform short range of motion movements, you’ll be walking like Frankenstein and get injured from tying your shoe and farting at the same time.

Solution? Comprehensive, systematic, consistent application of a thorough, complete and all-encompassing warm-up and mobility drills prior to and after your strength training sessions.

Think I’m lying? Think I don’t know what I’m talking about? Think you don’t have time?

Bullshit.

I have been applying these techniques this year with not only myself, but all of my athletes. We’ve gotten stronger and my chronic injuries and limitations have gone away.

Now, if your goal is to lift heavy, lift often and lift hard for a few years, then screw it – who needs mobility work. But if you want to lift for a lifetime, then you better start doing these movements.

NOW.

You don’t want to be like this dude.

fail-gansta

Essential Hip Mobility Movements

I just posted a new video of some really good hip mobility movements. These will get your heart pumping, open up your hips, improve your flexibility and get you moving again quick.

But you have to do them on a consistent basis. I’m not just talking about before lower body day, I’m talking about all the time.

Remember the previous post I put up about hip mobility and knee rehab? It showed how to open up the hips and activate the glutes. How about the lower back rehab post? With each post we are learning more and more and building more comprehensive workouts.

Right now we are concentrating on hip mobility.

Hip Mobility Exercises in the Video

Glute Stretch into Cossack
Wall Squats
Hip Flexor Stretch (Back Leg Elevated)
Hip Flexor / Quad Stretch
Hip Flexor Stretch and Reach
Bulgarian Split Squats
Striders into Rotational Lunges
Striders into Seated Glute Stretch
Fire Hydrants
Downward Dog into Quad Squat
Cobra into Dynamic Plough
Dynamic Adductors – Level 1 (Narrow)
Dynamic Adductors – Level 2 (Wide)
Dynamic Adductors – Level 3 (Horizontal Squat)

The Essential Hip

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How to Build Muscle | Muscle Building Workouts | How to Lose Fat | Six Pack Abs | Build Muscle, Muscle Gaining Workouts | Build Muscle Membership Site

How to Build Muscle | Muscle Building Workouts | How to Lose Fat | Six Pack Abs | Build Muscle, Muscle Gaining Workouts | Build Muscle Membership Site

What is the Best Training Equipment?

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

What is the Best Training Equipment?

I asked this question the other day on Facebook and I received a ton of feedback.  Everyone weighing in with their opinion.  It seems that everyone has their favorite piece of equipment.
CHECK OUT THE REST OF THIS KILLER POST AFTER THE JUMP (more…)