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The Ab Exception

Does everyone need dedicated core training? Yes, they do.

By Vince Del Monte


Let me frame the question we’ll be tackling this month in a few different ways:

• Is it necessary to include direct abdominal work into your program if your goal is performance?

• Is it worth your time and effort to train your abs even if you don’t care how they look?

• Should you do a separate abdominal workout if you’re already doing a lot of heavy compound lifting that engages the core?


The answer is not “yes,” it’s a “hell yeah!”

Individuals who say “no” will argue that the abs are supposed to be working when doing all your compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts, military presses, pull-ups, and rows. However, I argue that their contribution to these movements will be limited by your ability to recruit them if your capacity for recruitment is low. If that’s the case, then those compound movements won’t receive adequate stimulation and overload when you’re doing these types of exercises. As a result, they become a weak link in the chain, and you’re only as strong as your weakest link. In other words, you will never realize your true performance potential in your squats, deadlifts, military presses, pull-ups, and rows if you don’t address the weakest link in the chain.

Listen, I get it. When you do a heavy deadlift or front squat, there is a ton of core engagement. And I understand that spending precious training minutes doing direct ab work may not seem like a good investment of your time because you don’t perceive the benefit to be very high. However, let me ask you: If the abdominals play a substantial role in increasing your capacity to produce force through the movements that you specifically want to get better at, doesn’t it make sense to want to make them as strong as possible?

Even if you could argue or pull out a research study that disproved otherwise, there are no downsides to making your abdominal muscles as strong as possible. So why wouldn’t you include direct abdominal work in your programming?

On top of that, each person’s ability to recruit muscles is different. What if you have a low capacity to recruit your abdominals in the first place? Just because you’re doing movements that are “supposed” to engage your abs doesn’t mean you’re still engaging them. You see, if you can’t recruit and challenge your abdominals with direct abdominal workout, otherwise known as isolation training, then how in the world are you going to recruit your abdominals in heavy compound lifts?

The answer is: You’re not. You’re going to disperse the tension to other strong bodyparts to make up for your weak links and escalate the chance of imbalances and force yourself into a plateau at best and a severe injury at worst.

You see, if your capacity to recruit a certain muscle group is minimal or low, then it’s the same as trying to fire a cannon out of canoe. It’s not a matter of if you get hurt, it’s a matter of when. Avoiding direct abdominal work will become a limiting factor and prevent you from maximizing your athletic potential whether you’re involved in strength competitions, a functional fitness athlete, or participate in traditional sports.

Now, there are always exceptions to the rule. I can already hear the skeptics say, “But my buddy can deadlift over 500 pounds and he never trains abs.” Good for him. He’s either the rare exception (there are always exceptions walking among us), or he simply hasn’t gotten injured yet. You should not be making decisions based on exceptions to the rule; you should be making them based on fundamental training principles and logic.





You’re going to want to find ways to directly challenge your abdominals, and I have just the workout for you to start adding into your program. Here is my own abdominal program directly out of my current eight-week training cycle. (You can check out my YouTube channel to find this workout performed.) You will perform it one time per week to begin. Just be prepared for some deep-muscle soreness.

Put this direct abdominal training program to work that I provided above and I guarantee you’ll see improvements in your squat, deadlifts, military press, pull-ups, and rows. IM


Direct Abdominal Training

A. Half-Kneeling Low-Pulley Pallof Press

2 x 6-8 reps each side
Hold for five seconds each rep
Rest 45 seconds between sets

B. Hanging Garhammer Raises

2 x max reps
Rest 45 seconds between sets

C. Superman Plank

2 x 30 seconds
Rest 45 seconds between sets

D. Scissor Sit-Ups

2 x 5 each side
Hold for three seconds in contracted position for each rep
Rest 45 seconds between sets

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