How many sit-ups do I do a day?

Not a clinic day goes by without a patient asking me how many sit-ups I do in the context of the cover shot of Get Serious. My answer, “Few, if any.” 

I quickly re-route the discussion to better address the topic at hand: low back pain (a very common presenting complaint). Why? Because the two are interrelated. Closely interrelated. The stronger your abdominal wall, the lesser chance you have of developing low back pain and lumbar spondylosis (degenerative disease of the spine).

Of course, this too assumes that your lumbar erector muscles (which counteract the activity of the abdominal flexors) are similarly strong. Regardless, the appearance of one’s abdominal musculature has often times little to do with its strength and integrity. The presence of “six-pack abs” is purely a function of low body fat while a strong abdomen, one that will confer protection to the lumbar spine, is a function of proper training.  And the same basic rules apply.

There is no specialized abdominal training. To strengthen the rectus musculature, one must train them at high intensity. Like every other muscle. Directly or indirectly. Squats and deadlifts, performed properly at high intensities, will indirectly stimulate the abdominal wall (as it serves to stabilize the upright torso). As will pull-ups and overhead presses for similar reasons. One will never make significant progress in any of the aforementioned movements in the absence of a strong midsection. That said, one can directly stimulate the rectus abdominis with movements such as leg raises, front lever variations (as seen in the picture) or dragon flags. And you don’t need to train the abdominals to exhaustion (despite what you’ve been told), but there needs to be progressive overload in order to effect change, right?

Back to basics: Overload… Adaptive response. Lack thereof? Homeostasis. And a weak abdomen. If you choose to train them directly, proceed as you would with all other muscles. Select an exercise that challenges you (at your particular strength level) and perform it with the highest degree, selectivity, focus and most of all intensity. Scrap the “failure” training. This will accelerate recovery rates and allow for twice-weekly training (yes your abdominal musculature, like your calves will likely tolerate the twice-weekly trauma). As always, track your progress.  And there will be just that… progress. Likely this will be conducive to lessened pain, a trimmer waistline and in the context of low body fat (typically <  9%), that sought-after six pack.

Easier said than done? Well it’s a new year. So GET SERIOUS and make it happen…