Principles of 8-Pack Training by Dr. Colker.
Bodybuilding taught me so much about abdominal development. Bodybuilding formed the foundation of my 8-pack abdominals. So too, it will form yours as well. Surprisingly it was not just the training concepts. While the nuances to the training aspects were key, it was the posing and flexing of the abdominal region in bodybuilding that really helped me break into my untapped abdominals potential. It did this by giving me an understanding of how these complex muscles moved and related to one another. The precious art of bodybuilding taught me to “learn my body”. I explored many exercises, read the trade magazines voraciously, and when a new exercise was written about, I’d test it out with monastic commitment. Bodybuilding taught me to not just do a thousand repetitions and think I accomplished something, but rather how a relative few repetitions of the proper exercise could produce incredible results. Bodybuilding was about efficiency—bodybuilding means doing just enough of just the right exercise and feeling it the entire time! So it was bodybuilding that moved me away from a style of training that can only be accurately described as “numbness”, and instead toward intimately feeling what I was doing. Soon, as a direct result of my bodybuilding workouts, diet, and cardio, I started to notice improvement when doing certain exercises. Gradually my training became even more precise.
Equipped with the knowledge of a few years of this toil, I began eliminating exercises that I found were useless or of limited effectiveness in terms of heightening my abdominals development. No matter how much press the exercise was given and despite the popular belief at the time, if it wasn’t working for me, it was out. In tandem with this, I began coning down the movements to those that offered the right kinetics to stimulate development in precisely the areas that were the most functionally beneficial and visually obvious to anyone looking at my abdominals. Those basic motions ultimately developed my six-pack to the point that it was a standout body part for me as a competitive bodybuilding champion. In my 20’s, it was a hallmark of my physique development even in the off-season. Ironically my 8-pack actually developed much later in life while in my 30’s!
I needed an entirely higher level of physical understanding to take it to the lofty level of 8-pack abdominal development. But once I was able to gain and apply the prerequisite knowledge of advanced anatomy, physiology, nutrition, human performance, and kinesiology that only comes with becoming a real physician, I finally found the real path to what had been my 8-pack dream. In the end, it was a rather unique combination of my bodybuilding training and the knowledge gained by way of my medical training and becoming doctor, which solidified the basic exercises for 8-pack abdominals. My schooling gave me an unparalleled understanding of the origin and insertion of each muscle, along with an intimate familiarity with the movement kinetics. Learning from world famous physicians and carving into human bodies during arduous days and nights of anatomy class gives one such an unforgettable close-up comprehension of how the human body really works. Equipped with this higher-order of understanding, I further crafted my exercise approach borne out of bodybuilding and finished with medical science.
Before I tell you what precise movements I used to build the 8-pack, let me tell you about common abdominal exercises I see people mistakenly perform regularly yet achieve very little.
Standard crunches (not to be confused with my version of crunches) are not a very functional movement for the 8-pack. That’s because the way they are performed doesn’t require hip flexion. The focus of standard crunches is almost entirely the upper abdomen. Sadly the upper abdomen is an area that’s fairly easy to develop with any number of exercises, plus it’s not really an area that tends to lack development since it is so easily stimulated by daily conventional movements. In sharp contrast, the lower abdomen is a far more stubborn area to develop, a bulging area of the body below the belt-line that plagues both men and women, and a region that is difficult to target, tone, and develop if you don’t know how. Unfortunately standard crunches are so easy to perform that they create the feeling that one is doing a lot of work, despite the fact that they are doing little if nothing to effectuate 8-pack development. To make matters worse, standard crunches are rarely performed with shoulder blades far off the ground. Almost invariably it’s a short, chopping motion, with tension only at the very apex of the motion and even then, only if you really squeeze for it.
Another nearly worthless movement for the 8-pack that I see so many people do is the standing weighted side-bend. This is often done holding a dumbbell or free-weight plate in one hand and placing the other hand on the head. The motion is performed by bending sideways toward the weight and then contracting the opposing side-abdominal muscles to raise the torso straight back to the upright position. Again, like standard crunches, standing weighted side-bends are seductively easy to do so they give one the sense that they are doing a great deal. Yet the truth of the matter is that they are doing nothing to effectuate 8-pack development. In fact, standing weighted side-bends target the lower portion of the external abdominal obliques located on the side of the torso. These muscle bands are in a region, which, at its inferior portion, lay right below the proverbial “love handles”. The fibers run obliquely (diagonally) across the sides of the abdomen. Training these muscles through lateral flexion by way of weighted side-bends does nothing for developing the 8-pack. In fact, they actually make the love handles more prominent, not less!
Another moronic movement is the standing bar twist. Like side-bends, the bar twist also provides a false sense of doing a lot of work when, in reality, little to none is accomplished. A lifetime commitment to bar twisting won’t get you the 8-pack. In truth, a twisting rotation with a shouldered stick or bar is a great stretch when rotating and holding for a time in a static position. But once the bar starts rotating back and forth things can actually become dangerous, especially for those naïve to the motion and/or with lumbosacral issues.
Through years of training and toil including numerous admitted failures, coupled with advanced education in human physiology, I’ve narrowed down my movements of choice for 8-pack abdominals to certain very specific key exercises.
There are five precise movements I use target the full and complete column of the rectus abdominus muscles and thus invariably involve a high degree of hip flexion. In fact, in this way of initiating the movement through hip flexion as opposed to upper abs crunching, I actually target the lower half of the abdomen even more than the upper region. For these motions you will need simple floor space on soft padding or a yoga mat for the first three motions, an adjustible sit-up bench for the fourth motion, and a flat bench for the fifth motion.
These five motions are as follows:
Modified Reverse Crunch—The modified reverse crunch is different from a standard crunch in that it’s your entire lower body doing the movement, and not your upper body. In fact, the torso and shoulders are quiescent throughout the movement while the lower body does all the work. To perform this movement, first lie on the floor with your hands at your sides. Let your head and shoulders rest easy on the ground. Slightly raise your heels an inch or two off of the floor with your legs straight and toes pointed away from you. Flex your hips, bringing your knees toward your chest while allowing your knees to passively bend and flex. As you knees get closer to your chest, your heels should get closer to your buttocks. Your lower back should curl slightly off of the floor as your abdomen contracts resulting in your buttocks rolling up off the floor slightly as your knees move toward your chest. Once you have brought your knees as close as possible to your chest, reverse the motion by gradually unwinding your abdominal muscles and straightening your legs as you lower them back down to the fully extended starting position. Your legs should return to the fully extended position hovering just above the ground and not letting them touch the floor, just prior to initiating your next repetition.
Modified Reverse Crunch with Outward Hip Rotation—This movement begins just like the modified reverse crunch with the only difference in that I use an outward hip rotation in the movement to more deeply etch and carve detail in the lower portion of the abdomen. Again the torso and shoulders are quiescent throughout the movement while the lower body does all the work. To perform this movement, first lie on the floor with your hands at your sides. Let your head and shoulders rest easy on the ground. Slightly raise your heels an inch or two off of the floor with your legs straight and toes pointed away from you. Initiate the movement by opening your legs and moving them as far apart as possible while still hovering the legs over the ground. Remember to keep your toes pointed even with the legs apart. When your legs are as far apart as possible, initiate hip flexion and raise your knees in the direction of your chest while keeping the legs apart. Let your knees bend as they move toward your chest and your heels move closer to your buttocks. At the top position (the closest you can move your knees in the direction of your chest) your knees should still be apart but alongside your torso. At that point, gradually bring your knees together while keeping your back curled and buttocks off the ground. Once the knees are together, lower the legs back down returning them to the fully extended position hovering just above the ground and not letting them touch the floor, just prior to initiating your next repetition. In succession, each repetition should create an outward circling motion in the hips.
Modified Reverse Crunch with Inward Hip Rotation—This movement begins just like the modified reverse crunch with the only difference in that I use an inward hip rotation in the movement. Again the torso and shoulders are quiescent throughout the movement while the lower body does all the work. To perform this movement, first lie on the floor with your hands at your sides. Let your head and shoulders rest easy on the ground. Slightly raise your heels an inch or two off of the floor with your legs straight and toes pointed away from you. Initiate the movement in the same way as the regular modified reverse crunch. Do this by flexing your hips, bringing your knees toward your chest while allowing your knees to passively bend and flex. As you knees get closer to your chest, your heels should get closer to your buttocks. Your lower back should curl slightly off of the floor as your abdomen contracts resulting in your buttocks rolling up off the floor slightly as your knees move toward your chest. Once you have brought your knees as close as possible to your chest, move your knees and feet as far apart as possible while still in the top position. Remember to keep your toes pointed even with the legs apart. Next, with your knees bent but apart in the top position, gradually lower the legs back down while keeping your knees and feet as far apart as possible. Once back down and fully extended with your toes pointed, complete the movement by bringing your legs back together to the original starting position. In succession, each repetition should create an inward circling motion in the hips.
60° Degree Sit-Ups—This motion must be done on a sit-up bench can be adjusted to a 60°. The angle is critical here because any lower and you will be decompressing the stress on the lower abdomen. Any higher and you’ll be overstressing the thigh portion of the hip flexors at the cost of a robust contraction of the lower abdominal muscles. These accessory hip flexor muscles insert on the femur bone of the leg and include psoas major and iliacus. They are very important muscles functionally, but again we’re talking about building the 8-pack, so proper focused stress on the full column of the rectus abdominus is the key. Before initialing the movement, begin by placing both hands on the sides of your head without lacing your fingers together. Keep your hands in place and elbows straightforward. Initiate the motion by, in succession, lifting your head and then shoulders off the surface of the pad. Be careful not to pull on your neck with your hands. This is followed by curling the upper-portion followed by the mid-portion of the back, all while exerting an increasing force of contracting the abdominals to raise your torso toward your knees. The motion is completed when your elbows come in contact with the tops of your knee joints. Successive repetitions are initiated with a slow and controlled descent of shoulders all the way to the pads while keeping your head off the pad.
Bench Leg Raises—This motion is performed on a flat exercise bench. It’s a finishing exercise that, ideally, is done after the first four. The idea here is to coordinate the contraction of the entire 8-pack column with the lower hip flexors all while the abdominal muscles are pre-fatigued by the other exercises. It’s too much of a compound motion requiring the addition of balance and coordination to be performed early on in the routine. As a result, it almost requires a high degree of fatigue to maximally activate the target muscle chain. Begin by sitting in the middle of the bench on one side with both feet on the floor and your hands on either side grasping the edge of the bench padding. Position yourself properly by moving your buttocks to the side edge of the bench so that the padding edge is holding just enough of you to hold you up. Next, while grasping the padding firmly, lean back, stretch out your legs, point your toes, and balance yourself on the bench. From there, keeping your legs straight and feet together, lower your feet to just above the floor and then raise them to a level just above the level of your head creating the motion of a closing scissors. The motion is repeated but must be in slow enough form to adequately control to coordinate the motion of upper and lower body. This must be done all while keeping in balance with just your hands and a small edge of your buttocks in contact with the bench.
About Dr. Colker. Dr. Carlon M. Colker’s practice specialties include internal medicine, sports medicine, and athlete nutrition. He is an attending physician at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, and Greenwich Hospital, in Connecticut. As a special care physician, he has taken care of the most critically ill patients in the intensive care unit and emergency room. A Fellow of the American College of Nutrition, Dr. Colker is also one of the premier published researchers in the field of integrative care. He is a widely published clinical researcher on nutrition and human performance, and regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on athletic enhancement and performance nutrition. Dr. Colker has worked with numerous NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, USTA, and Olympic athletes and celebrities. Dr. Colker is also Chief Medical Advisor and regular columnist in FLEX Magazine, and has published a number of books. As a regular guest medical correspondent Dr. Colker can be seen on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” offering his expert opinion and advice to millions of American households. Dr. Colker’s commentary can also be seen on ABC’s World News Tonight, ESPN Outside the Lines, NBC’s Health Segment, and Court TV. Dr. Colker has also been interviewed on national television over a variety of topics from the serious to the not-so-serious by everyone from Barbara Walters and Katie Couric to Jenny Jones, Montel Williams, and Roseanne Barr. As his personal physician and long-time trainer, Dr. Colker starred alongside NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal on ABC’s Shaq’s Big Challenge. Dr. Colker was also a competitive bodybuilder and former champion. He has managed to combine his remarkable experiences to help countless people unleash their power and reach their true maximum potential.
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