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Transcend Crunches

Transcend Crunches

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Published by Ethan Hunt

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Published by: Ethan Hunt on Jul 23, 2008
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05/16/2015

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 When was the last time you really pushed your limits with abtraining? When was the last time you experienced that deepsoreness through the midsection, the kind that causes youto wince in agony every time you laugh, sneeze, or cough?Surprisingly, even though rock-hard abs play a pivotal roleboth aesthetically and functionally, such suffering is usuallya distant memory.
By Larry Twohig • Photography by Charlie Suriano
Secret Techniques for Extraordinary Abs &
Super Strength.
 
CRUNCHES TRANSCEND
M
ost bodybuilders and strengthathletes throw in some easy abdominal exercises at theend of their routine as an afterthought— if at all — and as a result, many suffer from underdeveloped, softmidsections, and a weak link in thebody’s muscular chain and visualcentrepiece. They breach two cardinalprinciples — overload and priority. And even though gain doesn’t demandpain, when it comes to under-workedmuscle groups, soreness often assuresadequate shock. But delivering adequate midsection overload isusually overlooked.So, how do you continue to shock  your abs and increase the intensity  without adding weight to crunches orsit-ups? Easy — you manipulateleverage to place yourbodyweight in a position where theabs must work maximally. Leverage-tension (LT) drills incorporate intenseisometric contraction to annihilateplateaus in ab development,bestowing upon you a granitemidsection as well as enhanced overallstrength. So, if you’re a glutton forpunishment, give it a shot, but don’tsay I didn’t warn you!
The Exercises
L-sits, ab wheel pikes, anddragon flags are drills derived fromgymnastics conditioning, and if  you’ve been in the iron game fora while you may recognisesome of them underdifferent names. Gymnasts are widely renowned for their incredibledisplays of strength, flexibility, andpower — all attributes that have adirect carry-over to bodybuilding and strength sports. All you had to do was take one look at the physiquesdisplayed on the still rings at the Athens Olympics, and you’d be hard-pressed to disagree.
Efim Kourbatski demonstrates the dragon flag 
 
 With sophisticated positioning,bodyweight exercises can developseeminly superhuman strength. Andeven though I don’t expect you torun out and join a gymnastics class,there are certain components of their training that can be of benefitto bodybuilders. Trunk integrity andtone are, after all, vitally important inthe gym and on-stage.
Priority
To harden soft abs, you mustprioritise trunk training. LT requirescomplete concentration as well asample strength in the upper body and pelvic region. So, either start your workout with these drills or performthem separately as another session.If you do LT at the beginning of a workout, be sure not to follow withany large compound movementsrequiring major trunk stability, suchas squats or deadlifts. The extremeforce you’ll need to generate for LT will accelerate fatigue, which can becounterproductive. Always do themost amount of quality work whilestaying as fresh as possible.
Overload
In order to generate a training effect, a muscle group must receiveadequate overload, and there areseveral ways to adjust intensity toaccomplish this. Russian researchsimplified things, identifying threedistinct training methods: thedynamic effort method, whichfocuses on intention to produce highvelocity; the maximum effort method, which focuses on grinding a heavy load for maximum tension; and therepetition method, which is whatmost bodybuilders already apply  when training the midsection.
Tension
Ideally, all three methods shouldbe integrated to produce optimalconditioning, but for the purposesof this article, we will focus onmaximum effort — since LT employsdisadvantageous leverage to generateextreme force, or load. Forceacross a muscle is called tension. Anecdotal and scientific evidencepoints in the same direction: thegeneration of force is the mostessential requirement for strengthand size gain. The higher thetension, the stronger the stimulus formuscular development. Less tensionis generated during a dynamic(pseudo-isotonic) contraction thanduring a static (pseudo-isometric)one, where the muscle is fighting notto lengthen against a load too heavy to move concentrically.The load you’re handling willdetermine how quickly you can move.The faster the speed, the lower thetension and the slower the speedthe higher the tension — to a certainpoint. The higher the tension, themore you grow. Faster reps allow youto use heavier weights, but reducetension, so you’re trading size forpower and speed. This is why many Olympic lifters move mind-boggling  weights explosively, but they don’t havemassive physiques like bodybuilders.
Six-pack 
In a static contraction, the musclelength does not change during theexercise. This occurs every time youtrain, even during dynamic exercises, when the target muscle is lengthening and/or shortening. Every movementengages three types of muscles: primemovers, synergists and stabilisers. With L-sits, ab wheel pikes, anddragon flags, static contraction of therectus abdominis, the much soughtafter six-pack muscle, plays a key rolein stabilising the spine throughout,acting as the synergist. Almost every muscle-training book ignores the fact that every exerciseinvolves prime movers, synergists,and stabilisers. Normally, authorsfocus almost entirely on the moversand not the many other muscles thatassist and stabilise the different partsof the body to enable the moversto execute the chosen exercise.Sometimes the work done by thesynergists and stabilisers is far greaterthan that done by the movers, aneffect that we exploit with LT.
Obliques
The obliques and the transverseabdominis, among other spinalstabilisers, are also forced to engagestatically due to the high loading demands. In addition to a well-developed six-pack, strong, tonedobliques are critical for a trim waistand improved performance. Theexternal obliques run diagonally oneither side of the ribs to the pelvis,producing lateral flexion or rotation when contracted ipsilaterally. Underheavy load they contract bilaterally to aid the rectus in spinal flexion.So even though LT doesn’t includetwisting, they are heavily recruited.Consider the transverse abdominisa thick belt running around yourmidsection, stabilising the spineunder heavy load. The stronger theobliques and transverse, the stronger your muscular corset. Greater spinalsupport allows more efficient transferof force through your trunk. Your body is intrinsically programmed to integrate synergistsand stabilisers; otherwise it would beimpossible to perform demanding movements effectively. By challenging the abs with a heavy load in thisfashion, they are effectively trainedfor their primary function —supporting the spine via synchronousstatic contraction of the anteriorkinematic chain.
Safety
If you aren’t strong enough for theseLT drills, you may feel pressure in yourlower back, and more likely than not,
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Crunches
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 you’ll lose control and collapse to thefloor or the bench before anything gives. If in doubt, you should performthe suggested build-up exercisesbefore attempting the real deal.The body’s intrinsic safety mechanisms, called mechano-receptors, have a knack at knowing beforehand when too much isenough, and they have a tendency toshut down a contraction if the loaddetected is above a certain tensionthreshold. Nervous inhibition of thistype is a normal phenomenon, usually occurring towards the stretchedposition in a given range of motion.Many beginners experience thisshutdown threshold the first timethey fail on a limit bench pressattempt, as their pectoral stretchreceptors decide they’re shutting down to prevent muscle damage inthe prime movers. The weight crashesdown to their chest, requiring quick action from a spotter, but at least themuscle remains intact!Needless to say, having thesynergists or stabilisers hit sucha speed-limiter would not be agood occurrence when spinalintegrity is of concern. With propertraining, however, this reflex canbe desensitised, as apparent in anexperienced powerlifter grinding out a heavy lift again and again untilactual metabolic, and not nervous,failure ensues. Elevating the shutdownthreshold allows for greater overloadof the target muscle group.
Strength
Practising LT augments overallstrength in two ways: structurally and neurologically. Structurally, asecure, well-braced spine enhancesstrength in conventional exercisesby increasing stability, control andconfidence, allowing for safer andmore efficient transfer of forcethrough your trunk.Neurologically, LT teaches you how to deliberately contract synergistsand stabilisers in order to transmitadditional strength to the primemovers. In PNF (ProprioceptiveNeuromuscular Facilitation) thisphenomenon is referred to asirradiation, where use of maximalresistance promotes overflow of muscle activity.In order to perform a givenmovement, the brain sends a signalthrough a motor neuron, activating and coordinating different muscle
 Always aim to do the mostamount of work while stayingas fresh as possible, in orderto maximise the contractionand minimise fatigue, as wellas the chance of injury.
The L-sit
1/3 V
 
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groups. The higher the perceiveddemands of the movement, the higherthis motor unit recruitment.In other words, if the body perceiveshaving to control more load, inertia,or momentum, a stronger signalfrom the motor neuron is initialised, which in turn activates more musclefibres. Since motor neurons typically span several muscle groups, it iscounterproductive for coordination toattempt to train muscles in isolation.The body is intrinsically programmedto synchronise the activation of certain muscle groups, as well asinhibition of their antagonists, inorder to promote efficient movement. We are, in effect, designed for musclegroup integration.By consciously focusing oncontracting the synergists, stabilisers,and antagonists involved in amovement, the perceived movementdemands get bumped up. In doing so, the brain is tricked into sending astronger activation signal to the targetmuscle group, effectively increasing the contraction in the prime movers.The contraction seemingly irradiatesout from the ancillary muscles.So, by mastering the requisiteskills of LT, you can instantly liftmore in any exercise. Powerlifters, weightlifters, gymnasts and arm- wrestlers have known about this trick for decades, and now so do you. Nomatter your goals, build up to theseexercises, do them with perfect formand you will reap the rewards inboosted strength and chiselled tone.
Tone
Tone is a property of muscle, notto be confused with definition. Tonedescribes the quality and quantity of residual contraction in the musclefibres, so the stronger you are, themore tone your muscles exhibit. Thisis why Arnold built his routine aroundcompound strength movements, suchas power cleans, push presses, andsquats. By increasing his strength, henoticed a vast improvement in muscletone. And conversely, he noted how those bodybuilders excluding thepower movement appeared soft, andnot so “Herculean”.Strength and size do not go hand-in-hand as many would be led tobelieve. Tone can be achieved withoutgaining size, if that’s what your goal is.Just keep the training volume (sets andreps) low, while keeping frequency (number of sessions per week) high.Doing so will stimulate neurologicalstrength gain more than size. Yourmuscles will learn to contract harder,as motor unit recruitment patternsare trained, and as a result they willappear and feel harder.Definition concerns the visibility and apparent separation of theskeletal muscles. This is achieved by carefully controlling caloric intakeand output, to promote metabolismof unwanted subcutaneous fat — inorder to expose the muscle you’vetoned underneath.
Size
If size is your goal, then rejoice.Muscle held in a lengthened positionunder load, for enough time, hasbeen proven to increase mass rapidly. You will need to maintain a highertraining volume during specific body part sessions, leaving adequate timefor recovery and consuming enoughcalories to support growth. In orderto increase the volume with theseexercises, as well as the time undertension, it would be wise to add setsinstead of repetitions. That way youavoid sacrificing quality for quantity.Remember that in LT, you never trainfor fatigue.The overload provided by LT willbestow upon you quality musclemass. The maximum effort methodcompels sarcomere hypertrophy and hyperplasia, which means thatthe actual contractile elements grow and multiply, causing an increase inmuscle fibre size. Compare this totypical ‘pumping’ methods, wheresarcoplasmic hypertrophy occurs,temporarily inflating the spacebetween the muscle fibres with fluid.The best time to emphasisehypertrophy is in the off-season orduring winter, when you’re not too worried about extra calories affecting definition. Although strength,hypertrophy and definition can beobtained concurrently, the extent of the results makes it inadvisable forthose seeking maximum size.
Power Breathing
Developing the tension requiredto perform LT drills demands certainprerequisites. The first is powerbreathing, and strength athleteshave also been using it alongsideirradiation since the beginning of physical culture, whether they knew itor not. Let’s give it a go.First, breathe in from the belly,filling your lungs to about 75 percentcapacity. Actively contract your pelvicfloor muscles by tensing the glutes,pulling the rectal sphincter up andtightening the abs as if you weregoing to take a punch. Also think 
The ab wheel pike

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