Radically strengthen your lower abdominals
Let’s discuss how to significantly strengthen and work your lower abs and why this is a big deal to all athletes that would like to be fast and strong.
As soon as anyone dips into a parallel squat and then comes up, even while hugging a relatively meager 75 lb. Milo Bag, they are stunned at the amount of work the lower abdominals receive. Why is this significant? Because most athletes are under-trained in the abdominals, especially the lower abs (which help rotate legs faster in a 40-yd dash and significantly aids in other explosive movements). With a strong body but weak lower abs there is a greater propensity for injuries and slower sprint speeds. BOOOOO!
When the lower abs are not strong and well-conditioned there is a lack of pulling strength (connected to hip flexors). If the hip flexors aren’t strong and aren’t connected to strong lower abs then the rotational forces of the upper body (arms pumping in a race) and the lower body (legs running) will be wasted and not maximized. Ultimately, this one small muscle region of the body could entirely dictate if you are SLOW or if you are FAST. Besides being gifted with great genetics, the only way to get faster and more explosive is doing the right training for one’s lagging physical areas and continuing to train for speed and explosiveness. Considering that weak core strength/weak lower abs is a problem of most athletes this needs to be addressed in a specific but commonsensical way in everyone’s training. If your body can't transfer huge amounts of energy from YOUR strong upper body and freakishly large legs then all that training is literally wasted as it pertains to speed and explosiveness. And I don't care if you're a bodybuilder that simply wants to look better, everyone wants to know that they can "tear the house down" if need be. Strength is King. And speed is it's army.
Yes, I’m actually saying being weak can totally massacre an athlete’s sprinting mechanics (or any explosive movement that requires form-Power Cleans for example). This is why most athletes that I have trained DO NOT need to focus on mechanics too much because they can’t even rotate their arms fast enough to keep up with their legs! Why? Because they are weak and lower abs are always a sore spot (pun intended) for most of the up-and-coming athletes. Ab work is tedious, time-consuming and requires a lot of patience to start seeing results, not only in the mirror, but on the field of play. Be steadfast my friends and results will appear before you know it.
Additionally, the reason weak lower abs are a primary reason for many groin injuries or hip flexor injuries is due to an athlete REALLY trying his/her best to run a top time in the middle of a sprint. Essentially, if there is a weak link in any major physical motion then there will be a breakdown and an injury can result. With this being said, major attention needs to be paid to the lower abdominal muscle wall in order to further “bulletproof” your body against the rigors of competitive play (or even just simply playing with the kids in the backyard after work).
The necessity for lower abdominal strength and muscle is not totally for aesthetic purposes (even though, who’s going to get mad that they have a washboard 8-pack?). There is a functional need to have strong abs as well as a strong lower back and so forth. When you have two counter-parts in one’s body (i.e. the anterior (front) and posterior (back) portion of the shoulder) then logic dictates that one should balance the strength and musculature of that region of the body in order to ward-off injuries. This logic has been proven and is a major area of attention for strength coaches in the professional ranks.
How To Do It
First things first; start doing crunches and sit-ups. Yes, good ol’ fashion sit-ups that have been the bedrock of the 6-pack faithful. Oh, and don’t cry about the fact that ‘sit-ups work your lower back too, blah, blah, blah, blah.’ Your lower back needs plenty of training too, especially at lower weights (like using part of your bodyweight in a sit-up) so this is a great way to balance the strength you have in your core (not to mention it’ll burn extra calories, keeping you leaner).
Athletes need to incorporate front squats with the Milo Bag (less stress on the spine and your upper-body gets plenty of work too) in order for the lower abs to be fully engaged in a way that can mean big increases in strength and stamina as well as fewer chances for injury (on the field and in the gym). The key here is to “hug” the Milo Bag in front of you. Having the weight in front of you really creates an axis shift that fully engages your lower abs while simultaneously blasting your quads, hamstrings and glutes in a fundamental way. Additionally, the “hugging” aspect of the lift with the Milo Bag gives a new emphasis on chest, shoulder and bicep strength. You see, when a barbell rests on the shoulder there is a missed opportunity for the rest of your body to control the weight with muscles (instead of simply balancing all that weight on your spine). By hugging the weight (this could conceivably done by holding dumbbells in front of you) in front of you the entire weight is FULLY controlled resulting in the highest count of fast-twitch muscle fibers being recruited. The heavier the Milo Bag the MORE muscle fibers you will get-but in an exponential way since more body parts have been recruited than a traditional barbell squat. However, if your only options are barbell squats may I suggest starting with Front Squats for the aforementioned reasons.
Not only will you strengthen your lower abs with this next little ditty but you will also probably improve your jumping ability. My constituents, I give you…jumping boxes (or jumping over trashcans, etc.). Yes, some plyometrics to shock the body and recruit muscles that are just aching to get some action. Do what your muscles say and give a respectable focus and results are sure to follow. You will notice that the first workout you jump some 36” boxes your lower abs will be MAD sore the next day. And this hypertrophy and lactic-acid familiarity doesn’t stop as long as you are challenging yourself. However, the abs are quick to recover and respond well to higher frequency training throughout the week. Note: make sure to concentrate on your landing in order to ward-off shin splints or sore joints due to an unnecessarily violent impact on the descent.
And finally, getting a move-on by doing some “sprints” or max-speed running is a phenomenal way to build up the lower abs and get the rest of the body shredded. Seriously, there is a reason why the most physically impressive athletes are 100 meter sprinters. The reason? It’s an extremely anabolic and lypolitic exercise that burns TONS of calories throughout the day (and not just during the exercise like aerobic movements). Oh, and it puts the finishing touches on a granite-solid abdominal system that is much stronger than the “strong” athletes out there while protecting yourself from injuries that can put you out of commission.
The hidden tragedy of this article is that it will inevitably overlooked by a lot of really good athletes because the lower abs aren’t too appealing to emphasize in one’s training. However, it really is necessary as this is an oft-missed region of the body that can not only improve your explosive power and sprint speeds but it can ward off injury while ensuring maximum efficiency when transferring power from the upper body and lower body (like during a sprint or throwing a punch).
I must warn the readership that A LOT of stretching needs to take place when doing any explosive movements or plyometrics. Depending on the conditioning of the athlete these types of exercises may be perfect while others may need more time to ease into these types of training stimuli. With this said, both groups of athletes (and everyone else in between) need to stretch before and after workouts along with a morning/night stretching routine. You’ll keep the injury-bug off you and it will likely improve flexibility resulting in greater range-of-motion and even longer strides, which is great for sprints and being fast.
Until next time…work harder and smarter.
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The abdominals and lower lumbar system are constantly transferring energy between the rotating arms and the running legs in a sprint. This is a great exercise for everyone.
As you get into heavier weights while doing Milo Bag squats you are guaranteed a significant jump in muscle-fibers recruited per the exercise since you have to use your upper-body as well.
After the highest point of a jump your next objective is focusing on a proper landing. A violent descent a few thousand times at 225 lbs. equals future joint issues and I happen to like walking.
Running is beautiful. It is the first thing we really do as a child, strictly for the joy of it. It engages virtually every muscle in the body, pumps out endorphins, and fills your lungs with quenching oxygen. We were made to run. Fast.