2 Ab Wheel Variations, because it not hard enough already!

core-training-129x300Anterior core training or “Dem Abz” is important.

It’s kind of fallen out of favour in this era of functional training, especially as any abdominal training is usually seen as vanity work and the domain of body builders and those horrendous group gym classes.

But in athletic terms, having a midsection that is strong and powerful is essential.

Proper full body compound lifts like the Squat, Deadlift, Swing, Snatch, Push Up and Military press all work the core, as do Kettlebell essentials like the Turkish Get Up.

But sometimes, it’s worth giving them some extra love.

There are probably more Ab training tools and tricks on the market than anything else, but one has stood the test of time. The humble Ab Wheel.

It is one of my favorite training tools. One reason is that the roll out takes the abdominals into a stretch position as it loads them. This, I feel is a better way to train for most. Especially as most athletic power movements involve the stretch loading of the core musculature, so being strong at length and resisting that stretch is kind of important.

Here are some abs:

sprint abs

The Ab wheel roll out is rough. There few enough people that have the strength to do them from standing, most struggle to do the standard kneeling roll out.
But once you can do it, the jump from the knees to the feet is huge, too much for most. So in this post I want to share two variations that I like to use with my guys once they’ve mastered the standard roll out.

First the Pennate Roll Out
Roll one to the front, one to the left and one to the right. Here’s a video:


Knees Elevated Roll Out
This increases the load on the abdominals quite significantly so take care to keep the hip tucked under and a rounded back (the opposite of when you squat or deadlift)

Both of these up the ante a lot, but not as much as trying to go from the feet.

If you do want to go from the feet, I recommend the method outlined in Fighting Back and use a ramp of some kind to roll up onto.

Try these, just don’t sneeze the day after!


Dave Hedges


6 Core Training Methods.

In the last post HERE we looked at core stability in a static position, which is a great place for anyone, particularly beginners to start.

Now lets add in some movement.

The role of the core musculature is to work reflexively in order to stabilise the spine. This means it must be able to respond in the blink of an eye to any force that is placed on it, be a force generated within our own body (throwing a punch) or a force being received from the outside (receiving a punch)

Any and all sporting actions, actually scratch that, any and all actions require the muscles in the core to fire. We don’t fire them consciously  they kick in as a response to whatever it is we are trying to achieve.

So why not train them with exercises that challenge them in a reflexive manner?

Here’s a few examples of how to do this:

1 – Round the World
Most kettlebell lifters will be familiar with this, but it can be done with a weight plate just as easily (maybe not quite as easily due to grip requirements..)

Simply pass the weight from one hand to the other in front of you, continue it round and swap it behind you so as to trace a complete circle around the body.
This is standard practice in many of my warm ups as it trains the body to constantly adjust to a shifting centre of gravity.

2 – Weighted carries
Dr Stuart McGill, the worlds foremost expert on low back and core training calls the farmers walk “a moving plank”

And he knows a thing or two.

So grab a kettle or a dumbell, hold it by your side and go for a bimble. Simple eh?
Do a powerclean and walk with the weight up at shoulder height as you meander round the room.
Hold it locked out overhead as you walk. Just ensure with this final variation you keep the shoulder locked down, you should feel the weight through the back rather than in the shoulder.
These three variants are super simple and require a single weight, which will load the body on one side asking for greater levels of stability from the core region.

This is how Dan John does core work

This is how Dan John does core work

But can we use two bells? Damn right!
Be aware that you now potentially have double the load, so take care, especially as you pick, put down and turn around.

Then try off setting the bells, hold one high and the other low, ie one overhead and the other by the side. Obviously swap at regular intervals.

3 – Pretty much every bodyweight exercise ever invented.
(Barring the silly ones used in your local Aerobics class)
In the last post I already mentioned that moving in the plank position is usually called a push up, this should give you a bit of a clue.
Many who first start out on Pull Ups and Chin Ups are often caught out on how much they feel their lower abs work.
Bridge for the posterior core
Roll on the floor for dynamic stability in every plane
Animal Movements, well, that’s too big a list for one wee post, but come along to my bodyweight workshop and you’ll get the idea. I must also get back working on the Animal eBook I promised….

4 – Lifting Heavy Stuff
Especially Squats, Deadlifts, Overhead press (standing), Windmills and Turkish Get Ups.
Heavy lifting requires the core to stabilise against an external force. Not only that, but a force that is changing its vector as it progresses through the lift. Perform the lifts unilaterally and core activation goes up even further.
This is particularly apparent in the Get Up, there is so much movement in the lift the core musculature really must form a solid unit in order to get yourself up from the floor and onto your feet while holding something heavy in your outstretched arm.

If it's good enough for Iron Man.....

If it’s good enough for Iron Man…..

And by the way, once you can do a Turkish Get Up, get that thing loaded and stop pansying about with babyweights. You should be able to work the Get Up with a weight heavier than you can press, and we expect you to get at least 1 rep with half your bodyweight.

5 – Hittin Fings
When we talk about the core being reactive and switching on in an instant, few things are better at creating this effect than hittin stuff really hard.

As I work out of a martial arts studio and many of my clients are martial artists, this is kind of bread and butter to us. We rarely use hitting as a core training drill as the guys spend hours hitting the bags and pads as part of their regular training. We do though have them smashing a tyre with a sledgehammer.

For non martial arts types, learning to throw a decent punch into a heavy bag is one of the most satisfying things you can do, it’s also “functional” in case you ever have to knock anyone out! But really, a punch requires the core musculature to stretch and contract to get power moving from the hips into the shoulders and then become a solid unit on impact to drive the power through the target.
A good bag session should leave you with sore abs and tired legs.

A step up again is to punch with some kind of restriction, try holding a weight in the opposite hand as you punch, or punch from a seated position  These will force you to stabilise even harder in order to generate force.You can see the punching drill with a kettlebell towards the end of this clip, in fact you can see points 2, 3, 4,and 5 all in one workout:

6 – Directional Changes
sprint absQuick changes in direction are a great way to challenge to core region. This where things like sprints, shuttles, agility ladders, battling ropes and reaction drills come in. When we move quickly we move around our midsection. A proper gait pattern will see the shoulders and hips swinging in opposite directions, meaning that the muscles in between them, ie your core, are constantly flexing and extending. The more vigorously you do this, ie sprinting, the harder then flex and extend.

Now suddenly change direction.

Assuming you have good basic strength, mobility and running mechanics, sprinting with direction changes will do wonders for your midsection. If you aren’t a runner or have tight hips, stick to the agility ladder as the smaller movements have less inherent risk than when in full flight.

The battling rope is a great core developer as well as mean cardio, to create a wave in the rope, you must first create that wave within your body and that takes control to do, especially as the arms are moving independently.

Have some fun playing with each of these suggestion.



AB-domination – or why I don’t do sit ups

“Dave, why don’t we do more abs in training?” asks Imre between sets of 36kg Kettlebell snatches.
“I’ve not done a sit up or crunch in months and my stomach has never been flatter,” chimes in Linda, a former fitness instructor resting before her next set of front squats.

The Abs question. Again.

Cue picture of six pack:

So, why do I not recommend direct ab work in the vast majority of cases. And how has a former fitness instructor and athlete developed her best physique yet despite dropping all ab work?

It goes like this:

We have limited resources with which to exercise. Most of us work full time, participate in some kind of sport/martial art and many face time consuming commutes to and from work and often to and from training.
With this in mind, we aim to get as much as possible from our training.

A key word I use is efficiency.  Although sometimes I say laziness instead.

I am lazy. I’ve always been lazy, yet I’ve also had high expectations of myself. So, in order to be strong and fit, yet still be lazy, I spent a good bit of time working out what exercises and training styles get the biggest return.

Ab exercises just never made the cut.

But I do recognise the need for strong abs.
I still have “fond” memories of receiving a reverse punch to the solar plexus as a teenager at a karate tournament. I remember how perfectly timed this punch was as I had herded my opponent into the corner, saw an opportunity, went in for the kill only to find my self landing in a heap in the opposite corner of the ring unable to breathe.
It’s moments like these that you start to re-evaluate core strength.

So, in order to be efficient in training, what core / ab exercise do I advocate:

  • Lots of overhead lifting. Especially unilateral overhead work.
    I’m a huge proponent of kettlebell lifting and I believe the one arm clean and jerk is one of the best lifts around. Incidentally this is the lift that has trimmed Linda’s waist and given her a flatter stomach than any amount of standard gym work.
    Overhead work, especially one sided, calls on the entire core unit to stabilise the body.
  • Turkish Get Ups and Windmills
    2 awesome exercise most commonly associated with kettlebells. Both of these lifts rate extremely highly on the core training scale. Not only that but they also promote shoulder stability, balance and general mobility. You can’t lose.
  • Push Ups
    I have too many push up variations to list but each and every one of them is a great ab drill.
    I you go to any “legs, bums and tums” or similar type class I’d guess that at some point you do a plank. The plank is after all one of the great core strength drills, yes?
    Kind of.
    Here at Wild Geese we call the plank by another name, we call it the “rest position”
    But if you hold the body in a plank and then start moving the limbs around, as in a push up for example, now your working. Try then changing the base of support, feet apart/feet together/one foot elevated/one arm elevated…….
  • Pull Ups
    EMG tests have shown the chin up to be an excellent stimulus for the lower abs. This goes up even more if you add a knee raise or L-sit.
    Struggle with pull ups? Try a 90 degree hang, then, just for fun, cycle the legs, like you’re riding a bike really slowly. You’ll never do a sit up again….
  • Front Squats
    Especially kettlebell front squats as the weight is projected further out front challenging the abs even more. I don’t need to go about the other benefits of squats do I? Ok, here’s a quick one:
  • Unilateral swings/snatches.
    What are the core requirements here?
    Anti flexion and anti rotation at the bottom of the swing.
    Anti extension and active rotation at the top of the swing.
    Anti lateral flexion, anti extension at the top of the snatch.
    Pretty comprehensive then.
  • Renegade Rows
    It’s a plank, but it’s done while lifting heavy stuff. There are various styles of this, but for me, go heavy and avoid any rotation of the torso. I guarantee you’ll feel you abs working.
    And your chest.
    And your back.
    And your arms.
    And your legs.
    And your glutes……..
  • Heavy bag work.
  • Sledgehammer slams.
    Want abs? Hit stuff.

Here’s another six pack picture:

 On a related note.

I had a conversation a while ago with a guy and we were talking about why Muay Thai fighters did so many crunches, was it for core strength?
My answer was two fold. Firstly they do them because they’ve always done them. Secondly, they do serve a purpose just not in the way most people think.
Hitting the pads and bags is what develops the strong lean waist of a fighter, hard hitting is one of the great ab developers. The crunches and sit ups, they merely for additional armour plating for when they’re on the receiving end of these strikes.

So there you have it. 9 methods of developing the Abs as well as other areas of the body without doing a single crunch or sit up.

And if you want the abs to show through, spend more time thinking about what goes in your mouth.



Back Pain and training the Abs

Here’s an email from a girl in Sweden who contacted me recently for advice on bodyweight training. She’s already performing 5 pull ups and 50 hindu squats, which are admirable numbers. Then she tells me this:

Hi Dave,

Thank you for you reply and for offering your help!

I don´t have a specific goal at the moment. Just get into a training routine on a regular basis, 4-5 times per week, using body-weight exercises as improving my strength and endurance. A future strength goal could be doing pull ups for 10 reps and hindu squats 200 reps. I want loose 5 kg which I carry around my waist. Also, I need to improve my flexibility after ignoring it completely earlier. I also need to strengthening my core and lower back. Some ab exercises cause my lower back some discomfort which could be due to my lack of flexibility. Thank you so much in advance for your help!



It’s the section in bold I wish to address first.
Many people completely ignore flexibility in their training, most experience back pain at some point in their lives, often while performing abdominal exercises.

A while ago I posted about doing crunches right (here), and I’ve spent countless hours trying to teach people to do them right.
Done wrong a crunch will simply over tighten the hip flexors or strain the neck, neither of which are conducive to a healthy back.

If you suffer pain from doing these types of exercises, STOP DOING THEM. Crunches don’t suit some, and even fewer have been educated properly (my post and YouTube clip simply don’t replace proper hands on instruction).

Instead what should we substitute?
Planks, Side Planks, Supermans, Bridges and walkouts (if strong enough).

The primary function of the abdominal muscles, including the low back, is to stabilise the spine, not to flex the trunk. If we train them in such a way, which the chosen drills do, we should begin to alleviate back pain issues.

You may notice that the Bridge drill doesn’t feel like a core drill?

The bridge is a drill that is worth an article in itself, in fact I’ll have one for you shortly. But for now it suffices to say that the bridge, done right will wake up the glutes (you’re bum) and allow the troublesome hip flexors to relax and stretch. Both of which you’re poor back will be grateful for.

So how do we do it right? By using as little tension as possible. You want to feel the muscles around the knee and the muscles in the backside working. the hamstrings ought remain relaxed.

Once the planks and bridges have been brought up to an acceptable level, we can maybe reintroduce movement based abdominal work.

If any of the drills mentioned in this article are unfamiliar to you, you will find them all detailed in No Equipment, No Excuses – Bodyweight training


Dave Hedges
www.wildgeesema.com / wildgeesema.blogspot.com
+353 87 672 6090
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Clarifying the Crunch

I had a bit of feedback recently about No Equipment, No Excuses.

It went “the book is great, but why did you include crunches, yuk!” Now I know the person who said this, and she knows me.

However I feel that with all the bad press traditional sit ups and crunches get I feel we need to clarify exactly how to do it properly and why I believe they have value.

First, whats wrong with the good ol’ crunch?

Honestly, pretty much everything. At least in the way the majority of folk practice it.
Seeing as most of you learnt from your mate or even worse an Aerobics instructor, there’s no suprise your neck and back are suffering, while your belly hangs ever further out over your belt.

Constant repetative flexion of the spine, in particular the lumbar (lower) portion, is going to lead to all sorts of potential injury risk, not least of which is damaging a disk or trapping a nerve.
The head bobbing that most call a crunch simply leads to over tightening the muscles in the front of the neck and bunching the ones at the back.

All in all, it’s a pretty good recipie for a hunched posture and chronic pain. Since most of us sit hunched over a desk, slumped on the sofa or sat behind the wheel, we have no business amplifying these postural habits by hitting the deck and repatedly jerking into the same shape you sit in for hours at a time.
So again you ask, why is it in the book?

Because, done with correct form and with proper concentration means we can really get it working for us.

The first thig we need to get over is the idea that we are supposed to have any part of our body leaving the floor. This is simply a by product of the crunch, not the aim of the crunch.

The aim is to fire the muscles of the abdomen. In the standard crunch thats the Rectus (6 Pack), oblique crunch it’s the Internal Obliques, Reverse crunch targets the External Obliques and they all affect the transverse abdominis. If done right.
To do any of the variations correctly you must try to push the back down into the ground. Done correctly you will experience a strong contraction in the target muscles.
Focus on this and not on lifting your shoulders.
You will notice that now there is a good deal of tension in the target muscles. Don’t worry if you can’t move at all, or only have a slight movement, that’s fine. As you gradually get stronger you will move more.
As you progress you will want to amplify the tension further by adding power breathing to the move. See this article for more on power breathing.

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Core strength for real men (and women)

Watch this video clip from Jim Smith and the Diesel Crew and see if you think crunches are still the best way to train your abs / core.

Nuff said

Wild Geese
any cause but our own

The Next Level of Core Support

Since I got a copy of Jim Smiths recent book “Combat Core”
i’ve been posting articles and informatin that he’s been kind enough to send through to me.

Jim is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and an expert trainer who writes for Men’s Fitness and the Elite Q/A Staff etc, he has been involved in strength training as a performance enhancement specialist for over 8 years and has worked with athletes from various sports who compete at various levels and is on of the founding members of a group of lunatics collectivley known as the Diesel Crew.
He has published many articles about his unique training style and innovative methods for many prominent strength and fitness related sites and also the authored of three renowned strength manuals.

I’ve just posted his latest article, The Next Level of Core Support – Dynamic Planks, on my WG-Fit.com site. In it Jim takes one of those useless mini trampoline things and turns it into an instrument of torture.

Have a look if you dare……

Wild Geese
any cause but our own