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hungry minds | article five

Fitness Product Review:

Paul Chek's Gym Instructor Series Video: Core Conditioning--Abdominal Training, Volume 1.

While I've always been a fan of the soft porn exercise videos and morning fitness skin flicks on television I sometimes seek greater substance and depthœI'm not originally from Los Angeles, thank you. Once in a while I find it. Despite the comparatively rough production quality Paul Chek's Volume 1 of The Gym Instructor's Series: Core Conditioning–Abdominal Training I'd give this tape two thumbs up solely on substance. A journey through the dark mysteries of abdominal training unfolds to reveal a perspective that goes miles beyond endless crunches; awakening us. So, everyone's doing it wrong?

See for yourself. First off–well after an odd sponsor's intro, anyway: Fitness Works of Aukland, New Zealand is proud to present Paul Chek: blah, blah, blah…blah, blah…worked with the Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, US Air Force, etc.…–Chek details myths and misconceptions regarding abdominals and ab training.

For instance:

Are Ab-Rolling devices any good?

Of course not. Real world activity integrates various joints and muscle groups all at once or sequentially, in 3-D. An ab-rolling device supports your head, eliminating neck muscle involvement while cutting out the stabilizing action of your abdominals. But, is that bad?

Oh, yes. Strengthening your abs while letting your neck muscles weaken creates a structural imbalance resulting in poor posture and a stronger likelihood of injury. So, let your neck muscles do their job since they do support a relatively important appendage. To prevent neck muscle strain while crunching, just swallow, and leave your tongue where it lies.

In short, consider ab-rolling equipment your old tricycle and Chek's program a shiny, new, two-wheeler.

Whole lotta reppin' goin' on

You can never do too many reps for your abs, right? Wrong. Abs didn't evolve as endurance muscles. Chek states your abs are fast twitch or phasic muscles. That means that they prefer to be contracted hard and fast for only a short time. Fifty, eighty or 100 reps is a long time, more suitable for slow twitch, tonic fibers. So do as few as eight to as many as twenty reps per set. Now you really can train your abs in about eight minutes (maybe less) and know you've accomplished something. Nonetheless, some sports and activities might require super high reps for best performance--Chek mentions rowing a canoe across the English Channel; the first sport that came to my mind was sex.

Abs in the morning, abs in the evening, abs at supper-time

Daily ab training is overuse, and actually de-trains your mid-section, corrupting it's stabilizing integrity. Blasphemy? Hardly. The fast twitch muscles of your abs require time to recover, so Monday, Wednesday, Friday workouts are closer to the ideal. Still a Doubting Thomas? You should see the dense, defined rack of abs on Paul Chek.

Following your bliss

Chek asserts that most of us have unknowingly overused the crunch exercise and have probably shortened our rectus abdominus muscle, which would in turn promote a forward head position, rounded shoulders and inhibit free overhead movement of our arms, and neck rotation. He recommends back extension exercises using about the same load and rep ranges to establish functional balance. On your next gym visit notice the unenlightened bodies littering the floor, blindly crunching in all directions–ignorance is bliss, eh?

Then, Chek provides a thorough how-to…

A kaleidoscope of options

Chek says effective lower abdominal conditioning demands stabilization from the other ab regions and should always be trained first. This hierarchy continues: obliques next, then upper abs. And, train your abs at the end of a workout. Otherwise, fatigued abs leave a naked spine which is especially vulnerable when big, multi-joint exercises like squats follow.

So, Paul leads us through a series of lower ab, oblique and upper abdominal movements–jeez, at least twenty–that can become a workout routine in itself. But, don't mistake this for one of those feel the burn / exercise-along-with-me tapes. Here it's better to keep notes than to keep pace. By the way, you may already be familiar with the popular Health for Life program, Legendary Abs. It's cool stuff–the principles are similar to Chek's and useful, too–except if "Legendary Abs" is the color orange, "Core Conditioning" is a freakin' rainbow.
Lower ab section
Ever wonder just how to stabilize your abdominal wall ? Get hold of a sphygmomanometer (blood pressure cuff), and fine tune your stability in mm/Hg without activating inappropriate muscles or losing your neutral alignment. Learn it first on the floor and then standing. Training is specific: if you play your sport on your feet it makes sense to condition your body that way, too.
Oblique section
Sport specificity comes alive with the oblique exercises shown next. Wood chops and various twists–on the Swiss Ball, standing and lying, too–provide some of the most interesting, fun and obviously sport specific exercises on the tape. This section alone is worth the cost of the video.
Upper ab section
Bored with crunches on the floor? Chek out extended range crunches on the Swiss Ball, on the Ball with a cable, on the Ball with a weight, on a bench or on your feet with a split stance…on a plane, on a train, with a fox, in a box…


Knowledge is good

This video is designed to awaken professional trainers to new philosophy of abdominal training. It does so by laying out a functional core conditioning strategy to use themselves and with their clients. You may find some of it's concepts beyond your knowledge or experience. Even if that is the case, I strongly recommend this and the rest of Chek's Gym Instructor Series be added to your fitness library. Over time, more and more of the info will make sense. Not only that you now have an in with that hot trainer you've been eyeing for the last month. Break the ice with "Hey, I'm stable now. Lemme show you my Russian Twist".

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Just So You Know

These are the original versions of the articles I've written for the popular Hungry Minds educational website. Read the unabridged versions here and read the edited pieces there.
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