In a previous article, I noted how the range of motion of crunches is not conducive to building a strong core. Crunches will only effectively engage the rectus abdominal muscles, while some of the surrounding important core musculature is not addressed. Ultimately, it is a basic exercises that serves little purpose for individuals with more than a few of strength training experiences.
The biggest problem in many "ab" routines that I see people do is that there's no progressive overload. People will do the same handful of exercises for the same number of sets and repetitions every session, week after week. Now, imagine you did that with a back squat, or with any other movement: what if you just squatted 135 pounds for 5 sets of 5 repetitions on every leg day? You might make a little bit of progress for a week or two, but eventually you're not going to continue to make gains. Your legs won't get any bigger or stronger. The same is true for the abdominal muscles. If you're just doing 3 sets of 15 crunches, 3 sets of 20 Russian twists, etc., then guess what? Your core isn't going to get any stronger either. I watch many people do the same core exercises day in and day out, and they aren't continuing to adapt.
There are four ways to create progressive overload for strength training:
- Increase the number of repetitions. If you've been sticking with 3x10 leg lifts, for example, try to do 3x15 next week. This is one way to add volume.
- Increase the number of sets. Additionally, you can add in more sets to increase total training volume.
- Increase the amount of time. This is specific to isometric movements like the plank, hollow hold, side plank, etc. Try to increase the length of the hold by 10-15 seconds per week.
- Add load. I like to add weighted ab exercises into my programs, once the client has demonstrated competency in the non-weighted variation. Examples of exercises include weighted hanging knee raises, weighted planks, weighted sit-ups, cable chops, and weighted leg lifts.
- Change the exercises. Get creative. There are so many exercises out there that allow you to continue to progress. Constantly challenge yourself. I constantly post new exercise ideas on my Instagram page, such as those in the above links, so always be on the lookout for new ideas. Just when you think you have abs of steel, you find a new exercise variation to humble yourself once again.