How I Train Abs... Bad Back and All

As you loyal readers know, I have a bad back. That said, I do get new readers so I'll give a quick back recap for context. 23 years ago I ruptured to lumbar discs in my back. The doctors wanted me to get surgery. It was crazy invasive back then and I said "No Way!" I dealt with some brutal pain. I found the two best reliefs at the time were walking on a treadmill and sleeping with my legs elevated. When I was able to get back to the weights, I stopped full powerlifting and became a bench specialist.

Sporadically over the last few decades, I have dealt with the usual flare-ups. Then last fall it all went to hell. I went for a new MRI which showed three herniated discs, thoracic arthritis, and spinal stenosis. I was in terrible pain, losing feeling in my toes, and I couldn't even raise up on my calves. After a lot of serious rehab I slowly crept my way back to a semblance of normalcy.

With all of that said, I love to train. I never wholesale gave up squatting and deadlifting. For the most part, I have used a trap bar to deadlift and a safety squat bar to squat. Recently, I even switched to a belt squat for squatting. Regardless, I feel strongly that using big compound lifts are really important to building nice strong abs. However, they aren't enough on their own.

The one thing I learned really early on with my back issues was that I had to stay far away from back flexion. So things like situps, crunches, and ab pulldowns were a no go. Of course, there is the plank. Honestly, I never got much out of them. Perhaps over 30 years of squatting and deadlifting has created a core that doesn't get too challenged from planks.

There have been a number of people who asked how I got my "chunky" abs. I just thought it was because I used to be fat. Now I don't know if these exercises will give you similar abs, but I do know they don't aggravate my back and cause my abs to be sore as hell the next day.

My go to movements are ab wheel rollouts and hanging leg raises. With both these exercises, it is important to keep the tension on the abs. With the rollouts, you can do a lot of the movement with your back, shoulders, and hips. You need to keep your abs engaged and actively focus on squeezing them to get you back up after you roll out. You can easily tell the difference when you are doing them right.

The same goes for the hanging leg raises. You can use a lot of hips and momentum on these or you can really focus on squeezing your abs to pull your legs up. I do mine with bent knees. Make sure to lower them slowly as well.

I train abs twice a week on my lower body days. On my deadlift day, I do the hanging leg raises. I like the traction effect of hanging after deadlifting. I do the rollouts on squat day. I stick with three sets for each and rotate reps and resistance in three week waves. Week one is bodyweight only for 3 sets of 15-20 reps. Week two is 10-15 reps. I have been using a 20 lb chain for both the rollouts and leg raises, but just recently I tried using a band on the rollouts and like it. For week three it's two chains for 40 lbs with three sets of 5-10 reps. Although I will probably continue experimenting and use a stronger band on rollouts for this week.

That's it, That's what a once fat guy did to get abs. Maybe that and a little dieting too ;)

Hanging Leg Raises

Ab Wheel Rollouts

Ab Wheel Rollout Challenge

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