Most people who ask about abs are concerned about aesthetics – they want to get a six pack – but if you’re training for MMA, you’re probably more concerned with performance. Regardless, you must first understand the role your abs play in the body in order to understand why certain exercises are more effective than others.
The abs (or rectus abdominus as they are technically known) function primarily as a stabilizer muscle – they keep your torso upright while you’re standing, walking or performing other movements. For this reason, the best way to work your abs is to use them to stabilize your trunk in difficult positions. Rather than attempting to isolate them with crunches, I’ve found it more effective to work the abs in the context of the entire body.
While it’s hard to say any one exercise is the best for abdominal training, these are my top three for MMA athletes:
Think of your abs as a bridge that connects your upper body to your legs. Since you’re in a horizontal position when performing a plank, your abs will have to work considerably harder to keep your body properly aligned than when you are simply standing or walking.
The plank is typically held in a fixed position while balancing on your elbows and toes, but part of what makes planks so great is that they can be modified to suit all fitness levels.
Novices can start on their knees, instead of their toes, while intermediate level trainees can try lifting up an arm and/or a leg. When you get the hang of that, you can start experimenting with planking on an unstable surface. For yet another variation, try bringing your knees to your chest one at a time while holding a plank.
HANGING LEG RAISES
Hanging leg raises require tremendous abdominal strength and stability. In addition to keeping your body stable (swinging is a no-no), the abdominal muscles must also work to lift your legs up during this exercise.
As you begin to raise your legs, think about curling your hips forward to facilitate the movement. Keep in mind that your focus is to engage your abdominal muscles, which are attached to your pelvis, not your legs.
At first, you’ll have to go very slowly to stay in control and you’ll probably only manage to do a couple of reps. This is okay; go for quality over quantity and be careful not to swing your body. If you find yourself swinging, try to stop the momentum by touching your feet to the ground in between reps.
Though most commonly seen in gymnastics, the L-sit is a great exercise for anyone who is serious about building core strength. Like the plank, it is often held in a fixed position for a given amount of time.
An L-sit is typically performed with the hands resting on the ground (or holding parallel bars or dip machine/bars) but you can also practice while hanging from a pull-up bar. Try doing a hanging leg raise and stop when your legs are extended at a right angle to your torso. While each variation on this move offers its own unique challenges, holding your body in an “L” shape is a difficult task in either position.
So that’s it. Just 3 exercises to a 6 pack…