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Fresh from completing the world's first Triple Pike Somersault 360° off the High Bar, Sam Oldham reveals the ways you can give the laws of physiology a helping hand and speed up your six-pack development.
Embrace Abdominal Ambiguity
First things first, there's no single best stomach exercise.
Anyone claiming to have found it is lying. We know this because research in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics conducted a large-scale literary review of 87 core-related studies. What they found was, "Overall, the studies retrieved lacked consistency, which made it impossible to extract aggregate estimates" and find the best ab routine. All things considered, gaining a six-pack can be done through many means and methods.
Enter research from the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and words of wisdom from Mr Oldham.
Learn the Art of Abdominal Stability
Sam's renowned for being one of Team GB's best all round gymnasts. He can hold positions on the rings, pommel horse and horizontal bar that seem to defy the laws of gravity. Most of which can be explained by researchers from the University of Jyväskylä, in Finland. They wanted to see if upper body exercises where you hold a static and stable position could engage the abdominal muscles more than a conventional "crunch". What they found was these exercises ― like the highly complex planche, iron cross and Maltese ― elicited a "Sufficient level of contraction of the trunk muscles for the development of their endurance and strength characteristics." In short, holding certain positions are great for developing a six-pack.
Sam says, "As a gymnast your balance, strength and agility all come from a strong core. This is because you won't be able to perform certain exercises without engaging the stomach. Just because of the unstable nature of the sport." He adds, "Most people can perform a pretty heavy bench press and get away with relaxing their abs. But those same people would find it impossible to perform even some basic gymnastic moves."
So what if you can't jump on the Olympic rings and bust out a planche?
Never fear, something as simple as the Pallof Hold would be equally as good for your core. To do this:
- Find a weight you're comfortable with and take the handle of a cable pulley.
- Hold the cable at your sternum with your arms fully extended.
- Stand with your left shoulder pointed towards the machine but far away enough to that you can feel the tension in the cable.
- Keeping your shoulders and hips square, hold the cable straight out in front of your body.
- Resist the tendency to rotate toward the machine and hold for 60 seconds.
- Keep your abs tight the entire time and repeat on the other side.
This can also be performed with a resistance band or even a rope with training partner keeping the tension in the rope.
Think Beyond the Ab Mat
Find some rings or a chin-up bar and learn to hang. "The rings teach your entire body and stomach to work unison," says Sam. A student and scholar of gymnastics, he then quotes the Handbook of Sports Medicine and Science: Gymnastics and says, "An increase in skill difficult corresponds to the demand for higher mechanical energy."
Again he was absolutely right. Research published by American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation electromyographically studied muscle activation in the stomach during ten strenuous abdominal exercises. What they found was, "Intensity of contraction was greatest in the basket hang, followed by three variations of the hook sit-up."
Beating the conventional sit-up .
Researchers added, "The apparently strenuous nature of the basket hang, which is primarily a movement of thigh rather than trunk flexion, implies that this exercise may be useful in the abdominal training of highly conditioned athletes."
Which is why it makes sense to incorporate the 'basket hang' into your training. To do this:
- Hang from a pull-up bar with your hands shoulder-width apart.
- Contract your lower abs and bring your knees to your chest.
- Twist your hips to one side in a controlled manner. Keeping your chest forward at all times.
- As you do crunch your ribs to your hips. Pause. Then perform on the alternate side.
- This can also be performed with straight legs. It's more difficult and called "Hanging Window Wipers"
Your gymnast-inspired ab routine:
- Hanging Baskets: 3 sets x 10 repetitions on alternate sides.
60 seconds, 4 sets left and right.
- Front Plank: 60 seconds, 4 sets.
- Conventional Crunch: 3 sets x 20 repetitions conventional sit-ups
Perform this twice per week in addition to your current strength and conditioning routine and couple it with the right nutrition plan packed with superfoods. You might not be challenging Sam for a medal on the rings in Rio next year, but a visible, chiselled six-pack will arrive so much quicker if you do.
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Sam Oldham is sponsored by Sky Academy Sport Scholarships, Red Bull and Puma. Follow Sam on Instagram and Twitter