Abs and Carbs
written by sean hyson
I think you should stop doing crunches, situps, and just about any other exercise that makes your lower back bend forward (spinal flexion).
Hold on, hold on, it’s not MY theory…
Take it up with Alwyn Cosgrove. That’s the main lesson of his book, The New Rules of Lifting for Abs. I was e-mailing with Mike Robertson today, and he just designed several workouts for an upcoming issue of Muscle&Fitness that were totally devoid of spinal flexion exercises. Eric Cressey and Jon Hinds are in the same camp.
The revelation to drop the classic situp from the core training arsenal owes a lot to Stuart McGill, a leading expert on back pain, whose research shows that crunching motions can lead to disc herniations in the lumbar spine. In fact, there have been reports that 52% of the U.S. population walks around with at least some bulging disc problem and may not even know it. While their prevalence is probably the result of sitting for long periods, rather than doing too many crunches, more spine-flexing exercise can’t be expected to make things better.
So how are you supposed to train abs? Stabilization exercises. You should be familiar with the yoga plank and side plank, but those two are just the beginning. Any exercise where you brace your core and try to avoid movement at the lumbar spine is a healthy, useful ab exercise. This can include rollout/push away exercises, single limb training, and off-set loading—all of which are covered thoroughly in Alwyn’s excellent book.
If you’re training your abs to prevent or treat lower-back pain, don’t do exercises that encourage it. If you’re training your abs just to see them, look at your diet first.
On a personal note, I love hanging leg raises, and I’ve always felt they worked abs like nothing else, so I’m leaving them in. I think if you’re pretty active and don’t currently have back pain—and you balance flexion exercises with extension (such as a rep of hypers for every rep of situps)—you’ll probably be ok. But we should all err on the side of safety and minimize our spinal flexion work. This is one training “fad” that I don’t think is going to go out of style.
Here’s another one that won’t. Eat your carbs at night.
As is often the case, conventional wisdom here is the complete opposite of the truth. The idea has been around a long time that because your muscles are more sensitive to insulin in the morning, you should eat the bulk of your daily carbs then. The problem is that your fat cells are more sensitive too. Eating carbs in the morning will cause more of them to be stored as fat than if you waited til 4 o’clock in the afternoon or later, when insulin sensitivity declines. This is the premise behind Kiefer’s Carb Back-Loading philosophy, and many other similar diets out there like the Modified Warrior Diet and The Renegade Diet. When you weight train later in the day, you allow your muscles to soak up more of the carbs than your fat cells.
Here’s how your day should go:
Wake up, skip breakfast. Drink some coffee if you like.
Around noon, or a few hours after you get up, start eating protein and fat foods. Veggies are ok too. Just about any fat is fine—a greasy burger, eggs with bacon, pepperoni and cheese. Knock yourself out.
Train in the afternoon, then eat some carbs. Higher-glycemic ones like bread, pasta, and potatoes are best, and Kiefer will even tell you that you can get away with ice cream and french fries.
Keep eating high-carb right until you go to bed.
I’ve tried this simple method, and I’ve turned a bunch of other people onto it as well. IT’S THE BEST THING WE’VE EVER DONE. Gone is the banal meal planning and excruciating discipline associated with the normal “fitness” diet. You can eat your favorite foods year-round without paying the price.
If you have to train in the morning (and I usually do), eat some carbs after your workout and then follow the schedule as I wrote. It still works great.
It’s nice when the truth coincides with what we want to hear. I promise you that in this case it does.