When I started CrossFit, there was a sense of pride surrounding the lack of time spent on “abs” and the aesthetic results that followed. Remember, the CrossFit definition of core strength is beautifully defined as one’s ability to maintain midline stability. The maintenance of midline stability on greater, different stressors was an objective indication of improved core strength.
Like everything long lasting, CrossFit is evolving. While the definition of core strength may still be the best out there, more and more coaches and athletes are embracing the details of training before and after the Workout of the Day. These days, coaches are taking more pride than ever in programming ideal warm-up scenarios. Furthermore, the skills and drills we do are taking on more of an intentional focus than ever.
The thought of accessory work, in and of itself, never existed outside the ethos of CrossFit, but the practice of it was often neglected because of the priority placed on the WOD.
Now that we’re seeing the community, especially at the highest levels of fitness, embrace specific accessory work to address weakness and forge more complete athletes, abdominal strength work is becoming back in vogue. To really master this craft, we ought to look to the subject-matter experts. How does abdominal training look for gymnasts? Powerlifters?
Stereotypically speaking, most coaches view abs through the lens of old-school fitness practices, which are full of high-rep, bodyweight abdominal training (think planks, V-ups, hollow rocks and sit-ups). At best, most abdominal training would take a gymnastics approach and get as fancy or challenging as parallette work, strict pikes and leg raises. These are all wonderful exercises.
With this narrow focus comes opportunity. Many athletes need core stress for the reasons described in the CrossFit definition. We need to maintain midline stability under increasingly more challenging loads. Through this lens, the abdominal work done by powerlifters at the highest level might be a great place to find ideas. In many ways, sets of 30 sit-ups are fine but often not fit for the task we’re often asking our core to do, which is to maintain position for much fewer, heavier reps.
We’ve had great success at implementing heavy variations of core exercises that have loads self-selected by hypertrophic rep ranges. Want to do sit-ups? What would it look like to do three sets of eight. To make it a challenge worthy of adaptation, we’d need to load the system. Sit-ups with barbells, weighted planks and other core challenges that are a challenge at lower rep ranges (eight, 10, 12) can fill a much-needed hole in the core-strength department.