By Pete Williams
Lou Schuler will be the first to stress that nobody lifts for abs. People lift for core strength.
Schuler, who edited the first Core Performance book I wrote with Mark Verstegen when Lou was working for Rodale Books in 2003, now is co-author with Alwyn Cosgrove of his own successful book franchise, The New Rules of Lifting series.
Their new book is The New Rule of Lifting for Abs (Avery), which shares some of the core (pun intended) philosophies as Core Performance, but with a unique twist. Schuler recently discussed the new book with us on The Fitness Buff Show. Core training is always a boost to endurance sports performance. You can listen to that interview or read an edited transcript below.
CP.com: What does lifting have to do with abs?
A: It has everything to do with abs. If you’re lifting heavy weights without developing your core strength first you’ll get hurt. You will not be firing the right muscles in the right sequence and you’ll hurt something. If you don’t have proper endurance in the muscles, you won’t hold your lower back, your lumbar spine in a neutral position. This is something I learned from Mark Verstegen in 2004 when we visited the Athletes’ Performance facility in Arizona and they put us through a workout and we – me and an editor at Rodale Books – really struggled. That was the first time somebody had alerted me that my glutes weren’t firing on some of the exercises and that was a real wakeup call. Everyone who lifts heavy weight has that wakeup call at some point where they realize their muscles aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing. What you guys did with Core Performance is similar to what we’ve done with this book. When people focus on these core muscles, everything else falls into place. It’s easer to lose fat, gain strength, and get the results you want if all of your muscles are working together.
CP: How important is posture?
A: It’s huge. The human species was not designed to sit in chairs all day. Nothing about millions of years of primate evolution has lead us to sitting hunched over a laptop or thumbing out messages on a Blackberry constantly. So what happens is that we continually distort a posture for 8 to 10 hours a day and if we’re not doing something to counteract those distortions we’re going to end up with not only a bad looking physique with rounded shoulders, we’ll end up injured because our bodies are not supposed to be in that position all day.
CP: So was the use of “abs” in the title just a marketing ploy?
A: If we had had our druthers, we would have called it The New Rules of Core Training, but because we’re friends with you and Mark and I worked on your book as an editor, we thought if we put the word core in the title, it would seem like it was too close to what you guys have done with your Core Performance franchise, which is why we use abs. My co-author Alwyn Cosgrove is friends with Mark Verstegen but they have different training methods, both of which work. It’s frustrating that I have to explain over and over again why we use the word abs in the title when in fact our book doesn’t have any crunches at all. That’s what everyone associates with ab training and we stress that’s the last thing you should be doing.
CP: Is it true that you need to be below 10 percent body fat to have visible abs?
A: It depends on how the fat is distributed. I’ve always been mystified by this and that’s always been the perception. I’ve been at less than 10 percent and not had visible abs and have known people with less body fat than me and had less visible musculature. I’ve had to answer e-mails from readers who say they can’t see abs being under 10 percent. This emphasis on the amount of body fat doesn’t matter as much as where it’s distributed, which is largely genetic and I don’t know how you get around it. Abs aside, the larger point is that having a strong core is important for your health, posture, fitness and any sports pursuit you want to do. If you look good in a mirror, that’s great but it’s not really the main goal of the book.
Q: How would you describe the workout itself?
A: A lot of readers will come to our books having read the first two and will expect a similar approach, which is you warm up for a few minutes and then go into the weight room and pound it for 45 minutes followed by some cardio work to burn off fat. This is a different approach. We start out with 10 minutes of mobility exercise because if your hip joints are not fully mobile, if your legs and shoulders are not able to move the way they’re supposed to, then the core training is superfluous because then you’re going to get the wrong muscles firing at the wrong times to make up for compromised mobility. What a lot of readers find is that in that first 10 minutes, they’re winded. They can hoist the iron for an hour, but they get winded doing 10 minutes of mobility exercises. They find they have very little endurance in those core muscles even tough they think they’ve been developing strength and endurance for years.