My friend asked me an interesting question the other day: “What do you think is the most useless exercise, and what is the most useful?”
The second part of the question is tough to answer, but I told him that if I could do only one exercise, it would be the front squat deadlift. Sure, there’s no such thing as a front squat deadlift, but cheated on the answer because I think they’re the two most effective strength exercises a human can perform. But the answer to the first part was a no-brainer: any exercise that targets the abdominal region directly–like sit-ups, crunches, leg raises/ lifts, and certainly torso twists–is the most useless. Blech.
Look at the two photos below. In the one on the left (July 2014) my abs are a little more defined than in the right (Jan 2015). Is it because I stopped doing direct abdominal work? Definitely not, because I haven’t done any–I repeat ANY–direct ab work in years. My abs are slightly more blurry now because I’m purposely carrying more fat. On the left I’m sub-7%; on the right, I’m just over 8%, which on my body equates to a couple of pounds. My strong core is purely the product of heavy front squats, heavy back squats, and heavy deadlifts. I truly believe that direct abdominal work is a waste of life, except of course for the pros who are interested in carving out fine details (which is only worthwhile at the sub 5% bodyfat level.
None of this is to say that you can’t develop abs with crunches and other stuff [crap], but why bother? Isolation exercises do nothing for intermuscular coordination and development of proportional strength i.e. the right ratio of strength between muscle groups for optimum functional balance. So if you’re doing tons of direct ab work, you’ll also have to do tons of lower back isolation work, and if you do that, you’ll have to make sure you’re getting the right amount of hamstring stimulation, which means you’ll also need to make sure you hit the muscles of your hip complex and the three heads of your quads. There’s just no way to know if you’re developing strength in all those areas in proper proportion to one another. Seems complicated, right? It is. But it’s not if you just stick to the basic giant compound lifts and forget about hitting individual muscles.