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Pike Your Way to Perfect Abs

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Let me be blunt: I don't like core training. Much like foam rolling, stretching, mobility and dynamic warm-up drills, and any form of cardio, it just bores me to tears. With that being said, I know it's essential to improved performance on the big lifts and also to keeping me healthy, so, as much as I want to say "I'll do it next time" and dismiss it, I incorporate it a few times per week.
Given my utter disdain for specific core exercises, I know I need to do stuff which delivers a big bang for my buck, and from which I can derive maximum benefit. I have no need or interest in performing high-rep ab circuits or trying out any cool-looking new exercise I saw on YouTube or a blog anymore. I just want stuff that works, and that I can perform with a relatively low volume and still get something out of. To me, there are only a few exercises which fit the bill:

  • Rollout variations
  • Hanging Leg Raises
  • Asymmetrical Loaded Carries
  • Advanced Plank Variations (those that are hard for 30 seconds or less)
  • Heavy Cable Chops and Rotary Movements AND…

It is this last category, pike variations, which I want to focus on here. If you are looking for a group of exercises which are very challenging for 6 to 12 reps per set, look no further. Pikes are typically performed from a push-up position using a stability ball, suspension straps, or a slideboard/valslide, although the pike movement can also be performed from an overhead bar or from a "face-up" position as well (see video below).

The Pike Movement
Pike movements have a couple of things in common. First, pikes are always initiated with the hips and knees extended (straight legs), and the back flat in a neutral spine position (no sagging). When performing pikes, the knees will remain extended and the legs will remain straight (unless you are doing a regressed version), throughout the movement. The movement is basically aggressive hip flexion keeping a long lever until your body forms a "V" or inverted "V". The eccentric portion should be performed slow and controlled back to the starting position of whatever version you are doing.

Pikes are great because you can work anterior core stability and anti-extension along with a slight amount of dynamic flexion: when you pike by flexing the hips, your pelvis will tilt a bit posteriorly, which is a function of the rectus. This is perfectly safe, assuming you are not forcing an end-range position, as your abs are designed to promote a certain amount of spinal flexion. An added bonus is that most pike variations also involve a lot of scapula and shoulder stability, so you get some work for these stabilizers as well.

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A Word of Caution
Pikes are a rather advanced exercise, even at the most basic level/progression. You will need to have a decent amount of core strength to perform them. If you struggle even with the easier versions, I'd recommend focusing on some of the other core exercises/categories I listed in the bullet points earlier. Also, due to their demanding nature and the leverage involved, pikes are not going to be a high rep exercise for the vast majority of folks. Take a quality over quantity mindset with these. As noted above, sets of 6-12 (maybe even lower with some variations) will be about right. 3-5 sets of one version per workout should be about all you need.

Now that I've covered the basics of the pike, let's provide a visual, as this is certainly an exercise which is hard to grasp through a text explanation. Here are 11 pike variations, and while I've tried to put them in order from easiest to hardest, some people may find one version harder than another, so you may have to fool around with these in the gym to find which variations are right for you. Enjoy!

If you loathe core training like I do, and are looking for a "no fluff" minimalist approach which delivers great results, give some of these pike variations a shot in the coming weeks. Until next time, train hard!

What's your favorite (or least dreaded) core training exercise? Let us know in the comments field below!

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