Let me start by saying I don’t focus on training muscles specifically but rather focus on training and improving movement patterns. Because of this reason, I love to incorporate “full-body” exercises into sessions such as turkish get-ups (TGU’s), crawling variations, and jumping drills just to name a few.

That being said, I do separate exercises out based on their muscle-area emphasis. I’m big on “templates” and “categories”…I love to have a menu of movements and then I just “plug & play” so to speak. Meaning, when I’m putting workouts together and creating a program, I will refer to this menu and plug the appropriate movements in to the routine based on the unique needs of the client.

The templates are forever-evolving; however, there are main “categories”, or movement patterns, that have been the foundation of my routines for years.

The main categories include:
1. Lower Body
2. Upper Body
3. Torso
4. Conditioning
5. Extra – Pre-hab movements that include activation, mobility, and stability drills

Awhile back, I wrote an article called, “Midsection Madness for MMA”. In that piece, I detailed my top “midsection” exercises. While I still like every one of those exercise, I’ve since added to my “go to” list. Here’s a deeper look into the torso-specific movements that make the cut this time around.

Like that previous article, I will keep this one a “crunch-free” zone. Other than my MMA athletes, I do not have a single client perform a sit-up or crunch (And the volume is very limited with my MMA guys). I want every training session to be effective and efficient. I just can’t wrap my mind around putting someone on their back and have them perform flexion exercises after they’ve spent the entire day in that posture. Do sit-up and crunches work the abs? Sure do; but I will target the midsection of my clients with rotation & anti-rotation exercises, get-ups, heavy carries, pull-ups (yes, pull-ups), interval work, and a healthy diet instead.

Equipment-Based Torso Rotations
Tubing – As you can see with all the tools listed, we can perform this exercise a number of different ways. Using traditional tubing, I like the exercise to be short and sweet. Keep a shoulder-width stance, perform the movement with speed and control from foot to foot, and keep your arms relatively straight the entire time. The clip will further explain the movement.

RIP – I like to cue my clients to rotate from the shoulders and hips on this exercise. You don’t want to “arm” the exercise…the arms are just “along for the ride” I like to say. Body positioning in relation to the anchor point can make this exercise fairly easy or extremely challenging. You can also adjust your hand positioning on the bar to modify the intensity.

Medicine Ball
– Standing perpendicular to a training partner or wall, throw the ball with force using both your upper and lower body. With balls, I will use different types for different goals. If power is the priority, we will use a dead ball and throw it as explosively as possible. If you are using a more traditional bouncy ball, you have to be alert for the rebound and, therefore, may not throw it with as much force. I like this type of ball is we are trying to be fast and work on deceleration and being quick with force transfer.

Superband – Another tool I use to work on rotational speed. Strategically wrapping the band so it comes across the hips will force you to rotate shoulders, hips, and pivot off the back foot to ensure proper technique.

Diagonal Lifts
I first used diagonal lifts as a “corrective exercise” tool to work on thoracic spine rotation and extension. This remains one of my favorite movements and now I utilize different tools for a varied training effect.
Tubing or RIP – I primarily perform these two lifts from the tall kneeling or split squat position. I like a controlled motion focusing on thoracic rotation while maintaining a neutral hip position.

Kamagon & Slosh Pipe – Using these water-filled tools from a standing position, you can ramp up the speed a bit and focus more on power. The weight shift and deceleration component will make for a challenging core workout.

Isometric Holds (Iso-holds)
Pallof Press – I like to perform these with tubing or a cable machine. There is a TRX suspension trainer variation as well. Maintain proper spinal alignment and don’t let your shoulders elevate during the movement. Foot position and distance from the anchor point on this exercise will determine the intensity. Check out the video clip to see the exercise in action.

Iso-Holds With Perturbations
– To perform this exercise, think of being in the end-range of the Pallof Press. Keep a neutral spine, your core engaged, your shoulders down, and try to minimize any movement while the cable or tubing is being manipulated.

Most people train the torso by performing spinal flexion exercises. I like to target the midsection the opposite way; with movements that prevent lumbar extension. Here are my favorites:
Rollout/Superman – This exercise can be performed with a number of different tools. My favorites include the TRX suspension trainer, ab wheel, and sliders/gliders. More unique options include plates, a barbell, a medicine ball, or a foam roller. This movement is a great way to challenge, not only your anterior and posterior torso, but also the stabilizers of your shoulder joint as you extend.

Body Saw
– Another great anti-extension movement that can be performed with multiple tools. It is similar to the superman exercise listed above, however, the equipment is now at the feet and the movement comes primarily from the shoulder joint. My popular tool choices include the TRX suspension trainer, sliders/gliders, plates, and a stability ball.

Of course there are thousands of additional torso-focused exercises to choose from. We could further break this down to oblique exercises, lower abs, upper abs, etc. I wanted to share with you my “go to” choices and briefly explain why I feel they are safe, efficient, and effective. Try replacing your crunches and sit-ups with a couple options listed above. Your 6-pack abs will thank you.


About Doug
Doug Balzarini, CSCS, MMA-CC, is the owner of DB Strength, which provides fitness training, education, and resources. He is also the strength and conditioning coach for Alliance MMA where he works with UFC Champion Dominick Cruz, Phil Davis, Brandon Vera, Travis Browne, Ross Pearson, Alexander Gustafsson, and more. Prior to starting his own business, Doug worked at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE).

He has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU and has obtained multiple certifications including ACE, NSCA-CSCS, MMA-CC, TRX instructor training, EFI Gravity instructor training, LIFT Sandbag Certification, and FMS training. He has produced his own 2-DVD set on strength training for combat athletes, appeared in many fitness videos and articles, and was recently a coach on “The Ultimate Fighter” TV show.

For more information please visit www.dbstrength.com.