Nightwing Training Part 3: Gymnastic Core Workout

By on June 20, 2019

Last time on Nightwing Training….

Over the last two instalments of this series I have discussed explosive leg strength for jump height, followed by pushing and pulling strength for gymnastic moves, scaling walls, and throwing punches. We devised workouts for each, all in service of becoming more powerful, agile, and nimble – like Dick Grayson himself.

Nightwing workout

But there is more to do. In this part 3, we’ll be looking at ab training: developing a powerful core that will help with balance, coordination, and torque. In part 4, we’ll look at mobility training and I’ll be returning to the gymnastics hall to see if all this has improved my own attempts at flipping.

Core training is a topic that is extremely misunderstood. If you are like many people, then you might fall into one of two camps: either you ignore the core entirely, convinced that compound lifts are doing enough to train it, or you just do lots of sit ups to developer your rectus abdominis AKA six pack. These are both mistaken approaches to training, as they forget that the core is made from numerous muscles that work in tandem to deliver their results. The best case scenario is that they leave performance on the table. The worst is that they develop imbalances that lead to poor posture and back pain.

Nightwing Workout

Gymnasts know different. They know that the core is actually made up of many different muscles: the rectus and transverse abdominis, the internal and external obliques, the erector spinae (particularly the longissimus thoracis), and more. It is by working together that these muscles stabilize our trunk, and allow us to generate torque and momentum. Simply squatting and deadlifting won’t do anything for your obliques and won’t help you to twist through the air like a spinning top. And sit ups are rarely challenging enough to do much for developing the fast twitch muscle missing in the rectus abdominis.

By training these additional muscles, you restore the twisting and stabilizing capabilities of the core that so many people have lost to disuse. In doing so, you’ll be gaining movement in a whole additional dimension, which will ensure you can move round opponents like liquid. This is how we’re meant to move – twisting is one of the 7 primal movements described by physiotherapists for example –  and yet even many physically active people simply allow it to atrophy.

If nothing else, building your core correctly and cohesively will allow you to develop amazing aesthetics. Since I’ve been training in a more functional manner, my abs have been popping – even at higher body fat percentages! Some people say that ab strength doesn’t impact on a visible six pack, but if that were the case then contracting your abs wouldn’t make them more visible. Now imagine that all the surrounding muscles are just as toned, and that your transverse abdominis is holding it all flat. It looks awesome.

Nighting core workout

So let’s break it down. What should the ideal core workout for agility and power consist of? Here’s each muscle, what it does, and how to train it.

Rectus Abdominis: For Bending and Snapping

The muscle that most of us think of as the “six pack.” Contrary to appearances, this is actually just a single sheet of muscles that is split into segments. It is split vertically down the middle by the linea alba however, so you can contract more on one side or the other with training.

The main role of the rectus abdominis however is to pull your body forward. This way, it acts antagonistically to the erector spinae (back muscles) to prevent you from snapping over backward. Every moment you aren’t leaning back on something, your abs are working in tandem with the back to keep you upright, which means they have a lot of slow twitch muscle fiber (study).

Hanging Sit Ups Rectus Abdominis

What surprised me when I spent almost a day attempting to backflip though, was just how much my rectus abdominis burned afterward. And it’s obvious really: when you backflip, you bring your knees up to your chest and curl. This is the most important part of the movement and should provide the momentum to spin you through the air. If you lack core strength, you won’t be able to generate that spinning motion.

There are two problems with many people’s approach to training their rectus abdominis. One is that they often aren’t targeting the right muscles at all. Perform a hanging leg raise and you might be tempting to fold your body at the waist. The same goes for sit-ups. Doing this won’t actually train your abs at all, but will rather train the hip flexors. In order to train the abs, you need to crunch the stomach to thereby bring the legs up. One of my favorite ways to train the abs is to perform leg raises like this to failure, then to switch immediately to frog kicks (bringing up just the knees) making sure to really focus in on the crunch movement. Better yet is to try the myotatic crunch as described by Tim Ferriss in the Four Hour Body. This is a crunch performed over a bosu ball in a semi-arch position. That allows the rectus abdominis to work through its full range of motion, rather than just crunch halfway up. Also useful is the pike pulse, which helps to train more of the ROM that often gets missed.

Haning Leg Raises Weighted

The other issue is that most ab training is high rep with low resistance. This is partly out of fear of injury, though as long as you build up slowly, it is perfectly safe to crunch against weight. Remember: your abs work all day holding you up. They’re perfectly find when it comes to endurance. If you want to increase agility and power, you need to add back in some fast twitch fiber. For this reason, holding weight between the knees during frog kicks is even better. The kneeling cable crunch is another great one. Again, make sure the fold is in the stomach, not the hips. I’ve been practicing performing leg raises in a more explosive manner, almost as if trying to backflip, and it has made a huge difference.

Transverse Abdominis: For Core Stability

The transverse abdominis is often described as nature’s weight belt. It lives underneath the rectus abdominis and wraps around the mid-section keeping it tight and flat. This provides stability and allows you to keep your trunk even more rigid when necessary – making movements like the front lever and the planche possible. It also helps to prevent injury AND it brings your stomach in nice and tight so that those abs look flat as well as defined.

Front Lever Pull Up

Any exercise that keeps the body as a rigid plank will help to train the transverse abdominis. That includes the plank, the planche, and the front lever. Better yet is the hollow body hold. This is a movement from gymnastics that involves lying on your back with your lower spine against the ground, bringing your belly button in toward your spine, tucking your chin, and depress the shoulders by pointing the hands forward. Eventually you can progress to having your toes pointed and arms pointing behind you, but always with your lower back in contact with the ground. This will develop the kind of rigid plank like body that will give you greater control in almost any movement.

Hollow Body Hold

Erector Spinae for Back Strength

Erector Spinae

The erector spinae are the muscles along your spine that allow for extension of the spinal column. In other words, they allow you to bend backward, while also keeping your back upright acting as a counterbalance to the rectus abdominis. They’re crucial if you want to be able to perform a back handspring by whipping your hands back, and to avoid injury during a vast range of exercises. The erector spinae exercises everyone knows is the roman chair or superman. The deadlift will also work them, and particularly the straight legged deadlift. Christopher Sommers from Gymnastic Bodies is a huge advocate of the Jefferson curl – though you should approach this with caution and build up to heavier weights slowly.

Erector Spinae

Just make sure that if you’re hitting the abs hard, you also do enough for the erector spinae.

Obliques for Rotational Torque

Finally, we have the obliques. These are divided into the internal and external obliques, and their job is to help keep the spine straight by bracing against resistance on one side, to bend sideways, as well as to power twisting movements. To turn left, you will contract the left internal and right external obliques. They are what provide the detailed striations on either side of the six pack when your abs get really ripped.

Obliques Hanging Leg Twists

Obliques get ignored a lot of the time, which is absurd when you consider just HOW important they are. They are not only crucial for kicking, punching, throwing, and grappling, but also for anything that involves twisting in the air – b-twists, aerials, side flips.

So, perform these movements during your training. That means oblique twists (woodchopper), cable resistance punch-outs, side plank twists, hanging leg twists, bicycle crunches, the palloff press, and the bear crunch. Make sure to also train the external rotation of the shoulders if you are doing a lot of cross body movements though, as you otherwise risk rounding the upper back. Oh also, just punch and kick a lot. Martial arts training and heavy bag work will build explosive power and torque that translates extremely well when trying to spin through the air.

One arm press oblique strength

You should also incorporate some off-set loading exercises and unilateral (one sided) exercises. That might mean loaded carries such as the suitcase carry with just a single weight in one hand, or it might mean one handed overhead presses. This will force the core to brace against the load to keep you stable. Old-time strongmen knew the importance of this kind of strength, and as an added bonus it will help make you impossible to push over.

Stay tuned for an upcoming video on contralateral training, which will be highly relevant to this section.

The Workout

Rpoe climbs

Without further ado then, here is the Nightwing core workout. In the next post, I’ll share how to split these routines over a week but for now just make sure that you keep this as far away from the push and pull days as possible (you’ll be doubling up on some push and pull work, which is a good thing as long as there’s ample recovery) and ideally place it after your leg workout (or that workout will be severely hampered).

  • 2 x 5 Straight-legged deadlift (stop before failure)
  • 2 x Front Lever Pull Ups to failure
  • 3 x Hollow body holds to failure
  • 2 x 10 Weighted Frog Kicks to failure
  • 1 x Mechanical Drop Set: Leg raises to failure > Frog kicks to failure
  • 3 x V-Sit to failure
  • 2 x 15 Myotatic Crunch
  • 2 x 10 Single Hand Overhead Barbell Press (stop before failure)
  • 2 x 10 Around the worlds
  • 1 x Briefcase Carry to failure
  • 2 x 10 Side Plank Oblique Twist
  • 1 x Pike Pulses to failure
  • 2 x 10 Supermans
  • 1 x 50 Bicycle Sit Ups to failure
  • 1 x Tabata Heavy Bag / Shadow Boxing

Closing Comments

Whew, so that’s it!

While we haven’t covered all the muscles that make up the core here (the glues, the hip flexors, the pelvic floor), these are the areas that we should focus on in a Nightwing style workout. Train all these muscles using those exercises suggested – check out the link in the description for an example workout – and you’ll be hitting your core far more effectively than 99.9% of people.

Nightwing Workout

This will in turn give you FAR greater stability and balance, but also greater power to rapidly twist and curl up. That’s crucial if you want to be able to flip, spin, punch, and kick with power and speed.

Stay tuned for the final part of this series coming in the next month or two, where I’ll be adding mobility into the mix.

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

3 Comments

  1. Jarred says:

    Is there a final part for the Nightwing series? I would love a Nightwing full program.

    Thank you,

    Jarred Cooke

    • It’s coming! Once lockdown has completely lifted I’m hoping I can get back to the gymnastics hall and get Grant to tutor me directly. That will (probably) be the final piece of the puzzle. Don’t miss part 4 on the channel, which is actually presented by Grant who is crazy at MMA tricking!

  2. Ryan says:

    Hey, I’m just curious will the last part to this series be released? Just asking because it’s been awhile since it came out.

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