Full Contact Abs With Pavel Tsatsouline

Enough with abdominal twists where you lie on your back like a tipped-over crab. Discover the full-contact twist and build core strength like an elite fighter!

Have you seen the abs of a full-contact fighter? Check out the physique of Belorussian kickboxer, K-1 World Heavyweight Champion Alexey Ignashov. His midsection could be mistaken for body armor.

Fighters from the countries of the former USSR dominate many full-contact sports. Ferocity that comes from hard living is one reason. The other is effective strength and conditioning inherited from the Soviet sport machine. Such as the powerful waist exercise featured in this article.

"The Full Contact Twist" was originally developed for Soviet shot put champions and then found its way into the martial arts community. A famous Russian shot putter failed to talk his way out of a mugging. This mild-mannered man got annoyed when one of the attackers cut him with a knife and ruptured the punk's spleen with a single punch.

Soviet justice's modus operandi could have been "Not a single good deed will go unpunished." But this time the innocent man defending his life got acquitted of manslaughter. The story made the papers.

One of the comrades who read it was Igor Sukhotsky, formerly a nationally ranked weightlifter and an eccentric sports scientist who took up full contact karate at the age of 45. This renaissance man researched shot putters' training and noticed that the twist had not only increased his striking power, but also had toughened his midsection against blows.

Sukhotsky was so impressed with the Full Contact Twist that he added it to his abbreviated strength-training routine that consisted of only four exercises-the three powerlifts and good mornings.

I have described the original Russian FCT in the past; today I will teach you the variation I learned Mike Burgener, RKC, a former Notre Dame football player and a weightlifting coach extraordinaire whose son Casey owns an American Junior clean and jerk record.

The Exercise

Load a barbell on one side and stick the other end in the corner. Protect the wall with a folded towel. Or get a "Land Mine" unit you can stick the bar into at Sorinex.com. It was developed by grip master Richard Sorin after the FCT added twelve feet to his son Bert's hammer throw and landed him a top ten ranking in the United States for three years straight. No matter what you are training for, this exercise is dynamite!

Stand on the left side of the bar, facing it. Just to make it clear, the bar is perpendicular to your feet. The bar's left end is parked in the corner, the right is loaded. You may want to start with a empty bar though as the drill imposes brutal leverage.

Pick up the loaded end just inside the sleeve. The right palm is closer to the plates and faces up, the left touches the right and faces down. Tighten up, pivot and turn the bar counterclockwise (with your elbows locked) until you almost face the corner. If you fail to pivot your knees will not like it. Make sure to wear shoes that do not catch or slip on your gym floor.

Quick Tip

You must keep your elbows locked throughout the set! It will not be easy but if it were easy everybody would be doing it. It helps to cramp your triceps and keep them that way.

Pause momentarily and bring the bar back to your thigh. Breathe any way you want, just keep your abdomen pressurized when in motion. Do not rush; this is not an explosive lift and you should feel steady tension all the way to the top.

Reps and Sets

Do all your reps< on one side, then turn around and work the other side. Practice the full contact twist for 5x5 per side three times a week. Add a flexion exercise of your choice, for instance the Janda sit-up or the hanging leg raise, for the same sets and reps.

The Finer Points

Do not lift the bar with your arms and shoulders. Initiate the twist with the ball of your right foot, then tense your inner right thigh. Contract your right glute and turn your hips to the left. Continue to your obliques and abs, compress your ribs, tense your lats, and only then move your rigid arms.

As I have explained in the "Naked Warrior" column, there are two universal principles of power generation in martial arts: "summation" and "wave". The former refers to the summation of the efforts of all the muscles involved in the movement. The latter is about passing the relay from the first link of the power chain to the last, from the foot to the fist. A Soviet study discovered that only 20 percent of an elite boxer's punching power comes from the arm and shoulder; 80 percent is in the hips and the midsection!

Let us go over the power chain one more time:

Ball of the foot—Inner thigh—Glutes—Waist—Ribs—Lats—Arms—Barbell

Rib Expansion and Compression

This should make sense although two links might look strange to you: the ribs and the lats. It is a little-known secret of top fighters. "The expansion and contraction of the muscles of the thorax will generate incredible power," promises national full-contact kung fu champion Steve Cotters, RKC, the owner of fullcontactkettlebells.com. "Feel a solid linkage from the armpit all the way down to the hip, so that the lats and the obliques feel like one continuous muscle."

Why bother? Because this martial arts technique directly translates to your gym strength. The 154-pound British kickboxer Nick Fraser strictly military presses an 88-pound kettlebell, a feat that humbled many bodybuilders outweighing him by 100 pounds at the Arnold Fitness Expo.

The rib expansion and compression is one of his martial power secrets. To master it, press the fingertips of your left hand against your right ribs and slowly imitate a right arm military press followed by a pull-down. "As you press the hand overhead, you should feel the ribs on the pressing side open fully, so that you can poke your fingertips between the ribs," continues Steve Cotter. "As you pull the hand down, feel the ribs closing around your fingers, so that at the bottom of the compression, your ribs form one solid vest, and your fingers cannot penetrate between the ribs.

It is very important that you fully compress at the bottom of the movement. Think of corkscrewing the elbow down into the body as you pull the arm down? Progress to the point that you can solicit the full expansion and contraction of the ribs without having to move the arms at all." Strive for that compressed ribs feeling during your Full Contact Twists.


Between giving and taking punishment, modern day gladiators need bulletproof abs more than anything else. Which is one reason so many knockout midsection exercises come from the martial arts community.

Forget your sissy crunches. Say good-bye to embarrassing ab rollers. No one knows midsection training better than the people who live and die by their ab strength, professional fighters. Practice the Full Contact Twist for a month and you will be KOed by its effectiveness.