David Grisaffi Interview
Abdominal Training Secrets
With Tom Venuto
David Grisaffi is the author of "Firm and Flatten Your Abs"
TV: Hi David, thanks for taking the time for this interview
because I know how busy you are and that, among other projects, you run a
training studio in Tacoma and you keep a full client load. I've known you for a
couple years now through the Internet and the emails we've sent to each other
and you're very well known within the fitness industry - especially in the
sports training field. But on the off chance that some of the people listening
to this interview don't know who you are, would you give us a quick introduction
and tell us little bit about your background, how you got started in this field
and how you spend your time now?
DG: Well I was always a sports enthusiast my entire life. I can
remember I was the only 9-year-old watching Monday night football and taking
stats. I did all the usual sports - football, soccer, wrestling, swimming,
baseball and tennis. Never did much with basketball. Being a genetically
"blessed" Italian, I didn't think the height requirement was going to be on my
side. I excelled at wrestling. That sport alone taught me about nutrition,
supplements, work ethic etc. I really have to thank wrestling for getting me
into this field. I now coach high school wrestling, baseball and youth football.
I keep really busy with my 3 children, Addision (13) Garrison (10) and my little
man Carson (7). I taught school for a couple of years and then decided to go
into personal training.
TV: You have quite a few certifications, one of them is
certified personal trainer, one is certified golf trainer - or "golf
"biomechanic" to be exact -, but what is a "Corrective High Performance Exercise
DG: That's an intense certification program where you learn from
one of the foremost experts in the conditioning field, Paul Chek, who personally
developed and cultivated the program. The certification revolves around the
dynamics of kinesiology, physiology, functional anatomy and mind - body - spirit
relationships. The program has four levels and I'm currently a level II, where
we learn physical assessment, posture analysis, gait analysis, primal movement
patterns, length-tension testing and range of motion testing. My Golf
biomechanic certification is also from the CHEK institute. This is where we
learn how the relationship between muscles and muscle groups affect the golf
swing and how to improve it.
In the winter of 2002 I also became one of the first Nutrition and
Lifestyle Coaches from the CHEK institute. This program was developed to help
practitioners deal with nutritional and lifestyle needs of their clients. The
certification teaches how symptoms of disease and stress can be prevented
through diet, exercise and stress management. I'm currently a level II Nutrition
and lifestyle coach.
I can't say enough about how Paul has helped me become a better
trainer and person. There is more to this then just exercise.
TV: And I understand that there's only a small handful of
people who have those credentials, is that right?
DG: Yes, I think, at last count about 1000 have done received a
CHEK certification but there are only about 35 in the world with all three
certifications including the level two's. So it all costs time, energy and brain
work Tom, but for someone who wants something different and out of the box
thinking, it's great. Not to take away from any other certification programs;
heck, I love the ISSA, Ian King, Charles Poliquin and many others…
TV: That's impressive, congratulations. So if I understand your
philosophy correctly, the big difference between you and other trainers and
especially trainers who only do bodybuilding and nothing else, is that you help
your clients not only look good, but also with functionality, performance and
correcting existing injuries or potential problem areas or imbalances that could
lead to injuries in the future. Did I miss anything or would you say that's a
pretty good description?
DG: That's right…you have to evaluate your client thoroughly for
strengths and weaknesses to get the best results. Sometimes without a good
evaluation you can miss something that could help prevent or fix an injury or
cause someone not to excel.
TV: I think it's really important what you're teaching because
as a bodybuilder myself, when I first started many years ago, the ONLY thing I
cared about was looking good and having muscles and abs and low body fat, but
true fitness is a lot more than just looking good. For one thing it's health
above all else. In addition to that, if you don't have strong, flexible and
balanced development, then sooner or later, you're going to get injured or
you're going to find that you can't enjoy the sports or recreation activities
you want to, and ultimately you might even find yourself restricted from normal
daily activities like squatting, bending and lifting things around the house,
which is exactly what happens to most people when then get older. But still, the
fact is, everyone wants to look good, they want the six pack; they want muscle
definition. So how do you balance the form aspect - the looking good part - with
the function aspect - which is the strength, flexibility, balance and
DG: I believe we develop from the inside out. If you have good
insides, you will have a good outside. What I mean is that diet, nutrition and
water intake have a great deal to do with how good you look on the outside. So
to look good - the "form" part - I start with overseeing my client's dietary
intake. I don't go as far as telling them exactly what to eat but I give a lot
As for the "function", I always think of the body as a whole, not
as parts. Yes, if you're a bodybuilder and that is your gig, then heck yes,
think in parts. This really depends on the client and their goals, but you
always need proper flexibility, strength and balance in the whole body as a
TV: You train regular people and you also train professional
athletes, especially boxers and golfers. Is there a big difference in how
athletes and regular people should train?
DG:Each of them has distinct differences. So to plop down a
"canned program" for everyone would lead to failure and would reflect poorly on
me. I take each client one at a time. In my Flatten Your Abs e-book, I provide
many different levels so each individual can pick the level that fits them best
when they start out. Everyone is not equal. The boxers in general, are more
athletic, so one big difference is that I change their program more often to
keep them fresh. Let's say I have 6 weeks before a tough fight, I may change the
workout 3 - 4 times. Their nervous systems are highly adaptable and need the
change. Someone who just wants to start a basic weight-training program could
stay on the same program for the entire 6 weeks and get results. This is because
their nervous systems are not as highly developed.
TV: Lets talk about six pack abs and flat stomachs, because
that's another one of your specialty areas and that's what I really wanted to
focus on in this interview the most. You wrote a course on abdominal training-
it's called FIRM AND FLATTEN YOUR ABS and you're now offering it as an e-book
download on the Internet and it's starting to get really popular. What made you
decide to write a book about abdominal training when there's already so much
information out there?
DG: Hmmm.…to be honest it was my friend Don Lemmon. He invited me
to write a chapter about core conditioning in his book, and I said "sure". One
thing lead to another and that one chapter developed into an entire e-book of my
own. I had never done an entire book before with editing, pictures and so on,
but I just took a lot of the information I had learned from experience and from
all my mentors, put my head down, went to work and wrote the Firm and Flatten
Your Abs e Book. It took me about 3 months. I guess one of my main motivations
for writing it was because there is so much bad information and so many bad
abdominal machines and devices out there…
TV: I noticed you don't recommend ANY sit ups in your course.
Why is that?
DG:That's correct. After studying many greats like Vladimir Janda,
Diane Lee, Paul Chek, Richardson and Jull, I discovered that the hip flexors
(illiopsoas) are frequently overworked and that can lead to muscle imbalances
and low back pain. So I said, why continue aggravating the problem with sit ups?
In my e book this is a topic I cover in detail.
TV: So why are sit ups still so popular and why are they still
used as a standard exercise in fitness testing and for sports or military
conditioning? Is there ever any reason that anyone would want to do sit ups or
in your opinion is that an exercise you should NEVER do?
DG: People are hard to change, Tom. Once you learn what can happen
from overusing exercises like sit ups, you'd be doing yourself (and trainers
their clients) a disservice by continuing this practice. Many studies have also
shown the hip flexors are recruited to do most of the work, so sit ups are not
only ineffective but they can also strain your back.
Now to be fair, there are correct ways to do a sit up…one is to
take the Law of Reciprocal Inhibition into account. That means if one muscle is
working, the other must relax. So if you're doing sit ups, your contract your
hamstrings and glutes by pushing your lower legs against someone's hands, small
dumbbells or over a heavy weighted barbell. This will shut off the illiopsoas
and your abs will feel it in the morning because they are now doing more of the
If I prescribe sit ups, I simply have my clients do Janda sit ups.
For the e book, I left out sit ups completely because of the overuse and injury
TV: Are there any other ab exercises that are really common in
the gym but you wouldn't recommend to your clients?
DG:Unfortunately, many of the abdominal exercise gadgets on the
market are ineffective and sometimes even unsafe. I would stay away from the "Ab
Roller" or "Torso Track because these machines can create muscle imbalances. I'm
also not a fan of machine crunches because these machines - like all machines -
stabilize your body and isolate the rectus abdominis, which doesn't allow for
true functional movement.
Let's see, what else… Russian twists on a
roman chair with a plate sound like a good way to ruin your lumbar spine. Torso
twists on a machine fall in that category too.
TV: Yeah, those rotary torso machines are always being used in
every gym I've ever been in. What about the ab machines you see on TV - ANY of
them any good?
The infomercial ads on TV try to make the machines and devices
seem new, fun and easy. Everyone wants nice abs fast and easy. But nice abs do
not come in a machine! The first step is a not a machine, it's a proper diet
based on the individual. I would say your E book Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle
is one of the best on the shelves these days.
TV: So what's probably on everyone's mind now is that if sit
ups and most machines are out, that must leave crunches as the exercise of
DG: Yes and No…crunches have become more popular because of the
popularity of crunches with ab rollers and machines. But like sit ups, crunches
are also overused and misused - frequently! Floor crunches also limit your range
of motion compared to using a Swiss ball.
TV: A lot of people wonder about those giant exercise balls -
You call them Swiss balls, some people call them stability balls - I noticed you
included quite a few ball exercises in your course. What's so great about those
DG: Simple…it places more demand on the neurological system and
that makes the abdominal workout more effective. According to some studies, the
recruitment of the abdominals was almost double when the subjects used the Swiss
ball. The oblique's contribution was increased by over 4 times due to the Swiss
ball. You also get an extra 15 degrees range of motion doing crunches on a Swiss
ball compared to floor crunches. Plus, have you ever done an advanced exercise
on a Swiss ball? You sweat more and breathe more heavily. Why, because your
nervous system and entire body are working harder to do all the stabilizing
work. For example, the Prone Bridge exercise forces the rest of your body to
stabilize you so you don't fall off the ball. Think of it as a light switch
TV: So using a Swiss ball "flips the switch on your nervous
system," I've never heard anyone put it that way before… Interesting. So what
are a few of your personal favorite exercises for developing a good-looking and
strong set of six pack abs?
DG:Well, my system starts with good neurological programming of
the core muscles. Build the base and then add layers. Some of the exercises I
personally like are:
Prone Ball Roll
Lateral Ball Roll
Forward Ball Roll
There's also a total of 42 exercises including about a dozen
ball exercises in my e-book, Flatten Your abs, and that includes multiple photos
of each movement showing start and finish positions.
TV: Alright, next subject: what's the deal on training abs
every day - you hear different opinions on this all the time - are you supposed
to work them daily or not? And why?
DG: There are different opinions on this. Personally, I think they
should NOT be trained each day. There are situations where you could train
muscle groups on consecutive days, like when you work different sections of the
abs. I stand by the philosophy of lower abs first, obliques and then the rectus
abdominus. Why? Each takes a different degree of neurological programming.
But in general, I follow a "less is more" philosophy for abs. I
don't want people getting over trained and injured. A good diet combined with an
effective exercise program designed for the individual is the key for fat loss.
Add in a good core exercise program such as Firm and Flatten Your Abs and you
have the recipe for success.
TV: Okay, here's another burning question that's on everyone's
mind: A lot of people do abdominal exercises every day because they think that
will burn the fat of the stomach. You and I know that doesn't work. For the
record, would you explain exactly why ab exercises don't burn fat off your
DG:For one thing, fat is stored all over your body and the
distribution of fat stores is mainly genetic. Men tend to store body fat in
their mid section first. Women have a hard time losing the hip and leg weight
because of child-bearing genetic code.
Second, and most important, abdominals come from low body fat and
low body fat comes from good nutrition, not specific exercises. I really believe
that you are what you eat. If you are dirty on the inside you will be "dirty" on
TV: Ok, let's talk about core training now. A lot of people
have heard of core training because it has now filtered into the mainstream,
with best selling books, videos and exercise classes at health clubs and so on,
but for the people who still don't know what core training is could you give a
DG:Training the core is a very important issue for all people of
all ages. The main point I'd like to make is that most people do not get a good
evaluation before starting a core training program. People just jump right into
a core conditioning class or advanced movements they see in a magazine and this
leads to many orthopedic injuries. I'm not saying they need a PhD in functional
anatomy, but they should know what type, how much and how long they should do
each and every exercise.
There are two different muscular systems at work when dealing with
core conditioning. They are referred to as the inner unit, which consists of the
transverse abdominis, diaphragm, multifidus and pelvic floor these are deep
abdominal muscles and are important to core stability and function. Then there
are the outer unit muscles, which are all the prime movers of our skeleton
system. You must get the inner unit working well before you embark on a hard
core conditioning program.
When conditioning your core, think of yourself as a big top
spinning with everything emanating from the middle (core) out. If you wobble in
the middle, you will, in theory, become off balance and fall over faster. This
sets yourself up for decreased performance and increased injury potential. Show
me a weak core and I will show you many orthopedic injuries. Remember, getting
injured should never be part of an exercise program.
To prevent injury, develop a base and concentrate on building a
functional inner unit.
Protecting the spine is high on the hierarchy of
survival. To protect the spine and its important function, we must understand
what makes the inner and outer unit muscles work. Working the inner unit muscles
simply leads to better core control
Your ability to respond to situations in everyday life from
bending down to get your keys you dropped on the ground to putting your baby in
his or her crib will be greatly enhanced when you have trained this system
TV: You talk about functional training and functional movement
in your program - what's that all about?
DG:Functional training is popular today as it well should be. It
really revolves around integrated, multi-dimensional movements that sometimes
change speed in all planes of motion. I don't want to get into a deep discussion
about exercise kinesiology or biomechanics, so just think of everyday life: How
many leg extensions or leg curls do you perform in everyday life as compared to
squats? Squatting down is a natural, "everyday" movement. In other words, it's
I strongly suggest avoiding the overuse of machines and starting
to design your training in a functional manner. I help people do this in person
at my training studio and on line at my personal training web site.
TV: You also mention the word "integration" frequently through
out your book, what do you mean by that?
DG:This is connected to the functional training I was just talking
about. Like I said before, it means we do not condition or train by isolating
muscles. We "bring together" all the muscles of the body to work as a unit -
Try to do a bicep curl on a machine, then do a curl with a single
heavy dumbbell. You will notice right away that your entire body must stabilize
and work together for you to curl that dumbbell.
There are times you have to break this law, such as after knee
surgery when you will not squat until you've done some leg extensions with the
physical therapist, or in the case of bodybuilders who intentionally isolate,
but those are the exceptions not the rule.
TV: On your www.flattenyourabs.net web page, you say that your
program will help prevent and even eliminate back pain. Why do you think so many
people have back pain, what does ab training have to do with it and how does
your course help eliminate back pain or help avoid getting it in the first
DG:Great questions. Most back pain comes from the inability to
stabilize the spine. We are designed to sit upright and move, not sit all day
long. Did you know that sitting acutely raises pressure between each spinal
segment? Each segment has stabilizer muscles (the multifidus). When we perform
our desk job or sit at computers your stabilizer muscles do not have to work as
hard, so they become weaker. Why would they work when that 300 dollar chair does
it for them? Then we think we can go out and play 18 holes of golf and POW the
back goes out!
Do this experiment: Sit on a Swiss ball fitted for your height and
you will notice a big difference in the way you sit at your desk. You excite
those spinal muscles to do their jobs. There are plenty of exercises to help
with this with in the e book. To get relief from minor back pain or to prevent
back pain in general you must work the entire inner unit and core muscles.
TV: You were talking earlier about developing a base and adding
layers. I know that a lot of people start a strength training program to look
and feel better but their workouts actually cause injuries and back problems
because they use bad form or they pick exercises that are too advanced for their
level of fitness. In your program, I noticed you have the routines set up in
levels of difficulty - 7 levels actually - and you talk about the importance of
developing the right foundation with simple conditioning exercises for the first
few weeks, then gradually moving into the more challenging movements. How do you
know where to start and which exercises to choose and which to avoid so that you
don't hurt yourself by doing something over your head? I mean, I know you
wouldn't train one of your overweight clients on their first workout the same
way you train your pro boxers, right?
DG:There are some simple abdominal tests in the eBook that will
give every person a baseline to start. For as long as I've been doing this I
have found very few people - even good athletes - that pass the tests the first
time. Each person should start at the beginning. The question is how long do you
stay at each level. An athlete will advance faster due to a better integrated
nervous system. But everyone should start off slow!
TV: David, if there's so much misleading and false information
on abdominal machines and fat reduction on TV and in the magazines these days,
how do they keep getting away with it and why don't more people know about the
techniques you teach?
DG: Some people do know about the types of training I use, just
not the mainstream yet. Also many of the ads for ab training call for minimum
work…Flat abs in 3 minutes a day is quite appealing to most couch potatoes, so
they keep buying it.
TV: I agree totally. I saw that they have "six second abs" now
and people are actually buying this crap. Ok, one last question. I know your
eBook has dozens of ab training and fat loss tips, and you'll probably say,
"Just buy the book," but would you indulge us and tell us three of your most
important secrets for getting firm and flat abdominals?
ONE, Get a proper evaluation. There are many things that can help
you with rock hard abs. I would suggest looking up a CHEK practitioner in your
area. Without knowing your metabolic type, stress levels, food intolerance,
eating proper organic foods to avoid pesticides, chemicals and so on, you could
go round and round and never get those abs. In other words, fix your insides so
you outsides look great!
TWO, do not stop learning…continue educating yourself. Most plans
are doomed from the start because people tend to want the quick fix so they fall
for gimmicks that with a little education they would know better.
THREE, follow the exercises with proper form. Do not just go
through the motions to get the reps done.
TV: This has been great David, definitely very enlightening and
again, I really appreciate your time, thank you. If someone wants to contact you
or if someone wants to order a copy of your e-book where can they find
DG: Well Tom, thank you and your great web sites and fitness
information. You're a great person to work with and I salute your commitment to
natural fitness and health. I can be reached by email at
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also visit http://www.flattenyourabs.net and
get the full information about the FIRM AND FLATTEN YOUR ABS program.
TV: Thanks again David, It's been a pleasure.