When was the last time you did crunches or sit-ups? Today? This week? Last month? Within the last year?
Whenever it was, I have some good news for you: Unless you are an MMA fighter, soldier, football player, or anyone else involved in fighting or contact sports, you are hereby exempt from performing crunches or sit-ups ever again.
Why? Because they cause more harm than good, and aren't effective for developing overall core stability since they only address the abdominal portion of the core.
According to Stuart McGill, Ph.D.,who is recognized as the world's top spinal researcher, "Enough sit-ups will cause damage in most people." As reported by the University of Waterloo where he is a professor, he discovered that, "crunches and traditional sit-ups place 3,300 newtons (the equivalent of roughly 750 lbs!) of compressive force on the spine when bent in flexion. These forces can squeeze a bent disc’s nucleus to the point that it bulges – pressing on nerves and causing back pain, and potentially leading to a herniated disc."
While this may be old news to some of you, I'm blogging about it because I was approached just recently by two women in my fitness class who wanted me to reiterate the dangers of crunches and sit-ups to their husbands. At the risk of creating marital friction and plenty of spousal, "I told you so's," I explained McGill's findings to the gentlemen who were more receptive than I expected.
I was ready for the obligatory follow-up question, which went something like this: "But if we can't do our beloved crunches and sit-ups that we've been doing since watching Rocky I, what are we to do to strengthen our abs?" First, let's stop obsessing about just the abs and take a big picture approach. How 'bout we perform movements that strengthen the entire core--all the muscles (29 sets!) that attach to the hips, pelvis and lower back.
Those movements include:
This is just the tip of the iceberg on this topic, but it's a good start for now.
If you'd like more information on core-centric strength training, I highly recommend one of my favorite resources: The New Rules of Lifting for Abs by Lou Shuler and Alwyn Cosgrove. It revolutionized how I personally train, and eradicated my lower back pain. Once you order it, let me know if you'd like help with a similar, personalized program.
Today, time yourself holding a front plank for as long as you can. Stop timing when your form collapses (or differs from the depiction above). Write down the length of time held. Continue to practice this daily until you can hold a front plank for at least two minutes. Don't rush this. It may take several weeks or more to build up to this, but don't give up. Report back when you've accomplished this feat!
DID YOU KNOW? According to Men's Health, it takes 22,000 crunches to burn one pound of fat. And for a woman to see her abs, she needs to be down to about 16-18% body fat, while men should be down to 10-12%.
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Molly is a wife, mom,
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I am not a registered dietitian, nor a medical professional. My blog is a representation of my views and experiences, which are not intended as medical advice. While I am a certified personal trainer, descriptions of things I eat and exercises I perform may not be suitable for everyone. Please speak with a medical professional before making any changes to your current routine.