• Ben Cobley

Stop your back from hating you

Everybody loves sit ups. They’ve been around for years without disappearing so why wouldn’t people. They’re the best way to a svelt stomach and to avoid lower back pain…or are they?!

Hopefully through this article I will help dismiss some of these mythes through good ol’common sense and a bit of science thrown in for good measure, so without further ado…

If most people were asked what they’d like to achieve most from the gym I bet a high percentage would mention a flat stomach or a six pack! Looking at the cover of most magazines this makes sense. But there are a few things that need addressing before that can happen. For starters, everybody needs to understand that they’re not as lean as they think they are.

To get lean enough to have a great deal of definition there’s no two ways about it, body fat has to be reduced (I’ll explain later how this can be achieved). However even if your goal is purely aesthetics and you already have low digit body fat i’d still highly NOT recommend doing any sit ups and/or crunches.

Can endless crunches/Sit ups help gain a 6 pack? Possibley yes, but at what expense? The current leader in the field of lower back pain, Dr Stuart McGill has shown on many occasions that repeated flexion of the spine is a catalyst of disc herniation. He has demonstrated that every time a crunch is performed 3300N of compressive load is placed on the lower back (This is huge when you take into account that often several sets of 20 are performed!). In the end as is the case with many exercises the risks far outweigh the rewards.

Thinking of your spine as a credit card may help. If you take a credit card and continue to bend it over and over and over again it’s going to snap sooner or later.

That’s your spine every time you perform a crunch, whether it be on the floor, on a stability ball or on that fancy gadget you purchased from ebay.

To further reinforce these ramifications at the Lumbar spine things such as neck pain, shoulder pain and importantly postural problems may also be exasperated. As mentioned in previous articles most people already suffer with poor posture (Notabley rounded shoulders, Anteriorly tilted pelvis’) so further exercise involving flexion of the spine will only help to compound the problem. So the things i’d suggest to break the endless crunching cycle are as follows:

– Be realistic with your body fat evaluation. If you’re unsure book in for a bodystat and get a definitive answer.

– Start your resistance work with big compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, horizontal/vertical rows, lunges etc rather than bicep curls, leg curls and hip abduction/adduction.

Free weights are better for you than machines, full stop. As are compound exercises in most situations.

– Seperate your core training into 4 categories and include at least 2 different ones per session:

1. Anti-extension training: Planks (endless variations), Supine bridges, Swiss ball roll outs, , Barbell roll outs, Standing overhead presses etc.

2. Anti-lateral flexion training: Side plank, Suitcase deadlifts etc.

3. Anti-rotation training: Pallof press (Kneeling or standing), Woodchops/Lifts (Standing, Kneeling, Split stance), Landmines.

4. Hip flexion through a neutral spine: Deadbug, Jackknife etc.

– Improve the quality of your CV work. Most people underestimate what they’re capable of achieving. Focus more on the quality of a session (incorporate higher intensity intervals or tempo runs into a programme) rather than simply the quantity of a session. It’s no coincidence that people who regular train outside their comfort zones through both CV and resistance means are far leaner than those that don’t. Try it. Stick to it. You’ll see the rewards.

Without knowing the full picture it’s hard to really dial in upon a certain area of weakness, but this should give you a greater understanding of the true purpose of the core and hopefully get some (if not all) away from focusing solely on crunches and sit ups.


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