Posted on January 17 2019
I never liked doing crunches.
They were the thing back in the 90’s when you wanted to have a chiseled eight pack. Yet, there was something about them that didn’t feel right. Yes, you felt the muscle “burn” after doing a number of reps. But I never felt that they actually “worked” like how you would feel after doing a big movement like bench presses or deadlifts. It didn’t matter though. If everyone was doing it, it was probably right. Besides, I was just a recreational lifter with aesthetic goals.
It wasn’t until I was halfway into my first year as a personal trainer that I realized that making clients do crunches or sit-ups were wrong. I handpicked up a book about low back disorders and it totally blew my mind. This book was authored by Dr. Stuart Mcgill , who happens to be a world-renowned back expert and professor. In his book, he mentions that LBD ( Low Back Disorders ) are usually a product of blunt trauma/force or poor movement mechanics. Poor movement mechanics meant rounding one’s back when picking up a load, over-twisting the lower back or repetitive bending of the spine. Wait, did he say repetitive? That sounds like doing crunches right? Well, it sure was. In fact, in one of his studies, he placed a pig spine (Not a live pig, imagine the noise that would make? ) on a contraption that mimics crunching movements ( flexion of the spine ). His findings? The pig spine broke. Apparently, this repetitive movement , done over a long period of time, damages the facet joints of the spine and all the other supporting ligaments that keep it together. This information completely changed my views on training the body and I completely overhauled my training programs from then on.
So if crunches and sit-ups don’t work, how do we train the core? Well, the core isn’t just the abs( Scientific name Rectus Abdominis ), which is the muscle that represents strength and power. Behind the abs are major muscles that keep our back healthyas well like the TA ( Transversus Abdominis) and your Obliques ( Internal and External ). What Dr. Mcgill recommends instead is to target the core from different directions. Since in sport, and in life, we just don’t bend over but, extend, reach, jump and twist.
I’ve summarized Dr. Mcgill’s findings to help you train your core better and safer. They are the following.
This basically means preventing your body from fully extending itself. If you’re in a push-up position, if you walk your hands out away from the body, this will fire up your mid-section because you’re trying to prevent your body from extending/collapsing. Hence the term, anti-extension, meaning preventing your body from extension. Below are some sample exercises:
- Forward Slides ( Requires SKLZ Slidez )
- Walking Planks
- Plank Reaches
Have you ever tried planking on your side? This is already an example of an anti-rotating exercise. Since you’re trying to keep a straight body and not allowing your body to rotate and fall, this works the deep muscles of your core and will definitely challenge your body. Below are a few more samples.
- Side Plank with one leg up
- Band Anti-Rotation Press( Requires a SKLZ band )
- Band Around the World ( Requires a SKLZ band )
I’m sure we’ve all experienced carrying a bucket filled with water to the brim from the garden to the garage or to whatever point of the house. This is a perfect example of anti-side bending. Basically, you’re preventing your body from bending from the loaded side by resisting the weight that pulls it down.
- Offset Load Farmer’s walks
- Elevated Side Plank
- Offset SKLZ Sliding Lunge ( Requires SKLZ Slidez )
Nowadays, there are so many activities available for us to enjoy. With a bad back and weak core, you’re going to miss out on these exciting events. Instead, try incorporating these new exercises that are fun and safe for your body to continue training at a high volume. I’m sure your brand new core will thank you on your next OCR race or team building activity.