Crunches and Sit Ups never should have been invented.
Yes, it’s true. They are some of the most well known exercises on earth, and yet we now know with certainty that those very exercises are an extremely inefficient and incorrect way to train those “ab” and “core” muscles. Don’t take it from me, all of the top back pain specialists and fitness and rehab experts think the same thing but it is proving to be very difficult to override such deeply ingrained beliefs and replace them with the most current and accurate knowledge. In a day when most people have switched to a newer cell phone in the last six months, they are still doing abdominal exercises from many decades ago. We have learned an infinite amount about the best ways to train the body since we thought sit-ups and crunches were the things to do. Just because at one time we thought something was the best option doesn’t mean that same thing is the best option now. It’s time to change with the new information.
In the real world and in our daily lives, our abdominal muscles work primarily to prevent movement, not to create it. With crunches and sit ups, they are creating movement and also making people even more likely to be in a flexed spine position, which is what we already need to get away from with all of the sitting we do. Sit-ups and crunches are using the torso muscles to make the spine move and they should be used to prevent the spine from moving. Some of the best ways to functionally train the core/mid-section are full body movements that cause the mid-section to brace, not move – crawling, loaded carries, hip hinge variations (deadlifts, kettlebell swings) and variations of the Get up (also called Turkish get up). The top experts in the country all agree that these compound functional movements are exponentially better and more effective at properly training the “core” but it seems like it will take a long time for this info to trickle down into mainstream fitness. We want to help speed it up.
Another challenge/opportunity, is that most people have never heard of many of the exercises that all the top experts agree are what everyone should be doing. So many people are familiar with abdominal exercises they should not be doing, and unfamiliar with ones they should be doing. It is an exciting opportunity to re-educate and empower people to update their outdated understanding of the best way to workout and train the muscles of the trunk/midsection.
Another big problem with crunches and sit ups is the same as it is for many different exercises that we used to think were the right thing to do, both in rehab and fitness – they train stabilizer muscles to be movers when that is not how they were designed to function. The abdominals are almost exclusively used to stabilize and brace the torso in order to transfer energy – either from the upper body to the ground or from the ground to the upper body. They are meant to hold body segments still, not move them.
Dr. Stuart McGill is arguably the most expert back pain specialist on earth. Here is an excerpt from an article called “The Death of The Sit Up” in the Toronto Star:
“McGill was consulted by the U.S. military regarding the rationale for and safety of personnel doing speed sit-ups during fitness testing. “We measured the loads on the spine with each sit-up. (The spine loads) were right on the limit noted by us (and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the United States) as causing damage over time and with repetition,” says McGill, author of Back Mechanic.”
McGill says every exercise is a tool to achieve a goal. “If (your goal) is to become faster, stronger, or if it’s to become injury-resilient and have less pain in life and make yourself generally fit to enjoy life, then the answer is don’t do sit -ups,” he says. Exercises such as planks, he notes, are safer for lower backs and better engage core muscles.
So as soon as you can, delete crunches and sit-ups from your workout routines permanently and start doing much better alternatives instead. If you’re not in the southern California area we can still put you in touch with the best people in your area so send us an email. Many training and rehab professionals are on board with this updated approach – two of the best organizations we know of are Functional Movement Systems and StrongFirst so looking for people with these certifications is a great start.