Smarter ways to a six-pack: It’s time to quit the crunches.Back strain is one of the most common exercise injuries. It turns out that one of the most common exercises is likely to be causing it.
The humble sit-up, it seems, is past its use-by date with experts saying it’s time to quit the crunches.
Calisthenic exercises, like sit-ups, are traditionally used by the military as a form of training and in tests as a measure of fitness (for entry into the Australian military men and women need to be able to perform between 20 and 45 sit-ups, depending on the unit they are applying for).
Now, they say sit-ups are “outdated” and more “relevant” exercises need to be adopted.
“It’s well past time, for example, to deep-six the sit-up, an outdated exercise today viewed as a key cause of lower back injuries,” advises a new editorial for Military Times. “Experts say there are better measures of core strength that have the added advantage of being less prone to cheating.”
It has taken the military a while to catch on to what experts have been saying for years.
“Commonly touted as a great ‘core’ exercise, V-Ups are not only a waste of time but also potentially dangerous,” world record powerlifter and personal trainer Jordan Syatt wrote in 2013.
“Like most crunch/sit-up variations, V-Ups force the spine through repetitive flexion and extension while sustaining low magnitude compressive forces which, according to back expert, Dr Stuart McGill, may result in disc herniation.”
Injury aside, sit-ups are not the smartest way to strengthen core muscles.
For years, McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at Canada’s University of Waterloo, has been trying to correct the myth that crunches give you a six-pack.
Rather, he says it simply stresses the back muscles which, if we do enough will “eventually cause damage”. To engage the abdominals instead of the spine, he suggests a modified version with the hands placed at the small of the back, one leg straight with the other one bent while lifting the head and shoulders just of the ground and holding for 10 counts.
One study from 2010 found that the most effective exercises for engaging abdominals were not sit-ups, but roll-outs and pikes using a swiss ball.
A new health report by Harvard Medical School adds that sit-ups or crunches target just a few muscle groups. “A good core workout helps strengthen the entire set of core muscles you use every day.”
Plank pose – where you hold position balancing in a a straight line on your forearms and toes – is a good example of this as it recruits muscles around the front, sides and back of the body.
“For a strong and stable core, stick to ab exercises which force you to resist movement rather than create it,” Syatt said.
The military now seem to agree.
“The plank, for example, more accurately measures core strength and because it’s done by holding the body arrow straight while resting only on the toes and forearms it does not subject muscles to strain by motion,” Military Times says.
Pike, plank or roll-out, the jury is in and it’s time to quit the sit-up. As a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise tells the Wall Street Journal, sit-ups are “an antiquity of exercise best left in the dustbin of fitness history”.
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