Crunches: Your Grandparents’ Ab Workout

Posted: October 21, 2012 in Baseball, Functional Mobility and Flexibility, General Health
Tags: , , , ,

It amazes me how we can make ginormous technological advances over the past 40+ years, but do not change the exercises or training methods used. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing every old school exercise that doesn’t use the fanciest and latest equipment we have today. The pushup is in my top 3 favorite exercises. It is very discouraging, though, that with all the research we have available to us in this day and age people still prescribe the same things they did when they were growing up for no other reason then that’s what they did when they were growing up. Women used to smoke when they were pregnant, too.

So what’s so terrible about crunches or sit ups?

Dr. Stuart McGill, world renown back specialist, has conducted research that shows repeated bending of the spine can, overtime, contribute to damaging spinal discs. Not one of my goals of working out.

Tie the idea of Long and Strong into the rectus abdominis. The abs are not different from any other muscle group. If shortened through improper training, performance will be inhibited and chance of injury will increase. Is there any movement in every day life where we start with our back in a neutral position and contract our abs, rolling our shoulders forward towards the ground? NO! There is always some kind of extension of the abs before the contraction (think stretch-shortening cycle). Let’s look at a pitcher throwing a baseball and a tennis player serving.

In both cases, the lengthening of the abs is clear immediately before the transition from loading to acceleration occurs. Even if you know nothing about exercise physiology or biomechanics, it doesn’t make sense logically to train your abs in a way where you start with your rectus abdominis in a neutral position and shorten it when this motion doesn’t happen in sports or life really. Most of America spends 8 hours of their day slouched over in a chair. 8 hours of muscle conditioning a day is a lot to overcome.

Extreme kyphosis. The spine should be more “S” shaped, not “C” shaped.

Give your body a chance and train in a way that combats poor back health instead of encouraging it. For the average person, this will help align the rib cage in its proper position and thus put the lower back in a more favorable position as well.

As related to sports, specifically baseball, it is much more beneficial to train the lumbopelvic control (lumbar=lower back). Research has shown that pitchers with better lumbopelvic control had a lower WHIP (walks+hits per innings pitched) and more innings pitched in a year.

What should I do instead of crunches? 

Planks: Make sure your lower back does not sink, but maintains its proper curvature while holding the plank. This might mean holding it for a short period. I like doing a plank for 15 seconds followed by a 5 second break and repeating instead of holding it for 45 seconds or a minute. You can also progress to 1 leg and/or 1 arm planks which will really challenge the lumbopelvic control as you try to keep your hips level.

Bird dog: Kick one leg back with your toes pointed down while extending 1 arm until your body is completely extended like a hunting dog. Again, make sure your hips are not rotating, but your butt is remaining flat throughout the whole ROM.

Rollouts: This is an advanced exercise that I probably wouldn’t prescribe to many non athletes. Start on your knees with your arms on a ab wheel or barbell. Roll forwards keeping your back in a neutral position as far as you can go. When you hit your end point, pull the bar or wheel back towards you and return to an upright position.

 

 

 

These are only 3 of countless exercises you could do instead of traditional crunches. For additional information, you can check out Mike Robertson’s blog or this article with Dr. Stuart McGill. Try these exercises out and let me know what you think.

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Comments
  1. […] have previously addressed my distain for traditional ab exercises like crunches. Most ab work consists of shortening the […]

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