If you’ve ever stepped into a commercial gym or attempted to “get in shape” in the discomfort of your own home, then you’ve almost certainly done a crunch. It’s a movement that’s as ingrained in our fitness culture as bench presses and biceps curls.
But what if you learned that crunches are far from the most effective and efficient way to work your abdominal muscles?
This is not a revolutionary concept among fitness professionals. It’s been out there for at least a decade. But you’d never know it by watching what people in health clubs do. Sit-ups may be out of fashion, but the basic crunch is alive and well and performed by almost everyone trying to improve his or her appearance.
Most people feel abdominal muscles work the same as a biceps muscle. They can feel it shorten and lengthen so it must make it stronger and bigger. Well, the abdominals are different in both structure and function. Their primary job is to protect the spine and assist other core musculature – those in your hips and back – keep your lower back in a safe, neutral position.
That’s what we mean when we talk about “core stability.” It’s not what your muscles look like when you flex them in a mirror. Function is what matters the most. How well can your muscles protect your spine while moving through from position to position.
A foundation for core workouts should be based around planks and side planks. These may be the best entry-level core workouts you will find. There are also, so many variations on all planks that the progression is nearly endless. If you have never tried a plank, you will be surprised at how challenging they can be.
(A basic plank is simply holding a push-up position on your forearms. A side plank is a 90 degree rotation onto one arm and the sides of your feet. Modifications can be made to make the positions easier but still just as effective.)
While holding these plank positions may not seem difficult, when you hold them for 30-90 seconds, you will discover how little endurance and strength you have through the core. If you can’t keep your spine in its natural position when working out or playing sports – you are risking a serious injury to the discs in the lower back.
Remember, you cannot have a strong building without a strong foundation.
By: Rocco Ferraiolo PTA, NASM-CPT, SPARQ certified