As summer nears and we are ALL working to look better in a swimsuit, the area that always seems to need the most ‘trimming’ from those long winter months and nights of hot chocolate and cookies is, you got it, our abs. Abdominal muscles are one of the most difficult muscles to strengthen, yet one of the most important to overall health and well-being. Besides having a great looking six pack, the core of your body is important for all of the activities that you’ll be doing this summer. I’ve always been trained then, to strengthen my core with crunches. Quick sit ups that will strengthen my ab muscles and shape and tone them as well. But the question is, “Are crunches really the best way to strengthen your core?”
“We stopped teaching people to do crunches a long, long time ago,” says Dr. Richard Guyer, president of the Texas Back Institute. That’s because the “full flex” movement—the actual “crunch” part of crunches – puts an unhealthy strain on your back at its weakest point. The section with the most nerves (and most potential for nerve damage) is in the back of the spine, which is the very part that bends and strains during a sit-up.
“There are only so many bends or a ‘fatigue life’,” in your spinal disks,” says Stuart M. McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo. Inside each disk is a mucus-like nucleus, he says, and “if you keep flexing your spine and bending the disk over and over again, that nucleus slowly breaches the layers and causes a disk bulge, or a disk herniation.” A herniated disk won’t show through your swimsuit, but it’s no fun, and can cause persistent back and leg pain, weakness, and tingling.” (The Human Condition)
In reality, your abs were designed to keep your back straight and to stabilize your core in all activities. The best way—for both your back and your beach body—to work your midsection is to do movements that challenge the muscles to perform the way they’re designed and expected to work in real life, and not to train muscles in isolation.
So instead of crunches this summer, try push ups, planks or leg drops. Design your workout to include multiple exercises that work your core such as squats and other exercises that focus on a more dynamic work out. These exercises will strengthen your core, as well as tone your muscles in an effective and healthy way.