5 steps to a well defined waistline- qualifying your crunches

When it comes to a flat stomach, one debate which has raged in the fitness world for some time is the necessity of situps/crunches in training the abs.

In one corner, we have advocates of crunches which cite EMG data—electrodes are attached to muscles

To detect activation levels—which report superior muscle activation when the spine is flexed in a motion generated by crunches or sit ups. The problem with this is the study was done on cadavers (or dead bodies)

On the other side of the argument, studies have shown flexing the spine is the action most commonly associated with disc herniation. Because most herniations are caused by cumulative trauma, several hours of flexing the spine hours on end—sitting forward at the computer, bending over, etc—would seem to render crunches (which also flex the spine) a bad idea for back health.

So do we attack the spine in search for ripped abs or cut out all crunches and hope for the best? While this question has led some trainers to cut out all crunches in their programming, I feel this is a very personal decision that must be made by the client.

With this in mind, my job as a trainer is to help you qualify whether or not your spine is suited for crunches. Some questions to consider are whether you spend the majority of your day flexed over a computer, do you often walk in high heels or experience lower back pain?

If yes to any of the above, it may be time to consider your crunches. But in order to truly know whether or not these aggravate your back, we commonly employ two tests:

Core stability: Frontal plank

frontal-plank

  • Can you hold this position with the hips are for 30 seconds
  • Does your back arch or dip excessively at any point during the plank?

Lumbar flexion tolerance: Bend test:

lumbar-flexion-1lumbar-flexion-2

  • Does your back hurt when bending over?

If either test indicates trouble, the solutions are to build more stability and/or develop alternatives to flexion exercises. Tune in next week for suggestions on both topics.

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