So today I was training some of my clients and the subject of core exercises came up. It just so happened that we all read the same article that got put up on yahoo news today. In a nutshell, the article talked about how “planks” are better than traditional sit ups and crunches. I decided to read the comments and as usual many took the low road and trashed the credibility of the people that recommended planks over crunches and sit ups.
My industry is filled with people thinking they know how to exercise. Walk into any major commercial gym. The guy jerking the weights all over the place like he is having a seizure , the guy loading the bar up with weights and only moving a couple of inches. Chances are, these will be the people telling everyone else how to workout and their million different ways of getting big and buff.
I met a guy once and he told me the reason why we wrap our thumb around the bar when we bench press is so that we can lift heavy! Because the muscle in the thumb is the strongest muscle in the body. Everyone sat there listening to him like he was GOD, and everyone believed him! I sat there thinking… you wrap your thumb around the bar when you bench so it won’t slip out of your hand. 500 lbs falling onto your chest… youtube it (bench press accident). It only happens with an open grip.
So in my professional opinion, I too think that in general crunches and sit ups are a load of crap. Again, I said in general. There are times that crunches and sit ups may be used, but that is through a properly designed exercise program for the individual. Core stabilization exercises should be the foundation of all torso exercises.
1. Stabilization of the spine is essential in performance and injury prevention/reduction.
The spinal column contains the spinal cord and any type of excessive movement taken to the extremes may impinge the spinal nerves causing pain. Stabilization exercises are designed to teach the spine and the body to prevent unwanted movements from taking place.
2. Focus on one particular movement such as flexion of the spine will only encourage dysfunction and trauma.
Too many sit ups and crunches without exercises to counteract the effects of forward bending movements will increase thoracic kyphosis (hunch back) and create back, shoulder, and neck problems.
3. Bodyweight crunches and sit ups will not spot reduce adipose tissue in the abdominal region in any significant way.
Doing 500 sit ups will not reduce body fat. All it will do is build muscular endurance in the abdominal musculature and cause dysfunction. The endocrine system via its hormones are responsible for lipolysis (fat breakdown) exercises done in a specific way with the correct variables in place can manipulate the endocrine system to increase lipolysis.
Planks done correctly and in a systematic progressive manner will improve the function of the body. No doubt about it. Again, like what I have always said. Don’t take advice on how to fix a high performance race car from your chef. And don’t expect your mechanic to create a world class dinner for you. If the person giving you advice is not formally educated in the field, and they are not making a living off of what they are telling you… You might want to reconsider.
Charles Trinh, MS, PES, CSCS, ACSM-cPT
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Charles has dedicated more than 13 years in the field of exercise science and performance enhancement. His extensive background in human performance and sports medicine enable him to develop scientifically sound fitness programs for individuals looking to get healthy, and up to high performance athletes. Charles has also done extensive work with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (former state director) and American College of Sports Medicine in providing continuing education units to personal trainers, strength coaches, physical therapist, athletic trainers and Medical Doctors. With his extensive training and experience, Charles has helped countless individuals reach their health and performance goals.