What does everyone who wants a better stomach do? Crunches, crunches and more crunches. Why? Because that’s what he or she sees everyone else doing. The funny thing is that rarely (if ever) do those people doing all those crunches actually have midsections worth emulating. Somehow our minds filter out all of the people crunching until the cows come home with no results, and only pay attention to the 3% of people in the lucky sperm club that look good.
I’m not really pointing any fingers here because I did the same thing for at least a decade myself. Why Should You Not Be Doing Crunches?
#1. It will not make you look any better: Everyone that I have ever met who was dissatisfied with their midsection only ever has ONE problem – there’s too much fat over top of their ab muscles. You were born with your abs in a 4, 6 or 8 pack and when you die, they’re going to be that way too. The only issue is that the layer of fat on top of them is too thick for you to be able to see them. If you slash your body-fat in half, but do no direct ab work whatsoever, your abs will look better than they have in years (or possibly ever). But, if you waste those same 3 or 4 hours per week just working your abs directly, your stomach will not look better AND your posture will probably get worse with your back hurting more.
#2. Crunches make your posture worse: When you crunch you bring your head, shoulders and chest down towards your pelvis. If you already spend all day at your desk hunched over looking at your computer, why would you want to spend any more time hunching yourself over and over and over again with crunches?
#3. They won’t help your back feel better: Contrary to popular “wisdom,” doing a bunch of “ab” work will NOT help to protect your back at all. A little anatomy – when people talk about their “abs” they’re talking about the long, flat muscle that sits on top of everything called your “rectus abdominus.” It runs from the bottom of your rib cage to the bottom of your pelvis. Its fibers are vertical.
If you think about the physics of that, you will realize that there is no possible way that a vertical muscle on the front of your body can provide any support to a vertical structure on the back of your body (your spine). Think about it: If it contracts concentrically (gets shorter), then it just lowers your rib cage, which actually rounds your lower back and puts it in a position that makes it MORE vulnerable to injury. If it contracts eccentrically (resists getting longer), it keeps the rib cage from moving backward. How does that support your lower back when lifting or twisting?
You actually have your own internal weight lifting belt of muscles that is built into your body. It’s made up of muscles that tighten inwards to support your lower back during movement, lifting, etc. In people with a properly functioning core (and no back pain), your internal weight belt turns on automatically right before any kind of movement. By the time you think about “bracing” your core it’s already too late.
What you want is the kind of training that puts your body into positions that force it to fire the right muscles at the right time automatically (without you having to think about it). You will never throw out your back when you are all braced up and prepared for a movement. It’s going to be when you don’t expect it and your body fails to automatically and unconsciously prepare that you will hurt your back. There is no kind of crunch that will help with this.
“Wellness is the key to a long and healthy life. Many people have the wrong perception of it. Wellness is from the neck up, and fitness from the neck down. Too many people work out every day, but go around with the worst attitudes, which just wastes all their physical efforts.”
Reader’s comment sent in to Bob Welch, columnist for The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon (2/5/04)