Why do you do core training? To get better abs? Support your back? Improve your athletic performance? Maybe all of the above! When doing any type of core strengthening, it is important to ask yourself why you do each movement, and to weigh the risk vs. benefit of the exercise you have selected. Unfortunately, people do various core exercises with the hope of shrinking their midsection, when in reality they could be putting pressure on various parts of the back. Let’s take a moment to review some common core exercises, why we do them and safer alternatives.
Sit-ups can place large amounts of stress on the lower spine and neck and do not target the deep abdominal muscles such as the transverse abdominis. In a study published in 1995, Dr. Stuart McGill, professor of spinal biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, found that bent- and straight-leg sit-ups placed more than 674 pounds of strain on the lower spine, which can lead to herniated discs and nerve damage.
Goal: Strengthen the anterior chain (front side of the body), build better abs and enhance athleticism
Replace With: The McGill Curl-up
Dr. McGill identified three exercises (known as the “Big Three”) that focus on core strength and stability, while putting a minimal load on the spine.
The McGill Curl-Up, one of the “Big Three” exercises, differs from a crunch in that there should be no movement from the lumbar spine so as to protect the discs and promote proper posture. Begin by laying flat on your back with only one knee bent. Place the hands under the small of the back to monitor movement, ensuring your back does not touch the floor. Brace the core muscles as if you were about to be punched in the stomach and lift the head and tops of the shoulders, keeping the spine in neutral. For an added challenge, lift the elbows off of the floor. Try this for six to 10 holds, each lasting 10 seconds.
2. Back Extension Machine
The problem with this machine is that the hips are locked into place. Because of this hip immobility, all of the stress is placed on the lumbar spine, which is not designed to handle heavy loads. This stress is amplified when weight is added.
Goal: Strengthen the posterior chain (backside of the body)
Replace With: The Bird Dog
Fitnovatives Blog — Courtesy “American Council On Exercise” (ACEfitness.org)
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