I have no idea how long the sit-up has been around – a thousand years maybe? Whatever it is we’ve been doing it for a long time. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “I do crunches every day.”, “I’m working my core.”, or “Look at my 6-pack.”. My responses to those statements: “No you don’t.”, No you’re not.”, and “great, do you want a cookie for your efforts?” The fact is I see so many people “working their core” and the only thing they are doing is making a bad problem worse. Something so simple and you are doing it wrong!
I do not have a 6-pack. I do not have a 12-pack. I have what some may refer to as a party-ball of Guinness Extra Stout. Ask my wife, she will vouch for this sexy, fuzzy pillow that serves as my beer containment center. Despite my rather portly and ovoid mid-section, I know my core is a lot stronger, more stable, and less susceptible to injury than the 24 yr. old fitness geek down the street referred to as Jacked Jimmy. Yeah, that guy with glistening abs, who at every chance will raise his extra tight wife-beater tank top up, ever so slightly, just so he can hear the throngs of women fall unconsciously to the ground. Yeah that guy. How do I know that I can beat him in a core-off? Because more likely than not, he’s doing it wrong. I’ve seen too many “fit” clients fail miserably when I put them through a core routine.
Here’s the problem, we have physical fitness challenges that require kids to do sit-ups. America’s finest heroes (the military for you unappreciative American’s who do not know who America’s finest heroes are) are sadly forced to do sit-ups over and over. When we do sit-ups, we hip hinge. See the graphic here to the left. The primary muscles activated during the sit-up are rectus abdominus, iliopsoas, tensor fasciae latae, rectus femoris, sartorius, plus a few other small hip flexing muscles. Every muscle I just named is already overactive and their hyperactivity is closely linked to our most common injuries – low back pain, SI joint pain, knee pain, Achilles and foot issues, and even headaches. In addition, the sit-up adds a substantial amount of load to the vertebral discs. These muscles do not need to be activated. We need to turn them off. These muscles are not responsible for enhancing core stability. Read more about these “evil” muscles in my Muscle Battle post.
Stuart McGill, a highly regarded professor and back pain specialist says this on his website backfitpro.com:“There’s so much mythology out there about the core. The idea has reached trainers and through them the public that the core means only the abs. There’s no science behind that idea.”
In lieu of the sit-up, do the crunch. The crunch, if you do it right, you will not activate the aforementioned muscles. By doing the crunch perfectly, you will strengthen the core and simultaneously turn-off the hyperactive muscles. A proper crunch reduces unnecessary hip flexor activation and decreases lordosis by taking out iliopsoas muscle. The crunch flexes at the lumbar spine, not the hip. To the right is a good image for the crunch that illustrates this. Notice how the lower back stays on the ground. The movement occurs at the mid-back, not the hip. Performing the abdominal drawing in maneuver during the crunch will elicit greater transverse abdominus activation as well, which is important when strengthening the core.
What I am simply saying here is that the sit-up is a poor exercise. It does not strengthen the core. Instead of the sit-up, do a crunch as this will better target some of the core muscles. I highlight some because the core is not just crunches and the abs. The core is multidirectional and encompasses all muscles of the trunk, abdominals, obliques, quadratus lumboroum, erector spinae, multifidi and more.
If you are looking to improve your core strength or reduce low back pain please feel free to contact me to discuss options or set-up a free consultation. I offer in person one-on-one training, or virtual training.