No More Situps and Crunches
By: Anthony Renna
Although they have never really been much of a staple in my program design, I have stopped doing any sit-ups and crunches with my clients. In the past, I have had my clients doing some stick crunches and medicine ball sit ups during my core routine (along with bridges, planks and quadruped exercises).
I had heard about other coaches taking them out of their programs, particularly Mike Boyle, and although I thought he made sense, I didn’t feel I really needed to eliminate them since they were a small part of the program.
As I thought about it though, it made more sense to me.
First of all, crunches and sit-ups can reinforce poor posture. According to Eeric Truumees, MD, in his article “Back Pain Prevention, Harmful Habits,” poor posture “places an enormous amount of stress on the spine.“ Crunches and sit-ups involve spinal flexion and too much flexion of the spine can lead to disc problems over time. We have enough ways to ruin our back, why are we doing it in the gym?
Second, everyone needs good posture.
So now think about the crunch and the sit-up. Basically, they just reinforce that poor posture. I rotated the picture to give you a better look at this idea. Look at at the red line on Alex’s back and relate it to posture – rounded shoulders.
Take into account all the hunched over positions we are in from sitting, commuting, texting on the Blackberry/Iphone and working on the computer. Then we go to the gym to do sit ups and work too much on chest and bicep muscles and not enough upper back; more reinforcement of poor posture.
OK, so how do we work our abs?
I have continued to do the core stabilization exercises that I have done in the past, i.e. planks, side planks, bridges and quadruped exercises, but I have cut out my bicycle crunches, stick crunches and med ball sit-ups (which weren’t a huge part of my program anyway).
What I have replaced them with is:
- Advanced Plank Positions
- Stability Ball Roll-outs
- Core Rows
- Medicine Ball Slams
- Standing Barbell Anti-rotation exercises
- Turkish Get Ups
Lie face down with your forearms on the floor, keep your elbows under your shoulders. Come up off the ground, support yourself with your forearms and toes, forming a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders. Engage your pelvic floor muscles (hold your pee in) and brace your abs (as if someone was going to punch you in the stomach)
Make sure you do not have your butt too high in the air or that it doesn’t sag down, keep the straight line and MAKE SURE YOU KEEP BREATHING!
After you can do the prone plank for minute, you can start to add movement of the arms and legs in a stabilizing position. The first progression is to move your elbow back toward your hips, maintaining the straight line, and not moving the rest of your body. Pause for second and go back to regular plank position. Alternate arms.
To make it harder, you can extend your arm out forward in a diagonal position.
Here is a great plank progression that I first learned from coach Robert Dos Remedios. It’s called the Plank Walkup.
The key to this exercise is NO TORSO MOVEMENT. A good feedback mechanism is a foam roll or water bottle on your lumbar spine. It will help you to remember to keep the torso still.
Start out in the standard plank position explained above.
Leading with your left arm, go into a push up position
Pause for seconds at the top, and go back down leading with the left arm
Into the starting plank position and hold for seconds.
For the next rep, lead with the right arm going up and coming down.
Stability Ball Roll-outs
This is totally influenced by Coach Mike Boyle, and it really works the anterior core. You will definitely feel it in your abs. This can be tougher than it looks so start out with the basic progressions. If your back is hurting during this exercise, you need to take a step back.
Start with the stability ball very close to you and your hands up top.
Keeping a straight line from knees to shoulders, start to roll the ball out.
Roll out into a plank position with your elbows on the ball, again, maintaining the straight line from knees to shoulders.
To come back, push off with your elbows and hands, being careful not to lead with your butt.
End in the starting position.
A good cue (from Physical Therapist Gray Cook) is to try to “stay tall” through your spine throughout the movement.
Some progressions to this:
- Start with the ball farther away and your hands lower
- Elevate your knees on an Airex pad or use a smaller ball
- Use the Ab-wheel (don’t start with this!)
- Use a slide board
The Core Row:
This is a great variation to the plank, definitely a little more advanced.
Get into a push up position with your hands holding on to dumbbells (don’t get crazy at first!). Make sure your hands are directly under you shoulders. Keep your feet wide at first and as you develop better stability, narrow the stance.
Try to keep your whole body straight, crush the weight with a strong grip and do a row, bringing the weight to your torso.
Don’t crash back down and try to keep you feet on the ground. The opposite foot will try to come off the ground when you row so be careful.
Standing Barbell Anti-rotation Exercise
I first learned this from Coach Mike Boyle, although he uses a device called the Landmine and the handles that come with it. Remember that the idea is to avoid rotation in this exercise. With the weight going back and forth, it will be hard to do.
Stand in your athletic ready position, similar to the golf stance but not with as much hip hinge. Hold the barbell with hands with the barbell standing at about a degree angle.
Keep your torso still (do I sound like a broken record yet?), and bring the weight as far as you can, maintaining your athletic ready position.
Go Back and forth, starting slow first, then adding speed.
This is a tough exercise, believe me, you will feel it. If you don’t have a barbell or want to start slow, use a medicine ball.
Medicine Ball Slams
Believe it or not, this can be a great ab exercise. Now I know I said I am not doing ab exercises in order to maintain back health, but the main reason is that the ones I am cutting out are isolation exercises. This exercise involves complete integration of the total body. It will also teach you power development from the ground up and get your heart racing.
Take a medicine ball and get in your athletic ready position. Bring the ball overhead really fast and slam it as hard as you can. Make sure you do a few slow first to get a feel for the bounce of the ball since you have to catch it.
I like to do these with different weights. I start out with the medium weight, go to the heaviest and end up with the lightest. Basically, I want to end with the fastest slams I can.
The Turkish Get Up is one of my favorite exercises. I think it accomplishes so much and can really help athletes.
It is not only great for shoulder stability, but abdominal and grip strength, hip internal rotation, tricep (opposite arm), hip external rotation (on the non-bent leg going back), hip flexor flexibility (in the half kneeling position before coming up) and single leg strength coming up from the half kneeling position.
A lot of times I try to explode up as well, to make it more of a power exercise.
If you do get ups on each side as fast as you can, it is a great conditioning tool as well.
Rui Rosario, has an e-book called Back Strength, and today I am taking an excerpt right out of his book to show you The Turkish Get Up.
. Lie on the floor, in a supine position (i.e. face up), next to an appropriate size kettlebell.
. Use both hands to press the kettlebell vertical — directly above your shoulder.
Once in position, keep your elbow locked, wrist straight, and your eyes on the kettlebell
. Post your foot close to your buttocks (same side as your working arm.)
. Allow the weight to drift slightly forward, then push off your posted foot and sit up. It is acceptable to allow your free arm to assist slightly in sitting up.
. From sitting, slowly move to the kneeling position. This can be done a number of ways. The main thing is to move slowly, keeping your working arm perpendicular to the ground and to finish in well supported, -point kneeling position.
. Slowly straighten your torso, then stand straight up
. Now that the fist half of the TGU is over, simply reverse the steps until you have reached your starting point.
By: Anthony Renna
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