“You only ever grow as a human being if you’re outside your comfort zone.”
I remember when I first started interning for Dewey Nielsen, he told me I should never do another sit up or crunch for the rest of my life. This seemed shocking to me because I had been doing sit ups and crunches my whole life. Honestly, I didn’t even know how else I could train my “abs” at that point. I was really new to the game, so I had no idea why he would say that. I am still new to the game, but now I understand. However, when people first hear this they immediately become almost defensive. I have heard some version of, “What do you mean I shouldn’t do sit ups? That’s how I get a six pack. That’s how I’ve always done it.” I can’t really blame people for feeling this way. Heck that was my initial reaction. However, if you look at what the core muscles are actually designed to do, it makes sense. So, take a deep breath and try to not get upset that you have been training your core inefficiently your whole life.
If you look at the motion of a crunch or sit up, the abdominal muscles are being trained with flexion. Those muscles are basically being flexed together. How often in everyday life are you in that position or do you use that movement to move from position to position. Mike Boyle says you do that once a day, or twice if you take a nap. It doesn’t happen very often. And, if you look at the picture on the right, the guy on the far left is essentially in the posture of a crunch. Does this posture look strong? Not at all. So why would we want to train our bodies to be in this posture? Again, when you think about it unemotionally it makes sense. And, if you want to hear it from someone much smarter than me, check out this quote from Dr. Stuart McGill’s book, Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, “Repeated flexion-bending of the spine is necessary to cause herniation. In fact, herniation of the disc seems impossible without full flexion. This has implications for exercise prescription particularly for flexion based stretching and sit-ups.” Do you want herniated discs? I don’t. So, if we’re not doing crunches and sit ups, what should we be doing?
The answer to that question lies in what our core was designed to do. First, the core is not just the abdominal muscles. The core is everything around our midsection both front and back, including our glutes. So, when we talk about about training the core, we have to be mindful of training all areas of the core. But, if you look at what the core muscles are designed to do they have two main functions: stabilization and anti-rotation. Essentially, those muscles help coordinate movement between our upper and lower halves, and protect our spine by keeping us from rotating too far.
Next week, I plan to have a few video clips demonstrating various core exercises we do when we’re training. However, for now if you are looking for something to replace your crunches and sit-ups, try holding a plank or side plank for a minute or two. I have noticed since changing how I train my core that my entire body works better, and the activity I participate in the most, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, my movement is significantly improved.
There are a number of ways I can go in the next few weeks, because talking about how to hip hinge correctly is also a critical issue in core training, that is severely lacking in the United States. The most common movement issues I see in training people daily, all relate to an inability to hinge correctly. If you have feedback on what you would like to see in the next few weeks, let me know. The plan right now would be next week to show some of the core exercises we are using, and then the week after to talk about hinging correctly. Hopefully, this will help you in your training. It has really improved our training!