Everyone wants a flat stomach, but are we doing the right exercises to help achieve our ultimate goal of that wash board stomach?! Current trends in the fitness industry encourage us all to do 100 crunches, rotational crunches, knees bent or straight crunches, crunches on a stability ball to name a few. However, after years of doing the same popular ‘core’ exercises you still continue to do them although you see no changes in your shape or stomach tone. In fact you suffer back and neck pain from perhaps over-doing it! So, you ask yourself what is going wrong?!
Well, I will tell you. When we perform a crunch we are not training for a stronger middle. We are training our superficial muscles that are overloading our spine in a dangerous way. According to a study by Professor Stuart McGill, he identified how dangerous this loading is. He took several spines of a pig and placed them in machines that bent and flexed them hundreds of times to replicate sit ups. The spinal discs were almost completely ruptured by the end of the experiments. Thus, highlighting that doing crunches can cause back pain leading to a bulging disc or herniation of discs in the lumbar spine. Therefore doing hundreds of reps is going to put your lower back at grave risk!
Don’t fret, there is a safe variation called a curl-up or what I like to call a Pilates ‘Ab Prep’ that involves keeping your back in ‘Neutral’ (where your hip bones and pubic bones line up and where your spine follows its natural curves) and performing a lift of your head and shoulders slightly where you do not move your pelvis or spine away from this neutral position. McGill States ‘You don’t need to crunch up much to get the desired response from your entire abdominal muscle complex.’
The most effective way to get integral core strength throughout your body is to do training that involves Pillar Strength. Pillar strength is the foundation for all movement. It consists of your hip, core and shoulder stability. Those three areas provide a centre axis from which to move. Think of your body as a wheel. Your pillar is the hub and your limbs are the spokes.
How it works?
It’s impossible to move your limbs efficiently and forcefully if they’re not attached to something solid and stable. That’s your pillar—all the muscles that connect your hips, torso and shoulders. When these areas are properly aligned, you can transfer energy throughout your body more effectively, so you’ll produce more strength and power with less fatigue.
Without pillar strength, you will significantly increase the potential for injury in a chain reaction that starts with your lower back, descends all the way to your knees and ankles, and rises up to your neck, shoulders and elbows.
Here are some exercises that involve you using your pillar strength
1. Side plank – right and left
2. Front plank with alternating arms reaching forward
3. Front plank with alternating leg raises
Try holding each of these positions for 15-20seconds with a 5 sec rest between each exercise. Build up to holding each exercise for 30seconds. Repeat as a circuit style workout X 3 sets
Good luck and I hope you enjoy your newly found core strength!