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Stop Doing Ab Exercises Now: Myths & Facts About Core Stability

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

It is my opinion, with a little education behind it, that crunches, sit ups, V-ups, the trunk rotation machine in the gym, etc. are doing more harm than good for 99% our readers! Really! Why? I'm glad you asked!

First, these exercises (flexing the core with the resistance of gravity or added weight) are risky for your low back, especially the discs of your lumbar spine. In labs and in clinical practice, scientists and physicians study what causes spinal disc bulges and herniations (at least we do at Cumberland Chiropractic and Sports Medicine, right here in Lebanon, TN). The results are conclusive. Repeated forward bending and twisting causes maximal pressure on the nucleus (the jelly at the center of each disc) and stress on the annular fibers (the "tupperware container" of that jelly). Wanna do the damage faster? Add weight on your shoulders or heavily contract your abs while doing so. Therefore, we believe that the risk of performing these exercises outweighs the benefit.

Core stability is a word that is so popular yet misunderstood, that we should touch on some myths and facts about it. Our “core” is the center of our body; everything from ribs to hips. It houses the lumbar spine and is surrounded by vertical muscles in the front and back, hoop muscles around the sides and a lid and floor formed by the diaphragm and pelvis. “Stability” is the ability to resist movement and to support when demand is applied. A bridge is STABLE when it supports cars from the top and resists wind from the sides.

Cross Section Abdominals, Low Back, Chiropractor, Deep Back Muscles
The hoop-like Ab Muscles

Think of our core as an empty coke can. Try pressing straight down (as gravity and our upper bodies do) on the can and it is surprisingly strong. Next, dent that can on one side and then press down again. The can is very weak! My point is that our core is very stable and supportive IF we keep our posture in neutral and allow its natural cylinder shape to support us. This is why we are always told to sit up straight. The “abs are sheet-like (flat and short) muscles, designed “from the factory” for stability. On the other hand, the hamstrings are long and thick muscles, meant for movement; to bend the knee and extend the hip. So, when you think of exercises geared toward the core, train stability not movement.

First reason to avoid ab exercises, the risk to your low back, the second reason is that the benefits are mostly a myth. When you train your ab muscles you DO NOT lose fat targeted to your mid section. The body's fat storage system can be thought of as a fluffy goose down coat. Our brain causes hormones to stuff this coat with insulation (fat), in specific areas, when we tell it to by what we eat and the calorie demands we require. Our body type tell us where to stuff the insulation or where to remove it. Realizing this reality, I would advise you to train larger, heavy calorie requiring muscles if you want to lose weight. Most resources say that in order to show definition in your abs men need to be under 10% body fat and women under 18%. Then and only then will you see your "six-pack abs" regardless of the amount of crunches you have performed.

Earlier I said that crunches are unnecessary for 99% of our audience. The 1% are competitive body builders. For the rest of us, here are my recommendations to have a safe, good looking mid section.

-Primal Lifestyle: a diet with very few carbs from grains, sugars, dairy or fruit and intentionally moving more throughout your day WILL help you lose body fat. This article has been out since August 2012, but recently Mark Sisson, the founder of The Primal Diet, wrote a great blog about this topic, entitled "Why An Ab Routine Isn't Necessary" (Click Here To Read)

-Train Core Stability Not Ab Strength: My favorites are side bridges, planks and wood chops. Remember, if you do your entire workout standing and using abdominal bracing (Google: Stuart McGill Abdominal Bracing) you train core stability the entire time.

If you've messed up and hurt your low back trying to get those six pack abs, give us a call at Cumberland Chiropractic and Sports Medicine and "we will get you better, faster!" Thanks for reading!


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