We’ve all seen the infomercials. The ones with the muscular models doing a billion variations of crunches on odd-looking contraptions. With high expectations, some of us order the space-aged piece of plastic and metal with cool stickers. But, in just a few weeks, it becomes a door prop, a dog chew toy, or a dusty relic to be bargained off at a garage sale.
It’s actually a good thing most of us do not use these products. While crunching variations may have their place with specific populations, such as bodybuilders, the crunch is a very ineffective way to train the entire core. The traditional crunch, and all the unnecessary variations, mainly work just one of the muscles called the rectus #abdominis. These are commonly called the “six-pack” muscle. While no doubt this muscle is important, believe it or not, it takes a back seat to other muscles such as the TVA, obliques, QL, and paraspinal.
The key to understanding and then training the core (or any muscle) is to know its function. A muscles’ name and location are less important, unless you are a fitness pro, like me, or work in a health field. The top job of your core is to resist change. That’s right – when your core looks like it’s not doing anything, it’s doing the most important job. Think about it. When out on a bike ride are you bending and straightening your spine significantly? Nope. Swimming? Nope. How about picking up a heavy laundry basket full of wet clothes from hours of #sledding? Nope. Still not crunching.
In all these examples, the spine does and should move, but it’s not by a large degree compared to a crunching motion. You’d have to think long and hard to come up with a sport, or everyday movement, in which you perform a traditional crunch.
All activities require the stability of your spine. This means your brain either does not want the spine to move, or wants it to move in a controlled manner. If you have poor spinal stability, then not only does the movement suffer (think slower times) but you also greatly increase injury risk. Having a weak core means the body must compensate by building myofascial adhesions, over-using muscles (piriformis syndrome anyone?), and creating hyper-tonic or always tense muscles. Further, when certain areas of the spine end up with excessive #movement, this can lead to conditions like #arthritis or herniated discs.
My top choices for training the core property are plank variations (knees bent, tail tucked!), Pallof presses, and reverse #crunches. Of course, everyone is unique and these may not be appropriate for you. The ideal way to learn to train your core effectively is to hire a skilled trainer who can teach you the right movements for your specific goals and situations.