Remember lying on the mat in elementary school P.E. or early aerobics classes and doing numerous crunches over and over again? Who would have thought that your gym coach and group fitness instructor would lead you in the wrong direction? Science has shown us that crunches are terrible for your spine. Performing crunches only shortens the superficial muscles of the abdominal wall (the rectus abdominal area). This causes postural issues, tightens and shortens muscles in the hips and creates stress on the back. In other words, typical crunches are not effective to train a stronger core; instead, here are some tips for effective core training.
According to the Journal of Applied Research : in Clinical and Experimental Theraputics, flexion is important in core training, but range of motion associated with the exercise is far MORE important. Typical crunches on the floor prevent the range of motion required to execute extension as well as flexion, thus offers a small range of motion. In the study, it was found that participants using a small ball, like the Bender Ball, were able to use up to 4x as much muscle when compared to crunches on the floor, due to the increase in range of motion associated with using the ball.
So if range of motion is important to effective core training, what exercises can we do to ensure effective core training?
Tips for Effective Core Training
1. BOW AND ARROW: In a sitting position, place a small rubber ball, like the Bender Ball, behind the small of your back. Lean backwards while maintaining a neutral spine. Place your left elbow on the floor as your right arm fully extends. Stay in that leaning position and touch your right elbow to the floor as your left arm extends. Repeat.
Why is this movement important? When executing this properly, you are using extension and rotation throughout your core. This offers a wide range of motion while asking the core to multitask in the movement.
2. LUNGING TWIST: Step into a lunge. Extend both arms in front of you while pressing into the Bender Ball and then very slowing twist the torso so that the arms move from left to right (90 degrees on each side). Repeat. Step into a lunge with the opposite leg and continue.
Not only are we using the core for rotation in this exercise, but also stabilization. Our core is what keeps us in the upright lunge position, ensuring that we do not fall to the side in which our arms are rotating.
3. EARTHQUAKE : This is the movement which inspired and was included in the study mentioned above. In a sitting position, place the Bender Ball behind the small of your back. Lean backwards while maintaining a neutral spine. Lengthen the arms so the stretch above the head. Lift the legs to find your balance. With your legs staying lifted, return to upright and repeat the lean back position.
True, this movement does not require a huge rotation but it does ask your core to move through extension, flexion, and stabilization. It’s a very effective movement and can easily take the place of the classic crunch.
Notice with all 4 of these motions, there is an increased amount of motion, when compared to the basic crunch. Don’t think about just forward motions for core training. Think about leaning backwards, twisting, standing, and stabilizing. The crunch is dead. The idea of moving your nose to your bellybutton should be retired forever. We sit in that position as it is. Those are not the muscles that need strengthening, and this is not the position we should ever encourage.