WHY CRUNCHES WON’T WORK
One of the questions I have been asked most over the 24 years I’ve been a fitness instructor is “how do I get a flat stomach?”
I’m also seeing frequently on social media nowadays things like ‘30 Day Ab Challenge’ or things very similar. Quite often these type of challenges include doing sit ups and crunches daily in ever increasing numbers …. which really just makes me cringe not only because they are extremely boring and repetitive, but also they have disaster written all over them …
They won’t give you the 6-pack you are chasing, they won’t even tone the abdominals in the correct way, all they will cause is ….. back injury and potentially a pot belly too!
BACK PAIN – WHY?
Imagine your spine is a credit card. In the same way that repeatedly flexing and extending a credit card will eventually lead to wearing out of the plastic, repeatedly doing crunches can put damaging strain on your back.
Each of your spinal discs is only able to support a limited number of bending motions over the course of your lifetime before you get low back pain, a disc bulge or a disc herniation.
And since crunches involve lying on your back and repeatedly bending and extending your spinal credit card, they place excessive strain on the part of your low back that has the most nerves and is most prone to wear and tear.
Perhaps you’ve heard that if you pick a heavy object off the ground, and you don’t want to hurt your spine, you should “bend at the knees, and not at the back.” But think about crunches this way: Anytime you do a crunch, you’re bending at the back — over and over and over again!
POT BELLY – HOW?
Let’s look at the ‘abdominal crunch’ in a deeper, more technical way:
When you perform a sit up / crunch the majority of the movement can come from a muscle called your Psoas Major. The action of the Psoas Major muscle is hip flexion, which means bringing the thigh up towards the abdomen, or when the abdomen is being moved towards the thighs, e.g. sit-ups / crunch.
Overdeveloped and tight hip flexors can contribute to lower back pain by causing the pelvis to tilt forward.
If your Psoas is tight already and you do a lot of sit ups, which shortens the distance between the pelvis and the ribcage, you are effectively limiting the amount of room in your body for your organs.
A tight Psoas pushes the organs forward.
And what happens if the psoas is tight and your organs are pushed forward …. a pot belly!
A great example of this is someone who appears to be skinny with little body fat, yet there is a pot belly sticking out above the waist.
This is an indication of a tight psoas major that is pulled forward from the back of the pelvis.
When the tight psoas is pulled towards the front of the body the organs don’t have anywhere to go but forward and the rectus abdominis (six pack muscle) goes with it – hence the pot belly.
So doing a huge amount of sit ups and crunches daily WILL NOT create a flatter stomach, but could in fact cause your belly to protrude even more. See the picture below:
I’M NOT SAYING DON’T EVER DO AN ABDOMINAL CRUNCH AGAIN!
Because the ab muscles are so fine, proper form will result in long lean muscle—improper form can actually build them to be “puffed out” as mentioned above. If you perform crunches wrong you are leaving yourself prone to actually developing a bigger belly!
Crunches require concentration and muscle engagement. People often cheat using more eager muscle groups like the hip flexors (psoas major) or back—muscles that like to take over and do the work when you’re trying to work your abs.
To work your abdominals effectively in an Abdominal Crunch you MUST engage your Pelvic Floor muscles throughout the contraction. Read the previous blog on The Elephant In The Room – Pelvic Floor to find out how to contract your pelvic floor correctly. http://www.dropit21.com/elephant-room-pelvic-floor/
Abdominal crunches performed correctly, ie with the spine in ‘neutral’ (see the pelvic floor blog) and pelvic floor muscles engaged; do have a place in a core / abdominal programme. Although not ALONE and certainly NOT in a 30 Day Ab Challenge when you do ever increasing numbers on a daily basis for a month! You need to incorporate a whole host of abdominal exercises such as leg drops, planks, side planks, twists, etc. Don’t forget to add in exercises for your lower back too, along with exercises such as press ups and other dynamic movements targeting legs and arms. You will be surprised to see that your ‘core’ is the centre of power for most other exercises too!
WILL YOU EVER GET A SIX PACK WITH ABDOMINAL EXERCISE ALONE?
In a simple answer NO!
It really won’t matter how muscular your torso is if your body fat is too high. The best way to build strong, visible abs isn’t through repeated sit-ups or other abdominal exercises, but by looking at your diet!
As much as 85-90% of good abdominals in is your nutrition. You may well have heard the saying “abs are made in the kitchen” …. It is so true. You can strengthen your abdominals and core as much as you like, but if your body fat % is too high you will never see the chiseled abs you are chasing.
So to answer the original question: “How do I get a flat stomach?”
85% Diet / Nutrition
However, a quick tip for those of us with a weakness for caloric food: standing up straight and pulling back your shoulders will instantly tighten your transverse abdominal muscle, making you look a little leaner.
It’s not quite as impressive as showcasing a well-developed six-pack, but it’ll certainly help in the meantime whilst you’re working on that!