The first thing I often here when a client comes in is, "I want flatter abs" or "I want to lose belly fat". The core is indeed an important part of the body to work on, it is working all day long to keep you upright after all, but there is a lot more that goes into effective core training than meets the eye.
First of all, losing fat and toning muscle have to be looked at as two separate things. You cannot spot target fat. If you do a twenty minute ab workout a day, you still may not lose the bulge. The muscles of your abdominal wall will build, but it will still be under the layer of fat. Fat and weight loss is better achieved with full body training, that's for a different day.
I am here to talk about safely and effectively working out your core. The core is made up of a lot more than just the "six-pack muscles" (the rectus abdominis). The external and internal obliques (side ab muscles), transverse abdominis (deep ab muscles) , erector spinae (back muscles), pelvic floor muscles and other smaller muscles make up the core. People often train only the superficial outer core muscles, causing imbalance in the body and leading to injury.
Crunches and sit-ups focus mostly on those superficial muscles and are often done improperly. There is much debate whether crunches are a safe exercise. Here are some reasons I don’t use crunches in my programming.
Crunches cause you to go into spinal flexion (rounding of your back) which places a lot of pressure on your spine. This repeated motion can cause the discs in your back to bulge. This can lead to back pain and injury. Herniated discs are often caused by excessive spinal flexion, especially if done incorrectly.
These days we are all too often sitting, hunched over at our desks or rounding forward to look at our cellphones. This bad posture is something I try to avoid mimicking, we want to work against that, promoting good posture and spinal integrity. When you are in spinal flexion (the position you would perform a crunch in), you are strengthening the body in that hunched position. Just ask yourself, when do most people throw out their backs? Bending down to get something, in spinal flexion. Training the core in a way that promotes spinal integrity is important, working with the natural curvature of the spine.
You want to strengthen your body in ways that will apply to real life scenarios. Take the plank exercise for example, you’ll be engaging your core muscles to work in a position they need to work in all the time. Keeping your body stable and holding a neutral spine, activating the core to do the job it is supposed to do. Midline stabilization is important in everyday living, working against the pull of gravity to keep yourself upright and avoiding injury is a much more functional way to train.
I have many prenatal and postnatal clients, I warn against doing crunches during and after pregnancy. The outward pressure crunches place on the abdominals is not ideal. They can often lead to or exacerbate diastasis recti, the separation of the rectus abdominis (ab muscles) from the linea alba (tendinous fiber that merges the abs with the fascia).
If that wasn't enough, I also do not favor crunches because they are boorrriinnngg. There are so many more dynamic core exercises you could be doing, so get excited about #coreday and try some of my favorite core moves.