Should you be doing crunches? This is definitely a controversial topic.
Let me first start with I was obsessed with the core starting from my early 20s. I was interested in how we could stabilize our spines properly while preventing low back pain and other injuries, while also generating as much force as possible. This led me to understand more about deep core stabilizers. They include your diaphragm, pelvic floor, transverse abdominis (your natural weight belt), psoas, and the multifidus. All of these have to work together as an integrated unit.
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Are crunches bad?
Well, we have to get out of bed in the morning. We have to be able to flex our spines. In order to perform a crunch, we have to recruit our global core muscles. In order to do that without eventually getting injured, it is necessary to stabilize first. Stability is defined as timing, sequencing, and coordination.
How do we reinforce this optimal stabilization before mobilization, i.e., a crunch?
How to perform crunches
In order to have proper stabilization, we have to have optimal diaphragmatic breathing.
We need to inhale through our nose and breathe all the way down to the base of the core to allow this intra-abdominal pressure to build up 360 degrees. That allows our transverse abdominis, your natural weight belt, to expand and contract eccentrically. Your pelvic floor is lengthening when inhaling and as you exhale, the pelvic floor lifts, and the transverse abdominis contracts. The diaphragm goes back up to its resting position. It’s a beautiful rhythmical dance.
2. Prevent Doming
Doming can happen from the diastasis rectus, which is the separation of the fascial structure called the linea alba. That can happen from pregnancy or from poor stability over time. Many women and men can experience this.
Doming occurs when the abdomen pops out as you are doing some type of crunch or abdominal forward bending. If you feel that popping out, that means you have to reintegrate the breath and change the movement to make sure that you are stabilizing first.
3. Lift Up
Regardless of the type of crunch you are doing, you want to think of lifting up as opposed to just pulling your head forward. A lot of times we tend to yank on our neck, which actually just ends up being a neck exercise and not at all a core exercise. You want to seek optimal movement with proper fascial tensioning, rather than doming, breath-holding, or pulling on your neck.
Lastly, I just want to mention a couple of things that are indicators that the core is not stabilizing well. A hernia or a sports hernia, which is also called a core muscle injury, is a perfect example of too much demand on global muscles coupled with a lack of deep intrinsic stabilization. That leads to tearing of the tissue. Both need to be surgically repaired.
So to answer the question, are crunches bad?
It depends on how you’re doing them. If you can integrate some of the things that I spoke about today, you can actually change crunches and make sure that they’re appropriate for you. There’s always a gray area.
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