How to train your core without crunches

Did you know that you do not have to do crunches and sit-ups to train your core? In fact, crunches, sit-ups, and many other similar core exercises can negatively impact your core, especially if they’re not done properly. How you can train your core without doing crunches?

Let’s break the core down. We have our local stabilizers, global stabilizers, and global mobilizers. Our local stabilizers include our pelvic floor (base of our core), diaphragm (breathing muscle), multifidus (along the spine), transverse abdominals (like a corset), deep posterior psoas (hip flexor), and the deep hip stabilizers (deep five).  These muscles are close to the joint and isometrically contract to create stability and control the joint positioning. This improves what we refer to as joint centration, maintaining our joint on its center axis. Next, we have our global stabilizers. This includes our glute medius, obliques, spinalis muscles in the back, and quadratus lumborum. These muscles are also geared toward stabilizing, but they create more of an eccentric range of motion. They decelerate motion. Lastly, is our global mobilizers. This includes rectus abdominis, latissimus dorsi, and quadriceps and so on.  These muscles produce force. They initiate force and movement. All of these are equally important. However, one has to come first, and that is the local stabilization. We have to be able to stabilize our joints to be able to produce force and power from a stable foundation. If you don’t have a stable foundation to operate from, injury will occur.

When we refer to the deep core and how it is intimately connected with your feet, and the rest of your body; I like to use the reference of the deep front fascial line. This connects from the bottom of the foot fascially all the way up through the inner thigh, pelvic floor, deep stabilizers, diaphragm, and even the neck. The beautiful representation of this fascial tensegrity is a great visual of how our body is connected, and how our feet are actually part of our core.

Another great way to appreciate this deep local stabilization and the importance of the local stabilization before the global stabilization is a hernia. Whether you or someone you know has had an umbilical hernia, inguinal hernia, abdominal hernia, or sports hernia; this is a perfect example of where the deep core was not stabilizing efficiently. There was so much stress on the outer core musculature and poor pressurization in the abdomen that it caused a tear in the abdominal wall, or in the case of a sports hernia in the fascial tissue. In the case of a sports hernia, which is very common but often much overlooked and misdiagnosed. The fascial tissue most often affected connects the rectus abdominus and  the adductor. The adductor muscle will have a mechanical advantage so when there is a loss of deep stability, it will create a tear in the fascia in the rectus sheath. You cannot rehab this since you’ve lost the integrity in this force transmission system.  It can only be surgically repaired.

Now, back to the deep stabilizers. It is important to train the deep inner local system before the deep outer global system to prevent things like hernias, back pain, hip pain, and neck pain You can have an optimal foundation to work from to generate force with power and be able to do the things that you want to do. If you are doing crunches, sit-ups, or leg lowers without a proper foundation, read on.

Here are five different exercises that you can incorporate into your routine or refine if you’re already doing them so that you do not need to do crunches and sit-ups, but you can do these exercises to maximize the potential of your core.

1) Diaphragmatic breathing with pelvic floor contraction. As you inhale lengthen the public floor, relax, and then as you exhale gently lift the pelvic floor about 20 percent contraction in the direction of your head. Repeat this for eight to ten breaths working on the coordination and rhythm of the breath with the pelvic floor contraction.

2) Step by step hollow. Take a breath in and flatten your back as you exhale. Take a breath in, exhale, and lift your head and shoulders, reaching through your fingertips. Take another breath in, exhale, and pull your hamstring in towards your body, and then repeat with the other side. If that feels appropriate there stay in that position for a couple of breaths. If you’d like to progress, take a breath in, exhale, and raise your arms overhead keeping the hollow position and the tension. Then reach with the other arm. If you’d like to go to the full progression if that feels appropriate to you, then you would extend one leg, and then extend the other leg.

3) Beast. The beast position is in a table position with your index finger parallel and spreading your fingers wide. Then corkscrew your shoulders, tuck your toes under, and lift your knees approximately two inches or so above the ground. Use your breath as your repetition. You can do this for as many breaths as you can hold. You can also progress into a crawling motion.

4) Side plank. This helps with lateral stability. The first progression is with your elbows underneath the shoulder, the bottom knee bent, and top leg straight. If you’d like to progress this you can go into a staggered stance or even a stacked posture.

5) Foot to core sequence. Standing on one leg in an athletic position, take a breath in, as you relax your foot relax your pelvic floor, exhaling rooting the toes into the ground. Repeat that for five to eight breath cycles. As you do that you’re rooting the tips of the digits into the ground. You can then move into a bowler or any other type of dynamic motion, inhaling back and exhaling short footing and coming back to the standing position.

There you have it, five different ways you can begin to shift your core training to focus on local stabilization before moving to global stabilization and movement. You can use these as ideas. There are endless exercises that can fit into this category but this is just to get you thinking a little bit differently about how to train your core the best way possible so that you can improve your performance, decrease your injury prevention, and feel your best.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule a FREE 15 minute virtual consultation.

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HOW TO GET YOUR FIRST PULL-UP

Have you convinced yourself that you’ll never be able to do a pull-up, or you’ve tried with bands and assistance, but you’ve been unsuccessful? With the right exercises, time, patience, dedication, and hard work, you can absolutely do a pull-up. Whether you’re a child, an adult, a man, or a woman, it doesn’t matter. You have the potential inside of you to do a pull-up. Pull-ups are one of the greatest human fundamental strength movements that we all can do. However, before you work on pull- up progressions, you do want to make sure that you have checked a few boxes. So, here are the boxes you need to check.

1) Do you have good shoulder and scapular mobility? To test this, see if you can get your arm completely overhead so that it is in line with your ear without pain or discomfort. If you can great, move on to the next box. If you can’t, that is what you want to start to work on first.

2) Do you have proper breathing mechanics? To test this, see if you can breathe through your diaphragm as you inhale. This means having 360 degrees of intra-abdominal pressure. When you inhale, your abdomen will expand like when filling a balloon. Then, as you exhale, you’re creating this abdominal tension as your ribs descend towards your hips and you’re actively pulling your belly button in towards the spine, thinking of it as a corset. If you are still breathing from your neck and shoulders, it will make it very challenging to do a pull up successfully.

3) Are you able to hold a hollow plank? Are you able to control your body weight in a closed chain position (hands connected to the floor) while breathing and creating optimal tension throughout the body. Can you be strong, but relaxed?

Once you check those boxes, now you want to make sure that you’re prepared for the pull-up. So, let’s start with shoulder CARS (controlled articular rotations). For shoulder CARS, you’ll want to have good tension through the ground, feet strongly connected and rooted in, and ribcage down. From here, starting with your right arm, taking a breath in, slowly bring your arm up, ribs coming down. When your arm is overhead, will first externally rotate, and then internally rotate keeping your arm as close to your body as you can, without losing this position.  Perform this next to the wall to maximize the effectiveness. The goal is to create this total-body tension to create active control of the shoulder. This will make sure your shoulders are prepped. Repeat for five in each direction.

Next, you can do the bear walk to make sure that you’re working on good scapular and shoulder control before pull-up progressions. Watch the video here to see how to perform this. Now, let’s get it to the five pull-up progressions you should do before completing a full pull-up.

Pull-up progression 1: Dead hang. For the dead hang make sure that your hands are in line with your shoulders when hanging from the bar, you’re in a slight hollow position maintaining your breath, and arms are in line with your ears. Aim to hold this for at least 30 seconds to a minute before going to the next progression.

Pull-up progression 2: Pull-up prep. This is a very key part of the pull-up. You want to maintain the same hanging position, and then lower your shoulder blades, and then raise them back up slowly with control. You want to make sure you are maintaining the same alignment the whole time with your head in between your arms. Repeat this for as many reps as you can with high quality.

Pull-up progression 3: Isometric hold. For the isometric hold, you’ll want to jump into the position by standing on something where you can reach the bar from. Once you grab onto the bar, pull yourself up using an underhand grip so your head is over the bar. (This grip is recommended to start before progressing to an overhand grip). You want to make sure you’re pulling the elbows down towards the ground maintaining that slight hollow position with a neutral head position you’re while breathing and head. Hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute.

Pull-up progression 4: Eccentrics. To work on strength, perform eccentric pull-ups. To do this slowly lower all the way to the bottom of the motion completely finishing it, and then returning to the top by standing on your block, so you can grab the bar again. You’re avoiding the concentric portion and just focusing on the eccentric portion. Make sure to maintain your hollow position, breathe, and keeping nice control. Repeat for as many reps as possible with control. Progress to five sets of five for three to six weeks.

Pull-up progression 5: Bringing it all together. Now you’ll begin to put these together, starting with an isometric hold into your eccentric, and then a pull-up prep.

Now you’re ready to perform the full pull-up! Finish the motion completely and finish with the pull-up prep at the bottom.

This may take you weeks to months depending on your level of fitness. Make sure to master the progressions before moving on.  

Pull-ups require patience, hard work, time, and dedication. However, I’m confident that you will be able to perform this movement while doing all of these progressions. Remember you still want to build overall strength, so make sure to incorporate other types of total body strength training to enhance your progressions and performance with this movement.  A common question is “should I do assisted pull-ups with bands?” They are not recommended because they do not build the fundamental strength required for a pull-up. Please make sure to not take any shortcuts and work on the progressions.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule.

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