Welcome! Time to talk about why I don’t like Sit-ups and crunches and what I do like. So please listen because I want to save you from making the same mistakes I made as an athlete. My aim is to provide you with some suitable replacements that steer you in the right direction when it comes to trunk training
Often I have athletes and clients who ask me why their program have no or very few crunches or sit ups. They have been doing crunches for years. Firstly that is partly the problem, they have been doing flexion based exercises as trunk training for years and this has led to dysfunction, plus all sorts of issues with the t-spine and lumbar, not to mention our poor hip flexors.
The problem with the majority of us see the “core” or trunk as abs. However the trunk is actually made up of the quads, glutes, abdomen, back muscle groups, deltoids and pectorals. By focusing just on the abs we miss the boat when it comes to developing a powerful trunk.
My problem with the sit-up derives from the fact that the majority of clients utilize the hip flexors to pull or in many cases jerk the body into the top position .As most of us have done sit ups and crunches for years. It has actually led to “excessive utilization and tightening of the hip flexors“. When we should instead be controlling our breathing and movement, while co contracting the trunk musculature (glutes, lumbar and abs), bracing the abs and using them to pull the upper body forward.
This is issue exacerbated by a high number of people being stuck in an anterior pelvic tilt, mostly caused by excessively tight hip flexors, poor hip extensors and poor external rotatory strength. We are repetitively loading the lumbar spine through flexion and extension. Thus increasing mobility through this region and this is not what we want. We we want to encourage the lumbar to be stable.
Tight hip flexors, weak glutes and poor trunk strength often lead to loads of problems like hamstring injuries, lower back injuries and often excessive t-spine flexion. If you are finding this article interesting then checkout how trunk training can fix lumbar spine pain
We would suggest focusing on isometric/quasi isometric exercises. Resist that extension, flexion and rotation. Also work on that neutral spine position, feel it, work on maintaining it and think about how you would hold these positions during your training and sport. This type of training is often seen as a form of functional training. If you want some amazing functional trunk strength then you should learn more about these principles, ideas and exercises.
So when can we do a Sit Up?
Only once the prescribed exercises are done to a satisfactory level will I ever allow the athlete or client to progress to exercises like the adjusted Janda sit-up (which has some flexion). It should only be used as part of your trunk training regime once a high level of trunk control and stability is obtained. We like the Janda sit-up because of a process called reciprocal inhibition (as one muscle antagonist contracts the other switches off) that forces the hip flexor to be used less due to the forced contraction of the glutes and hamstring musculature.
I will say that it is a hard exercise to do and requires great stabilization of the trunk. Therefore this exercise only requires a low rep scheme starting with 3*5 reps and working to 5*5 reps. However if you have lower back pain I would say avoid these exercises. Stay away from flexion based exercises.Athletes go wrong when they go for longer times, more sets or more reps, instead of focusing on spinal alignments and muscular co contraction. Work on creating greater tension rather than just adding reps and sets. For more information on trunk training.
Here are some exercises I would recommend you put in to your trunk training session:
- Breathing drills
- Dead bugs
- Glute Bridge variations
- Plank and Side plank
- Roll-out variations
- Cable exercises