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Is Your Ab Workout Hurting Your Back?



“There’s so much mythology out there about the core,” maintains Stuart McGill, a highly regarded professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Canada and a back-pain clinician who has been crusading against ab exercises that require hollowing your belly. “The idea has reached trainers and through them the public that the core means only the abs. There’s no science behind that idea.”
Oh no. I've been focusing on my abs lately. Maybe I should follow the advice from this paragraph:
Instead, he suggests, a core exercise program should emphasize all of the major muscles that girdle the spine, including but not concentrating on the abs. Side plank (lie on your side and raise your upper body) and the “bird dog” (in which, from all fours, you raise an alternate arm and leg) exercise the important muscles embedded along the back and sides of the core. As for the abdominals, no sit-ups, McGill said; they place devastating loads on the disks. An approved crunch begins with you lying down, one knee bent, and hands positioned beneath your lower back for support. “Do not hollow your stomach or press your back against the floor,” McGill says. Gently lift your head and shoulders, hold briefly and relax back down. These three exercises, done regularly, McGill said, can provide well-rounded, thorough core stability. And they avoid the pitfalls of the all-abs core routine. “I see too many people,” McGill told me with a sigh, “who have six-pack abs and a ruined back.”

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I had a FANTASTIC trainer who taught me great ways to work on my core. The only crunches I ever did were on an exercise ball, so it would work my WHOLE core, and not just the abs. And I do all of my upper body strength training while sitting on that exercise ball, so the core is being worked when I'm doing chest presses and biceps curls.

Pilates and yoga are also awesome.

Pilates, Monday 12pm, not bullshit. (And you know I'd call them on it if it was :-) )

I've always wondered what Pilates is. I'll check it out!

Excellent! Give me a shout if you want more info. It's on the 10th floor here.

You are gonna love it! Go go go!

Ahh, the "magic bullet" approach to everything strikes again... Thanks for posting that set of exercises, Tom; it sounds great.

Far too many exercise routines seem to focus on the front and neglect the back, whether it's pecs or abs. Time to outgrow the fetal position! :)

Yeah, I didn't want to say anything because I resist being the Annoying Fitness Friend nobody listens to, but I gave up on direct abdominal work (except rotation) a while ago. I don't know if correctly performed it's really as damaging as this article would have you believe -- I know people who've been doing heavy weighted crunches for longer than I've been alive -- but it's not really productive.

The exercises they recommend are kind of rehab-y and don't really have any clear method for progression (except adding time, which has limits). I wouldn't discourage them but I think cartographer's pilates class recommendation would be a better choice long term.

ooooh, side plank and plank can do very good things for your core, your back, and your arms and legs. they work the whole body in union and are quite challenging.

a good yoga instructor can show you a simpler version of side plank to use until you've the strength (more than you'd think...) required to do the full pose.

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