Crunches were once the answer to sit-ups, the gym warm-up of our elementary school days. Now both abdominal exercises have a bad rap in the fitness community. The repetitive flexing of the lumbar spine, or lower back, has been implicated in back injuries as serious as disc hernias. The following exercises can help flatten your belly while minimizing pain.
Core stability exercise: the plank
Nolan Lee, DC, MSAC, CES, E-RYT, is a big proponent of core stability exercises like the plank and its many variations. One plank favourite is to hold high plank (arms extended versus on forearms) and alternate a weight between each hand. The weight should sit next to one hand and be pulled across the body with the opposite hand. Repeat this exercise for one minute.
“Alignment of the spine should be neutral to maintain ideal core activation,” Lee says. “A good point of focus is the pelvis. If you can keep the pelvis neutral, not tilting it forward or backward, the low back should remain neutral. Plank can be a good way to work on a neutral, stable spine.”
Jess Fritsche, an ACSM certified Health and Wellness specialist and NCCPT Personal Trainer, reminds us to breathe. “Exhale while you lift the weight and inhale while you return to start position or relax,” she says.
Core stability exercise: the McGill curl up
To avoid creating too much flexion in the lumbar spine, Lee recommends the McGill curl up. To complete this movement, lie on your back with one leg straight and one leg bent. Place your forearms and hands under your low back. Lift your head, chest and shoulders off the floor as much as you can without jutting out your chin.
“Everything moves in one piece like there is a board under you, from the tailbone to head. You might not lift very far, but that is okay,” Lee says. Do two sets of 10, switching legs between sets.