One of the most abused exercises performed in gyms are crunches and sit-ups, and I’m putting a large part of the blame on aerobics instructors. Almost every “ab class” across the country is filled to the max with people doing hundreds ofcrunches, sit-ups, twists, and bends, with the burning desire to one day walk out of that class with rock-hard abdominals. People attend these classes more religiously than going to church, and instead of developing that dream mid-section, they develop overworked hip-flexor muscles and strained lower backs (sounds like an awesome class, right?).
The main problem with the majority of ab classes and many ab routines, is that they significantly limit their abdominal development by performing crunches or sit-ups from the floor or any other flat position (ab benches, ab rockers, etc.). When you perform a crunch or sit-up on the floor or bench, you are limited by how far you can go down because at the bottom of each repetition, you’re either going to hit the floor or the bench. This is the most important point of this whole blog post
so pay attention. “The abdominal muscles are worked through a full range of motion by having the spine/trunk go from a 40° extended position (backwards) to a full 30° of flexion (crunching forward).” If you are performing these ab movements on the floor or a bench, it’s impossible to allow your spine/trunk to go into 40° of extension while still be supported.
To develop functional strength, and even muscle definition, you MUST work through a
full range of motion. Nobody stops half way down on a bicep curl, except for the “ego-lifters” who lift more weight than they can handle. So if you don’t do half the range of motion on other movements, why would you do it for crunches or sit-ups?
Today is your lucky day and this just might be the answer to help you develop those 6-pack abs once and for all (considering you don’t stuff your face with chips & salsa). To work your abs through a full range of motion, you must perform your crunches with something underneath your lower back (lumbar region of the spine). Examples would be a Stability ball, BOSU ball, Dyna Disc, and even a rolled up towel would work. This is going to do two things that will make a world of difference in your ab routine. 1) It’s going to allow you to get the full 40° extension on every repetition and ensure you’re working through a full range of motion. 2) It’s going to support your lower back.
It’s possible to extend back beyond a neutral position when on the floor as shown in the photo below, but it’s almost impossible to recruit the abdominal muscles to crunch forward from this position. When you do this you begin to overwork the hip-flexor muscles to compensate which diminishes your abdominal work even more. This position also puts a lot of strain on the discs of the lower back (not good).
Please don’t buy into the BS abdominal products you see on TV (ab rollers, rockers, chairs, belts, etc.). It’s going to take a lot longer than 8-minutes (I actually used to do that video myself during my own personal “stupid gym shit” days) to develop that dream mid-section. I can’t emphasize enough how important nutrition and cardio are for determining how much of that 6-pack is actually going to become visible. I can promise you that if you start making your ab routine more effective by adding one of these inexpensive and simple tools, you’ll notice a significant difference.
In part 2 I’ll talk about what ab exercises will give you “the most bang for your buck” and at what part of your workout you should train abs and CORE. If the “Stupid Gym Shit” Police see you doing crunches on the floor, you’ve basically given them permission to throw a Shake Weight at you (not a good thing either)!