Good Morning All You Flabby Abbys:
Today’s installment is a response to an article a client sent to me regarding exercises for the stomach.
The article basically details the study and conclusions made by a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, Stuart McGill. He believes exercises that strengthen the “core” that do not require the spine to bend such as; leg extensions, bird dogs, bridges and planks are more effective and safer than sit-ups or crunches.
Do I think (or know) that he is right? Well, as I always say, “What is the goal?”
Well, if you are looking for “straight” core strength, he is right. At least when it comes to comparing “what we do” to planks (and several of the other exercises he mentions). The plank is more beneficial than the crunch because it recruits more muscle groups. However, as with all exercises, the plank needs to be performed correctly on the balls of your feet and with your pelvis tilted downward to actively solicit 20 muscles in an isometric contraction (meaning the “abs” must remain contracted for the duration of the exercise). And while isometric contractions are stronger than those of the eccentric or concentric motion (the down and upward movements respectively) of any exercise, resulting in an increase in strength of the stomach muscles, they will NOT provide definition. If you are looking for a six-pack, planks won’t deliver.
Furthermore, joint limitations of the elbows, shoulders and feet can prevent the ability for the plank position to be held correctly therefore cause a compromise in its effectiveness (at best) and inducing injury (at worse). Also, planks are an advanced “move”. If your abdomen is weak, your lower back will dip and you won’t be able to achieve your desired goal. So, in order to help develop the strength necessary to do the plank, one must do more basic exercises like crunches.
However, take note. Due to the fact that crunches are normally done on the floor, they do not work the muscles of your back (as do planks, bird dogs and bridges). However, if done on a decline bench or physio-ball, crunches will do just fine.
But, “aren’t they ‘dangerous’ according to McGill?” Yes and no. Any exercise, if done incorrectly can be dangerous. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anyone become injured doing a crunch. But, I will tell you, I have seen trainers with the best of intentions have their clients do planks prematurely (as well as incorrectly) and have regretted it.
So, what is a client to do? Again, if “simple” core strengthening is the goal, start with “simple” crunches and work up to doing a plank. Also, remember to “engage” your abs while doing every exercise – especially while standing. That will provide as much of an isometric contraction as a plank – just without the “risks”.
But, if you want a six-pack, forgo the planks all together and do crunches like Rocky (just kidding). Or, you can always head to Wally’s and tell Judy that Bill sent you!
On this day in history (March 10, 1995) – Dow-Jones hits record 4035.64. Is that a record high or low? Wow!