Six Pack abs and a wrecked lower back

Is your ab workout working for your lower back 

Listening to an interview with Stuart McGill gave me the idea to write this post.  He is a professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario Canada.  McGill is one of the most notable researchers in spinal bio-mechanics, human performance, and lower back pain.   He objects to sit ups  and crunches.  If done wrong they can irritate the lumbar spine.lower back It is not uncommon for fitness enthusiasts will perform scores or even hundreds of repetitions of the sit up or crunch. Sure it works the abdominal muscles but it can irritate the discs in the lower back leading to “six pack abs but a wrecked lower back”.

or is it working over your lower back?

McGill theorizes this repetitive bending of the spine produces unnecessary wear and tear of the lumbar discs.  This strain might go unnoticed with a healthy back. However, a person with back problems often does not tolerate them well.  The disc is like a coat hanger wire; there are only so many times you can bend it in a lifetime before it breaks down, even fewer if it is already damaged.

If sit ups are painful, simply avoiding exercise in this area IS  NOT  the solution.

The truth is there is no need to do sit ups.  Sit ups are obsolete and replaced by better exercises.  There are many exercises that challenge the core muscles of the trunk (rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus and obliques) and improve spinal strength, coordination and endurance.  One key is keeping the spine in neutral (a slight forward bowing of the spine) while exercising this area.  Challenging spinal exercises can be done with little movement of the spine!

The video below features professor McGill. It is from the New York times and features demonstrations of the “roll up”, “pointing dog” and side plank and “stir the pot” exercises.  An excellent progression from a standard plank is the “stir the pot” exercise pictured below.

Plank and side plank can both start on the knees and progressed from there.  Keep it simple.  Focus on these 3-4 and then progress from there.

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