There I was perusing the gym again.
In the middle of filling out my TPS reports and aching for a distraction from my “office” work, I found my eyes drifting.
It was nearing 6pm and my day was coming to an end just as the normal gym-goers were getting their workouts into full swing.
There was one person doing a sit-up on the floor. Another who was doing side bends while holding a 30lb weight. Then a 3rd on the back extension machine doing “supermans”. They all had 1 thing in common; they were all working their core.
WELCOME TO A NEW PARADIGM
While these exercises seem to make a lot of sense at first glance, they are not the way to go if you truly want a strong “core”. Nowadays all the research says that it is about stability. Following this logic, crunching, side-bending, and extending the back are all things we should AVOID! These exercises are not benefitting your back.
OK….A LITTLE SCIENCE
Check out this guy, Stuart McGill. He is a guy you should know about. You see he wrote this book called Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance a few years ago. It has since changed the way we should look at the core and exercise selection dramatically.
Among the findings: Using pig spines (that’s what the mythbusters use to do science, so you know its legit) as subjects, McGill examined that when the lower back goes beyond a 1 degree range of motion it is only 1/10 as strong. That is like going from 50lbs of force for catastrophic failure to 5lbs! 1 degree isn’t much margin at all. He also examined the amount of rotation available in actual humans spines was a max of 1 degree range of motion. This is a fraction of the 7-15 degrees that one can achieve through their upper back.
Well…what all this means is that the back is meant to be stable! While there may be some exceptions out there where the crunch is an acceptable exercise (MMA fighters or boxers for instance); for the vast majority (stat: 85% of Americans currently have or WILL have back pain) these just aren’t the most efficient options. Not only are they not efficient, they may also be putting us in harms way.
A QUICK ANALOGY
Imagine a brand new credit card with its frequent flyer miles or its low interest rate. Now after realizing that getting this credit card was a huge mistake, you start to bend it back and forth in an effort to break it in two. At first it will not bend easily. After a little effort and sense of purpose, those little white lines start to appear. You keep at it….the white lines start to grow bigger and the card bends easier…then…it finally rips in half! Now imagine that the credit card is your back.
Instead of thinking bend to the front, bend to the back, and bend to the side, we should start choosing exercises that require us NOT to bend in any direction.
The Body Saw Plank.
This is just as hard as it looks! Work for more reps. Then try to hold in the extended position longer. Then attempt more rounds.
The Romanian Deadlift
While not a direct “Core” exercise, this will without a doubt get your body a whole lot stronger than any ‘ol superman will. To make it harder just perform more reps, add more weight, or possibly attempt this on a single leg.
Farmer’s Walk with various implements.
A side plank would be just fine here as well but these are a lot more brutal and also get some anti-flexion/anti-extension at the same time. Plus you look awesome doing it! Just grab heavier objects and/or walk for longer distances to make progress.
While these may not look as hard as some of the other exercises, take my word for it, they are!
“New information has come to light…..man” – The Dude
I’ve been there knockin out sit ups and side crunches just like everyone else. Way more than I could possible count. However, new information is showing that there may be a better way to get the “core” stronger.
Now go out there and get your plank on!