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Sit-ups and Crunches Are NOT The Best Core Exercise

'Tis the season for swimsuit weather. I don't know about you, but my motivation for exercise increases right before a trip to the beach! For years I wasted time and I wasn't getting results or a flatter tummy. Sound familiar? Old school sit-ups and crunches are not the best exercise if you want to build your core and reduce your waist size. So how do you work your core if you can't even find it?

The CORE is the musculature, fascia and connective tissue that stabilizes the spine and pelvis. It consists of four synergistic muscles (see diagram below) that do not work in isolation, but rather as a team and during EXHALATION. The deep core has to be healthy or compensations will occur in other muscle groups that pull on the skeleton and contribute to imbalances and pain. There are 3 things that commonly disrupt core muscle function: 1) PAIN - core muscles go "on strike" and lose their inherent function when there is pain and inflammation. 2) LOSS OF MOTION in the hip and thoracic spine (upper back) act as resistance for the core, which is supposed to be stabilizing the spine and pelvis. 3) GUT INFLAMMATION - the gut has to be healthy for the core muscles to engage properly through a reflex known as the viscerocutaneous reflex. in addition, normal mobility of fascia within the lumbopelvic region is essential, sans adhesions. Hands-on treatment is one way to restore the core to function and at our clinic we use a combination soft tissue mobilization, visceral mobilization, cupping, muscle energy techniques, kinesiotaping and Integrative Dry Needling to retrain the core.

In our attempt to quickly regain the core, many women do the wrong exercises and provoke or increase pain and dysfunction. As long as I can remember, sit-ups and crunches have been the gold standard for abdominal exercise and they are still being used in gym class and sports practices. Even earlier in my career, I would recommend them for back strengthening. However after treating pelvic pain for years, I have learned a few things.


1. Sit-ups and crunches do not strengthen the deep core, but rather increase tension in the rectus abdominus, or surface muscles. This does nothing for the "love handles" or waist circumference and nothing to improve inner core function.

2. Sit-ups and crunches contribute to poor posture. We already spend too much of our day bent over, further weakening the back of the spine, making it difficult to maintain good posture.

3. Sit-ups and crunches contribute to neck and back pain. It is estimated that over 80% of individuals will have back or neck pain at some point in their lives and the majority have recurring issues. The discs in between our vertebrae were not meant to withstand repetitive flexion during exercise.

4. Sit-ups and crunches contribute to pelvic organ prolapse. Wonder why the pouch below your belly button will not go away? Maintaining intra-abdominal pressure is difficult with repetitive crunches, pushing organs downward if pressure is not maintained.

5. Sit-ups and crunches contribute to tightness and dysfunction in the rectus abdominus, which is already contracted and tight. According to Vladimir Janda, a 20th century Czech physician, the rectus abdominus is one of the hypertonic muscles that compensates for a dysfunction in the pelvis. Why should we further tighten a muscle that is already too tight?

6. Sit ups and crunches may worsen diastasis recti (DRA), a midline split of the abominal muscles that is common during and after pregnancy and contributes to pelvic organ prolapse, back pain and urinary incontinence. Click here to read our blog on Diastasis Recti.

While you might gain a six-pack and appear to have strong abs, it is not worth it to have urinary leaking, organs descending and/or back pain. There is a better way. There is a healthier way! With the Healthy Core plan, you can learn an effective and simple approach to improving the core! For more information, call our clinic at 330-528-0034 to schedule a FREE core consultation so you can live life with a healthier core!

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