Finally! An Ab Crunch That Actually Works

Dr. Stuart McGill provides an ab-training exercise that is both safer and more effective than Sit-Ups or Crunches.

Don't ever do another Crunch or Sit-Up again.

What were once gold-standard exercises for building strong and ripped abs, Crunches and Sit-Ups are quickly losing respect. Research has found that these two moves—and other similar exercises where you flex your torso—may cause long-term damage to your lower back.

The lumbar spine, which is located in your lower back, is the thickest part of your spine. It's designed to support your body's weight, not for movement. Repeatedly flexing your lumbar spine in these exercises may eventually cause one of the discs between your vertebrae to bulge, resulting in serious pain and impaired performance.

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But for some reason, Sit-Ups and Crunches are still being performed in gyms across the country. Maybe it's because people still think they are the best option. Or that they promote a burn in the abs that's difficult to achieve with other moves?

Regardless, it's time to delete these moves from your memory.

As a substitute for Crunches and Sit-Ups, Dr. Stuart McGill, a leading spinal researcher at the  University of Waterloo, recommends the Modified Curl-Up. It looks sort of like a Crunch, but the actual movement is significantly different.

"This Curl-Up is light years away from a standard abdominal crunch exercise," says McGill in Back Mechanic, his new book, which provides a step-by-step method for fixing back pain.

The Modified Curl-Up is designed specifically to protect the lumbar spine. When you lie down, you place your hands under the natural arch in your lower back, thereby reducing stress caused by your spine flattening to the floor. Also, rather than curling up like in a Crunch or Sit-Up, you simply tighten your abs as if bracing for a punch. Your head and shoulders might come off the ground a bit, but your upper body remains in a straight line.

You won't move nearly as much as when you perform a Crunch. However, you will feel your abs working overtime to hold each rep. Check out the video player above for a demonstration. Here's how to perform it:

Modified Curl-Up How To

  • Lie with your back on the ground.
  • Place your hands flat under your lower back and raise your elbows slightly off the ground.
  • Bend one leg so that your foot is in line with your opposite knee.
  • Keeping a straight neck, tighten your abs as if bracing for a punch and raise your head and shoulders off the ground slightly. Hold this position for 10 seconds.
  • Lower and repeat.

Sets/Reps: 1x5,1x3,1x1; resting for 30 seconds between sets

Along with Plank variations, this is another example of core moves you can use to train your abs without putting your spine at risk. Is one Sit-Up going to ruin your back? No. But, there's no reason to put it at risk when there are so many fantastic alternatives. Give the Modified Curl-Up a try and let us know what you think @STACKmedia.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock