If you've been paying attention, you know that Crunches are no longer a favorite exercise of elite athletes and the people who train them.
Unless you're a competitive bodybuilder or just want six-pack abs and don't care about your spine health or sports performance, then go ahead and continue to knock out hundreds of Crunches a week. But if you're an athlete and your goals include producing maximum power and sprinting faster, please stop now! Here's why Crunches are ruining your ability to run faster.
The Core's True Purpose
The core is meant to help keep your body stable. It's intended to resist flexion, extension and rotation to help keep your movements as efficient and explosive as possible. Your core doesn't really want to move as it does during Crunches, which is why your core training should focus on stability over movement.
The core of your body is there to be a link between the upper and lower body. It's there so we can link the energy produced in your lower half by the hips, glutes, hamstring, quads, etc., and transfer that up through the trunk of your body and into your upper extremities. Therefore, transferring force is the core's most important job when it comes to achieving better athletic performance. If we go to swing a bat and our core isn't stable enough to transfer the energy from our lower body up into our torso and through our arms, our swing isn't going to be very powerful.
The Problem With Crunches
Now that you understand what the core should be doing, let's think about the Crunch.
Stand up and do a Crunch.
Does that feel like a good position to be in? Would you want to walk around like that all day?
I don't think so. You're bending your spine in a way it simply isn't meant to move.
So why would we train that movement? It doesn't make much sense to practice putting our body in a position that we wouldn't want to be in during competition or daily life. Nor does it make sense to train a position that hinders our ability to create force!
And how do Crunches affect your ability to produce power?
When your body compensates for weakness, it tries to return to positions that it's comfortable with. So if you're banging out hundreds of Crunches each week, you're essentially training your body to find that position when the going gets tough.
This is not a position you want to find yourself in, especially when trying to execute explosive, powerful movements.
When you're in this position, you shut off your ability to keep your upper and lower half linked together. When there's a disconnect between the upper and lower body, we cannot tap into our glutes. Our glutes are an incredibly powerful muscle group, and they're crucial for executing most athletic movements well. When our glutes shut off, we can't create the power needed to execute the movement as intended.
Whenever we need to sprint, jump or need to throw something, we need our whole body to work as one. Think about sprinting. If we get into too much flexion, it makes it difficult for our legs to drive down and back into the ground. That means you can't run as fast.
If the crunch position is something we want to avoid in sports, why are we still training it? Because people don't know better. People think if they have six-pack abs, then they have an athletic core. That's not true; if you have six-pack abs, you just have six-pack abs. You don't necessarily have the core stability needed to be a great athlete.
So, if Crunches are no good, what should we do instead? We need to train the core to be as stable as possible. We need exercises that keep our upper and lower body linked together. That's what makes us more athletic.
One of my absolute favorite exercises for training this ability is Farmer's Walks. By simply picking up a heavy load and walking around with it, your core must activate to keep your posture on point. The best aspect about Farmer's Walks is they are self-limiting exercises. When your posture starts to break, it's over; you can't do anymore. If you're not doing Farmer's Walks in your training, it's time to start. Grab some weight and try to carry for 30-60 yards. Start light and with further distances, then gradually work yourself up to heavier weight.
What are some other ways you can improve your core stability? Anti-flexion, anti-extension and anti-rotation exercises are a great choice. These include Dead Bugs, Planks with Hip Extensions, Planks with Reaches, Stability Ball Rollouts, Stability Ball Stir-the-Pot, Stability Ball Body Saws, Side Planks and Pallof Presses.
Once we can keep our core stable, we need to work on ways to dynamically train its nature as a "link" between our upper and lower body. These include HK Med Ball Stability Chops, HK Med ball Rotational Lifts, Scoop Tosses and Shot Put tosses.
The variations are endless here; you can always find ways to challenge and improve an athlete's core strength and stability. Built the stability, improve the work capacity and train the core to act as a link, and watch your athleticism skyrocket.
Photo Credit: Nastasic/iStock, MangoStar_Studio/iStock, simonkr/iStock
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