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Build your Core Muscles

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Build your Core Muscles

Some ab exercises can be harmful. Read on to learn how to build your core while supporting your back.

Hollow out your abs, push your spine to the floor, brace your abdominals: you may have heard all of these terms during fitness classes or training sessions over the years, but with contradictory information about how to work your abdominals properly, how do you know what the correct way really is?

Abdominal workouts have evolved over the years, but the abdominal crunch, or sit-up, for example, remains a staple in many workout programs today. Researchers, however, have recently determined that the traditional crunch puts extra load on the spine, potentially creating back problems.

Beware of some crunches

Exercises that focus on training the abdominals usually use the abs as the prime mover, instead of as the stabilizers, but this should not be the case, according to Dr. Stuart McGill, professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo and author of Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance (BackFitPro, 2009).

“The muscles of your limbs are designed to create motion, and the muscles of the core or torso are designed to stop motion,” says McGill.

He likens your spine to a wire coat hanger: “… if you wanted to break it, bend it back and forth, and it would slowly crack and then break; that’s what happens to discs of your spine. If you keep bending it, the discs eventually herniate; the more load on the spine while bending, the faster they herniate.”

He says that instead of moving your torso to work your core, you should “… create motion around your hips and shoulders, but not your spine.”

This may go against everything you’ve ever learned when it comes to abdominal exercises; gone are the bicycle crunches, the hip lifts, and the roll-ups. But this is not just some magic that McGill pulled out of a hat; his labs at the University of Waterloo have been studying spines for over 25 years.

Equipment for core exercises

Ab equipment that requires weight should be avoided. Stick with the basics:

  • a comfortable mat
  • an exercise ball

Support your spine

Before you begin your ab workout, try to avoid:

  • hollowing your abdominals (drawing in the navel rather than tightening the entire core)
  • placing unnecessary load on your spine
  • abdominal machines that twist with weight
  • keeping your back flat on the floor
  • any kind of crunch

By following these guidelines, you will take the stress off your spine, and put it into the core muscles.

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