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Best abdominal exercises

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The best abdominal exercises are not as straightforward as your conventional sit up. Today’s best evidence shows us that traditional sit ups may actually be harmful to the spine. Whilst sit ups most certainly do exercise the abdominal muscles, it is at the risk of potentially causing a repetitive strain injury specifically to the lumbar spine.

If you had a wire coat hanger, and you wanted to break it, one way would be to bend it back and forth continuously. With each cycle of load, the stress strain reversal, you would fatigue the metal and eventually break it. The same can happen to the intervertebral discs in your back. You only have so many bending cycles in these structures, and when you perform traditional sit ups, you will be approaching a level of fatigue in the discs that will eventually cause them to break.

The number of cycles you have is determined by many factors. In
particular, your genetics will determine the quality of your discs. You
could think of different gene pools like you would the difference
between a BMW and a Toyota. Some genes just make better quality
anatomical structures than others.

Other factors include alcohol, smoking, occupation and probably more.
Both increased alcohol in the diet and smoking will effectively dry out
the discs thus rendering them less able to perform their function.
Depending on whether your occupation involves prolonged sitting, or a
more physical role, how you use your body in terms of posture during the
day will also influence the lifespan of these structures.

Just why are you doing sit ups anyway? If it is to lose weight and
show your six pack, then you are not utilising your time effectively.
You will burn calories by doing sit ups, but their are more efficient
ways – running for example.

Is it to get strong abdominals? Sits ups will exercise your
abdominals thus making them stronger, but it will be at the expense of
disrupting the integrity of your lumbar spine. There are better ways to
strengthen your abdominals.

Consider what athletes really use for performance (other than banned
drugs). Try to think of an activity where someone tries to take their
torso through the full range of flexion under load, in the same way you
would when doing a traditional sit up. There are very few, particularly
in sport.

Think of an MMA fighter about to throw a punch. The fighter will load
the abdominal wall with a “pulse” and a “spring” to create a stiffness
around the belly and torso. Following this, the power is generated by
activating the hips. The “pulse” of energy is transmitted through the
core which has been turned into a very stiff “spring”. There is a
storage and recovery of elastic energy but the core is not flexed, it
remains neutral. From here, more power is added through the shoulders

The point is that when you measure most athletes in high performance
situations, they are using the abdominal wall as a spring, or a medium
through which the force generated from the hips or shoulders is
transmitted. They are not using what would be trained when doing a sit
up. Why then would you train it, damage the disc, and not get
performance? The spine should remain neutral and you should train the
stiffening “pulses” in the abdominal wall. This reduces the risk of
injury and enhances performance.

On a more practical level, the average Joe can train their abdominals, together with the rest of the core musculature, with a series of safe and scientifically proven exercises. Watch the video in the article Core Strength for some suggestions.

*DISCLAIMER: This discussion does not provide medical advice. The
information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and
other material contained in this discussion are for informational
purposes only. The purpose of this discussion is to promote broad
consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not
intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis
or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other
qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding
a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health
care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay
in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.

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