I have been meaning to write this article for months....I take a lot of different classes in the community and this is by far the most common mistake I see amongst fitness/yoga enthusiasts. We are overtraining our abdominals and not in a good way.
We are such good humans, we listen and take direction very well, especially in a fitness/yoga class because there is a belief that if we do what they tell us to do we will look better, reach our goals, feel better about ourselves, fit into an outfit, or whatever your reason is for being there.
The problem is; that we often don’t assess whether these movements are right for our bodies. We don’t ask does this feel good? Is it working the right muscles, do I have pain in my body when performing this exercise. The reason for this is we all share a common belief: NO PAIN, NO GAIN. Hey, trust me, I am not gonna say this is BS, because in reality when you want to achieve a goal, perform a feat, or do something different, at the very least, you gotta get a little uncomfortable to get there. What I will say, if there is pain in your body when doing a regular exercise class – it is likely your body calling out to you to change the movement pattern or how you perform the exercise....abdominal exercises are no different.
How many crunches have you done in your life time? Do you have a six pack yet? If not, then maybe these exercises are not for you or you are not performing these exercises correctly and as safely as you could be.
Here is the bad: When performing an abdominal exercise alignment and muscle activation are key, if either of these are incorrect then you might as well take a time out during the class.
Here is the ugly: After performing a million abdominal exercises without proper alignment and without proper muscle activation don’t be surprised if you have pain or an injury related to said exercises. I see all kinds of poor movement mechanics and injuries in the clinic due to the above statement, improper bracing, diastasis recti (DR), back pain, shoulder pain, hip pain, and sciatica. These injuries have no preference for age or gender category, I see them across the board and especially in athletic populations for obvious reasons.
Here is the good: Once you can restore your alignment and core muscular activation all exercises can be done....there are no bad exercises, only exercises performed badly, thus a crunch can be a safe exercise, as long as the body is moving correctly during it.
Let’s go back to the inner core quickly: activating your inner core requires you to use your diaphragm, transverse abdominis, pelvic floor muscles and smaller muscles in your back (multifidi). When we do this our abdominals flatten and rib cage pulls down toward the ground and stack over our pelvis.
This is how we control the intra-abdominal pressure inside our abdominal cavity...if we can’t activate our inner core, our tummy pouches outward because the intra-abdominal pressure has got to go somewhere during an abdominal crunch or we may even begin to separate into a DR. In short, without your inner core activated during abdominal exercises you are sunk, or hurt or pretty much wasting your time.
Simple, but not a lot of people are doing it...well, at least not yet!