Sit-ups are probably one of the most commonly prescribed, so why don’t we use them often at W10? Are they un-safe? We probably wouldn’t go that far, although leading back health researcher Stuart McGill thinks so. McGill states that sit-up and crunch variations place 3,300 newtons (the equivalent to 340kgs) of force through the spine, which will aggravate existing back issues and also contribute to you developing new ones.
Sit-ups involve what is known as spinal flexion (bending forwards), which is the position people spend most of their day in whilst sitting, driving, eating, on their phone/tablet, and so on, and is where a lot of back issues stem from. The vast majority of the population do not need to train spinal flexion.
It is very common for people with low back pain get told to ‘strengthen their core’. Whilst a weak ‘core’ might be part of the problem, crunches and sit-ups are almost certainly not part of the solution.
Core stability is a term used a lot in the fitness industry and is often misunderstood. If you think of having an imaginary dot on your sternum (chest) and another on your pubic bone, true core stability is going through a movement without those two points getting further apart or closer together.
So… what is the answer?
Exercises that involve you resisting rotation (twisting) and resisting extension (leaning back) are the exercises that we use to improve peoples core strength. It’s not that we would never exercise in flexion, but it would be an exception, rather than the rule. Things like bridges, plank variations, bird dogs, leg lowers and so on.
There are tonnes of different variations of these exercises and the trick is finding the progressions and regressions, so that you can maintain control of your pelvis and spine. If you can hold a plank for a full minute for example, then progress it,by creating some instability i.e. lift one leg. Once you are competent with that, progress it further.
Don’t be the person doing 500 sit-ups at the end of your workout and blaming your lower back pain you’re getting on deadlifts!
See some of our W10 ab work videos: