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BendtheBar 09-15-2012 11:51 AM

Core Work: Spinal Flexion or No?
Was doing some reading on this last night so I thought I would see if any of you have read up on the topic, or had an opinion.

I believe Stuart McGill leads the charge against spinal flexion-style core training.


So many athletes come to us with bad backs and I ask them about their current routine, and they might tell me, "Well, I do 100 sit-ups first thing in the morning." Sit-ups cause far too much spine load for the associated muscle challenge that is created, so the trick is to find an appropriate muscle challenge level thatís appropriate for that particular athlete.

You probably want the spine in a neutral posture, but sit-ups involve full spine flexion, which is a problem for many people as well, so in this case we do a modified curl-up to achieve the same if not more co-contraction of the abdominals, obliques and rectus. We ab brace first, elbows off the floor, good neck pattern, then curl-up against the brace just a little bit, not rising very much; then overlay deep breathing patterns. An incredible ab workout that spares the spine.

It also creates motor patterns that you can use in real life, whether youíre playing football, powerlifting, sprinting, or whatever it is youíre doing to ensure spine stability, and a large ability to buttress shearing and bending loads, and breathe functionally, etc.
As an alternative, I stumbled across the dead big, which is used by guys like Chris Duffin:

Fazc 09-15-2012 12:21 PM

Bit confused, I thought sit-ups meant flexion at the hips NOT at the spine. Typically a crunch movement would provide more spinal flexion, no?

BendtheBar 09-15-2012 12:31 PM

I read quite a bit last night and most of it was anti-crunch, etc. This was the only quote I founds regarding sit ups so I thought I would toss it into the mix as well.

I am quite ignorant on the topic, and am wondering if certain sit up variations, like the sit ups I do on a flat bench with my knees under the leg extension pad, are inherently a bit more hairy that knees up situps.

BendtheBar 09-15-2012 12:35 PM

A few quotes from McGill that might help the discussion:


“There are only so many bends or a ‘fatigue life’,” in your spinal disks,” says Stuart M. McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo. Inside each disk is a mucus-like nucleus, he says, and “if you keep flexing your spine and bending the disk over and over again, that nucleus slowly breaches the layers and causes a disk bulge, or a disk herniation.” A herniated disk won’t show through your swimsuit, but it’s no fun, and can cause persistent back and leg pain, weakness, and tingling.

Think of the oft-repeated advice for movers: bend at the hips and lift with your legs, not your back. And what is a sit-up but a back bend done in a lying position? “When people are doing curl up over gym balls and sit-ups, and this kind of thing, they are replicating a very potent injury mechanism on their back,” says McGill. “Every time they bend it they are one repetition closer to damaging the disk.”
The only sit up specific quote I could find was this:


Doing a sit-up doesn’t train your ab muscles to do the job for which they were designed – keeping your spine straight and secure and providing power for your movements. In everyday life, “the abdominals are braces,” says McGill, author of "Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance" (Stuart McGill, 2004). When doing any athletic movement—even opening a door—“the spine is in a neutral posture, not flexed, and the abdominal muscles are contracted to brace the spine.”

BendtheBar 09-15-2012 12:38 PM

This is the original article that seems to be passed around in the lifting community:

Stop Doing Sit-Ups: Why Crunches Don't Work - Newsweek and The Daily Beast

Fazc 09-15-2012 01:17 PM

I think his definition (or perhaps mine) of what a crunch and what a sit-up is, is what's confusing me.

I've always thought:

1) Sit-Ups involved flexion at the hips. The spine is kept mostly neutral, the abs work to keep the spine aligned.

2) Crunches involved curling up the torso with the lower back remaining mostly in contact with the floor i.e. spinal flexion.


We ab brace first, elbows off the floor, good neck pattern, then curl-up against the brace just a little bit, not rising very much; then overlay deep breathing patterns. An incredible ab workout that spares the spine.
The quote above describes what I would call a 'crunch', which is great for the abdominals and doesn't involve a great deal of anything else. So I'm quite confused as to what exactly he has a problem with?

Which is strange, because McGill has a very good reputation in the industry. Part of where the confusion may come from is article you posted isn't written by McGill it just quotes him and others to make a point. However I get the feeling the McGill's quotes don't necessarily represent him fully.

BendtheBar 09-15-2012 01:30 PM

Here is McGill. He explains in the first minute what he doesn't like about sit ups/crunches.

BendtheBar 09-15-2012 01:33 PM

Fazc 09-15-2012 03:14 PM

Interesting and yes it does confirm that some of the confusion comes from definition of what a Crunch or Sit-Up is.

See for me this is a Sit-Up. Flexion at the hips, and the back is mostly neutral:

A Crunch is this, pure spinal flexion:

They definitely are not interchangeable terms.

Having said that I can see what he's saying about crunches, and perhaps it's something to bear in mind.

bamazav 09-15-2012 03:38 PM

Good stuff guys. When I have some more time, I want to investigate this more. I have found that when you mention working the core, crunches or situps are usually the first thought people have. I can' t stand either, but that is probably because they DO bother my back so much.

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