The man who wants to kill crunches

A Canadian professor of spine biomechanics rails about the dangers of the ubiquitous sit-up

by Patricia Treble

The man who wants to kill crunches

After three decades of figuring how out the spine works, Stuart McGill has come to loathe sit-ups. It doesn’t matter whether they are the full sit-ups beloved by military trainers or the crunch versions so ubiquitous in gyms. “What happens when you perform a sit-up?” he asks. “The spine is flexed into the position at which it damages sooner.”

The professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo knows a thing or two about snapping spines. In his lab, McGill proudly shows off a machine that’s probably created more disc herniations than any other in the world. “We get real [pig] spines from the butcher and we compress them, shear them and bend them to simulate activities such as golf swings and sit-ups, and watch as unique patterns of injury emerge.” A disc has a ring around it, and the middle, the nucleus, is filled with a mucus-like liquid. Do a sit-up and the spine’s compression will squeeze the nucleus. On his computer, McGill shows how the nucleus can work its way out of the disc, hit a nerve root and cause that oh-so-familiar back pain. “From observing the way your total gym routine is performed, we can predict the type of disc damage you’re eventually going to have.”

While there are lots of ways to injure a back, the sit-up is an easily preventable one. According to his research, a crunch or traditional sit-up generates at least 3,350 newtons (the equivalent of 340 kg) of compressive force on the spine. The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health states that anything above 3,300 newtons is unsafe.

So McGill suggests replacing sit-ups with exercises to strengthen the core while not bending the spine: bridges, planks, leg extensions, bird dogs, and “stir the pot.” The bird dog, for instance, simply involves getting on all fours and, while keeping the core muscles tight, extending the opposite arm and leg, then switching limbs. “Stir the pot” is a more complex movement: moving shoulders in a small circle while in a prone push-up position with forearms balanced on an exercise ball.

The results of McGill’s decades of spine research is slowly being accepted outside the worlds of academia and elite athletics. Ian Crosby of the Calgary Fire Department saw the shift first-hand. He’s on a committee of the International Association of Fire Fighters that establishes criteria for the make-or-break fitness test. A few years ago, they reviewed the annual sit-up test, which involved doing steady crunches in time to a metronome. The problem, for Crosby, is that anyone being assessed “will train to get better. And that involves repeated bouts of sit-ups.” So last year, after talking to Stuart McGill and other experts, the IAFF dropped the sit-up in favour of the prone plank—basically a static push-up that will leave the unfit trembling with fatigue.

For those who believe sit-ups are the only key to strong abdominals, Crosby points to research that shows the new movements can be just as effective in improving core strength. A study of U.S. soldiers published earlier this year in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise compared sit-ups with back-friendly core stabilization exercises, including bird dogs, and found there was no difference in overall fitness between the two groups. In fact, those who did core exercises showed significant improvement in the army’s sit-up test.

The decline of the crunch can also be seen at ordinary sweat-filled gyms. Anthony Ierulli, manager of fitness programming for the YMCA in Brampton, Ont., says that while in the past all anyone “did were crunches, now they’re doing some Pilates and yoga that engage the abdomen in different ways.” But Ierulli emphasizes that changing routines isn’t enough if the technique isn’t there. And that requires finding a teacher who can fine-tune those unfamiliar exercises.

As for McGill, he keeps spreading his message. Recently, Asia Nelson, a local Waterloo-based trainer of yoga instructors, invited the expert to talk to her class of student teachers about his philosophy. She knows that not all traditional yoga postures are back-friendly. One example Nelson gives is the sun salutation’s forward fold—basically a standing crunch with the added hanging weight of the body. Now, after the professor’s lecture, she’s figuring out ways to modify that and other movements. While Nelson and the Y’s Ierulli recommend people find a balance between old and new techniques, McGill’s message is more blunt: “There are only so many bends in your spine until the discs eventually herniate.”




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The man who wants to kill crunches

  1. This is very interesting although I am not sure comparing pig spines to that of humans is a good tool – humans are biomechanically able to bend forward a lot easier than a pig. Listening to your body is definitely key :)

    • You and I clearly didn't have the same pet pig growing up.

    • If you read Stuart McGill's original research and books, such as "Low Back Disorders", you'll find that he's worked extensively with very body-aware athletes as well as people with long term back problems.

    • Pigs have been used for decades in medical schools to simulate human surgeries and to study biomechanics with medical students. Pig joints are about as close as it gets to a humans. Its not perfect but I would assume that the AMA would not approve students using pic cadavers as practice for humans surgeries if it were not very similar.

  2. on the pig note, the normal physiological stressors to the swine spine are 90 degrees different then in humans. Horizontal vs Vertical, thus the swine spine has not been evolutionized to support compressive forces in the same matter as human

    • its not about the active physiological stressors, its the fact the the pig spine is similar in number of vertebrae, shape of the vertebra and muscle attachement as that of the human spine. It is the closest thing researchers can use without an actual human spine. Similar tests are being perfomed on swine spine in Australia by Dr. Paul Hodges. He is the leading expert on the core muscles and back pain.

  3. I say you do some research on spine biomechanics before making statements without empirical evidence.

  4. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

  5. This is a very informative article. There is always new developments and it is good that this is allowing persons that there are other choices.

  6. Interesting article. Core excercises are important, but I really don't see crunches, if performed properly, causing to much harm. Sitting in front of a computer for 9 hours a day in an air conditioned office is probably worse for you :) )

    • I concur being that I sit "in front of a computer for 9 hours a day in an air conditioned office" The teacher of my first yoga class came to me to correct a pose and she said, "You have a desk job don't you." I asked, "How did you know." Her reply: "Every student I have that comes from an office environment sitting most of the day has the same posture as you and have difficulty performing this pose." Telling.

      • which yoga excercise you did than to correct that pose problem

  7. I wonder how McGill's torso looks. Planks and leg extensions are good for developing "core" strength/stability, but for aesthetics, crunches and hanging leg raises are the most effective and efficient (best results in the shortest amount of time). Certainly, athletes, professional rescuers, and the like are interested in the benefits of core strength for performance purposes, but for the lay-person who wants to look good in swim-wear and doesn't need to worry about strain on their back aside from lifting paper reams for the copier, crunches are still the best solution.

    • Incorrect. For aesthetics, No amount of training on your abs or waistline will give you result any faster than. It is 95% diet / nutrition control and calories that allow for 'looking good'. Exercise gives the body a reason to change, nutrition allows it to happen. You never crunch in life, don't train that way. The abs, for example (as McGill clearly points out), if about bracing the spine, especially deaccelerating the the "backward" moving forces of the upper spine, say, when you start walking forward or push open a door. The abs will 'brace' to keep you from folding backward as you press open a door. Imagine if you could cut someone' abs, like cutting a belt into two pieces…. even step a person takes would result in the upper body lean back…unless you had intact abs bracing for you. READ MGGILLS BOOKS. There are two of them. Trust me, it is great stuff. If there is something you don't understand in the book, keep on reading. The first 40 pages really clear many things up.

      • I wonder how the number of male individuals who have won a physique contest using nutrition alone without exercise would compare to the number of contestants who have used exercise alone without any specific focus on nutrition.

    • Got to agree with you, hanging leg raises and crunches for sexy abs. At the end of the day people will be more impressed with a six pack than how long you can hold a downward dog for!

    • You are so wrong….I stopped doing crunches and the like because of my back issues, and am totally down with Dr. McGills work, and my abs & obliques are stronger (and nicer looking than ever).

      This article doesn't mention it (unfortunately), but there is an ab exercise from Dr. McGill that is spine friendly and hits my abs HARD!! Planks and side planks are more targeted towards your TA, erector spinae, and obliques…

      Also, showing abs is mostly about fat loss…

    • the fact that you are putting looks before health is another prime example of what is wrong with the average person when it comes to exercise. Why put yourself through a strenuous workout that is good for looking buff in the short term, but terrible for your body and remaining active and pain free in the long run? Quality of life and maintaing physical functioning should always be put before 'looking sexy at the beach", but rarely is.

    • Vanity confuses the issue here; in seach of the 6-pack, many exercisers resort to the crunch. However, most of us actually already possess a 6-pack …but it's hidden under too much body fat. The crunch is useless.

    • In terms of bulking up on muscle any exercise in which you can do High repetitions isn't very effective. If you want a six pack and are relying fully on sit ups then you should really consider doing some research (unless you can't do all that that many). In my opinion body fat is the biggest aspect of showing a six pack. I would think that it is clear to most of you the best ways to lose weight, but I am also writing to a group who can't seem to figure out how to build muscle. Good luck in looking good, and more so in learning what you should already know.

    • I haven't done a crunch in several years. I perform short, intense total body training, that includes core training as one single unit, suspension training, and unstable training such as on one leg or on a BOSU. My torso looks fantasitic, I must say.

    • To assume that athletes, rescue workers and anyone else with demanding job related duties strain their backs more then the "lay person" is comical. I treat more desk jockeys and "lay persons" in my chiropractic clinic for back strains then any other.
      McGill is spot on. I'd like to see him reach the military and other federal agencies to have them alter their PTA protocols. Im sure this will decrease the amount of disabilities and early transfers.

  8. Well, this certainly is an interesting discovery that might even change my exercise routine – some strong words coming from someone who does 8 minute abs religiously.

    However how would this relate to back flexibility? I am definitely interested in the findings of spinal biomechanics in that area.

  9. I'm 19 years old and have had 2 back surgery's. So all you who HAVEN'T you have no clue what spinal damage feels like! The core of you stomach helps mediate your back, so when you are doing crunches (which dont help your back what so everrrr) all your doing is putting meaningless pressure on your lower vertabra's.

  10. I'm a personal trainer and had the great fortune of taking a 6 hour workshop with Stu McGill a few years ago. He is right on the edge of scientific research/knowledge and best practice. Read his books; check out his website. I have put his knowledge to sound use with many clients.

  11. Being ex-military and a former dancer I am in total agreement with this guy's findings from experience. In dance the only time we do crunches is to warm up the muscles other than that it is strictly based on core engagement.

    • I did not know that you danced!!!???? What??? I did some missionary work in the West Indies islands and notice a lot of young and elderly men, who worked in their gardens every day, had very tight abs. They did not go to a gym or do crunches, but they did a lot of manual labor.

  12. great observations,
    I love the way you take the photo,
    timeless post.

  13. I do Pilates which involves spinal contortions of the sort described (as in roll ups, for example) and will try one of the exercises described here. But what is the shape of a pig's spine?

  14. great observations,
    I love the way you take the photo,
    timeless post.

  15. If most porkers would just do the old "butt walk" exercise instead of lab an computer modules you'd do better.

  16. Nowadays there is very little left for a real discovery in the field of health and wellness but scientists are people and as most of us they are consumed by their ego. Consequently about 60% of modern scientific "discoveries" in the field of human kinetics are scandalous tabloids. And as any 'yellow' press it is entertaining for people who understand the workings of a human body and misleading for the seekers of truth.
    It is obvious to any thinking creature that too many repetitions of any movement will call for an excessive wear on the system if the system doesn't have a chance for recovery. Military and emergency response fitness training methods have hardly been ever known to be creative in their approach. But for an educated practitioner the logic of numerous repetitions of the test movement in order to pass the test doesn't quite apply. In this particular case, for example, the main working unit of a "crunch" is the midsection's frontal plain and there are gabagilion-and-five movements to make that plain stronger.
    I suppose for a person that believes in the philosophy of numerous repetitions of a crunch in order to get good at it, this article would be somewhat of an 'aha'…

    • go on…… im listening

    • A crunch consists of spinal flexion in the saggital plane not the frontal plane. Maybe you by plane you were just referring to the anterior portion of the core is primarily responsible for the movement but it would be incorrect to say its a frontal plane movement.

  17. I had absoultely no idea!!! No wonder my back has been hurting so much lately!!! I usually to about 400 crunches a day!!!

    • Try mixing a few high back bridges into the cruch workout. Don't forget the side crunches. Elbow to knee.
      Jerry

      • Check out the fitness table method

    • 400 crunches a day ,How are you doing these I wonder ?? NOW there's maybe your problem , excessive & too fast possibly , try doing sets of 10 slowly & controlled , try many different ab excercises , do you engage those abs from the inside out , so many people still think navel to spine , sucking the abs in , & so flattening the back to the floor , overworking your back extensors, overtucking the pelvis , overworking the hip flexors ect.
      I am a certified Pilates Instructor & would appreciate these ideas if a human spine had been studied , we are meant to flex the spine .

    • I feel immensely sorry for you.

  18. For all who wants to perform safe exercise movements check out the fitness table method. (just google it) A very unique and personalized method which aimes to keep you healthy and fit!

  19. This is nothing new. A lot of fitness trainers eschew sit-ups and crunches completely, simply because they can lead to neck muscle strain. The focus is on planks and various rotational moves (e.g. Russian kettle-bell twists, windshield wipers).

    • The differnce is McGill has taken the effort to design beautifully orchestrated research studies to back up this idea. He is one of the main reasons the spine rehab community and fitness trainers you mention have figured this out. Check out his book or Ultimate Back Fitness DVD to get a better feel for how far advanced his understanding is compared to that of most fitness trainers. Really great stuff!

  20. My dad lived to be 87 and never did a crunch in his whole life. He worked in a textile mill on a concrete floor for 30 years and as far as I know he never complained of back pain. Too much "beneficial" exercise is not necessarily a good thing. I've had knee, back, neck, and ankle pain all from various exercise regimens, not to mention I almost had a heat stroke.

  21. For those in doubt, you should look up articles by Dr. Paul Hodges and Julie Hydes. They are based out of Australia and have spent the last decade and more focused on studying back pain and core muscles. Their research supports McGills.

  22. I am also a personal trainer and advocate Dr. McGill's work. This article lets on that McGill's research has just been released …well, it's not. McGill published his finding years ago and has copious documentation as to validity and also to the similarity between the swine spine and the human spine. His measurement of the Newtons of force has been out for a numbers of year, in fact quoted in Men's Heath over a year ago.
    Further, McGill is regarded as "the back man" throughout much of the western world, he speaks as numerous health-centred conferences and often is quoted in health publications and popular magazines such as Men's Health.
    The crunch works rectus abdominus which has almost nothing to do with core strength and spinal health. As McGill notes, the "plank" works the core muscles isomentrically and that's exactly how we use the core mucscles from the minute we rise in the morning until we go to bed at night. .. functionally appropriate.
    Vanity confuses the issue here; in seach of the 6-pack, many exercisers resort to the crunch. However, most of us actually already possess a 6-pack …but it's hidden under too much body fat.

  23. This is all very interesting – being a yogini and including a fairly vigorous posture (asana) practice to my yogic life style. This article addresses spinal flexion but what about spinal (hyper)extension in such postures as cobra, upward-facing bow, scorpion etc? The nucleus of the disc must then be pressed the opposite direction (from the flexion of the spine), with the same result?

    In hatha yoga, we truly believe in backbends as being beneficial on many levels; increasing the immune system by stimulating the thymus gland in the chest, tone the nervous system, stretch the energy channels to ensure a healthy flow of 'prana' (life force) bringing vitality and healing etc etc. From this point of view, core strengthening exercises are not enough as this only strengthens the core but do not incorporate the more subtle layers vital to over-all health – the value of inner body vitality and proper function included in yogic anathomy.

    Would love to read more comments related to hatha yoga!

    I guess moderation is key as always…

    • In the case you describe the nucleus would migrate in the opposite direction and with enough repetition problems could occur. However, the significant differences are that 1) the spinal cord and nerve roots lie behind the disc, not in front of them… making flexion much more problematic than extension. 2) very few people repeat extension movements to the degree that it can become problematic. Extension also loads the facet joints of the spine limiting load on the disc. In addition to the sit-up/crunch, think of all the other repeated flexion movements we do… slouched sitting, bending and lifting…

    • Hi Marianne. The physiology of the disc is flawed by design. It is thicker in the anterior aspect and thinner in the posterior. Therefore, the posterior herniation is the most common. In the event there is an anterior herniation or disc bulge, there is little consequence as the cord and nerve roots are posterior structures. The only concern I have is the overload of the facets with such "hyper-extension" that I have seen with serious yoga instructors. Facet syndromes can mimic disc pain and referall pain syndromes. My philosophy is always to never load any one structure. Just my $.02

      • As a registered yoga teacher, I was taught that forward bends and backbends should always be conducted with a neutral kumbar spine. Backbends of bends of the thoracic spine only, the stretch the front of the body (chest, shoulders), with the lumbar spine in its neutral lorditic curve. To prevent the lumbar spine from going into hyperextension, there must be adequate flexibility in the hip flexors. Forward bends are also to be conducted with a completely neurtal spine. You are essentially hinging at the hips, or flexing the hips, with the natural curves of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine remaining. You must tilt pelvis forward while doing this to keep the lumbar spine from going into flexion. The chest remains lifted and scapula retracted to keep the thoracic spine from going into excessive kyphosis. If the lumbar spine comes out of alignment, it means you have gone too far into the bend for your flexability level.

    • As a Registered Yoga Teacher, I was taught the forward bends and back bends should be done with a neutral lumbar spine. Backbends are bends of the thoracic spine only (opening of the chest and shoulders), not the lumbar spine. If the lumbar spine goes into hyperextension, it is do to a lack of flexibility in the hip flexors, and one moved too far into the pose for their flexibility level. Forward bends should be done with a completely neutral spine, with the natural curves of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine remaining. In a forward bend, you are simply hinging at the hips, or flexing the hips to open the hamstrings, with no change in the shape of the spine. If the lumbar spine goes into a flexion or a crunch during a forward bend, it means that one moved too far into the pose for their flexibility level. A spinal twist of some sort should be conducted after both forward and back bends to neutralize the spine.

  24. I do crunches with a 10 lb weight on top of my head. I bore easily. I also do squats and deadlifts at about my weight.

    I can see where a lot of crunches/sits and little else would be a strain on your back. As part of a weight program they are appropriate as you strengthen the whole body in an ongoing manner.

    • It is this mentality that keeps crunches around. The research does not support this. There are many ways to strengthen the abdominals without doing situps/crunches. The rationale for getting rid of them is clearly documented in McGill's book. Consider giving it a read. Try the plank, bird dog, or McGill's version of the curl-up… a great workout without the disc being loaded repeatedly.

  25. As owner of a fitness training studio, thank you Stuart McGill! I have been fighting the crunch/sit up battle for a few years now. At our facility no crunches or sit ups are ever done, and we have amazing clients that are strong, fit and back healthy. Even for esthetics crunches and sit ups serve no purpose. Planks and side planks will build a six pack – it is just most people have too much body fat to see them. It surprises me still, with all the research out there now, that there are still some trainers advocating crunches and sit ups for their clients. What about the military, police etc? They need to look at their fitness testing regimes as well.

    It is not about moderation with situps; it is about elimination.

    • Well said. There are many organizations police, fire, military reconsidering their testing. It is a slow adaptation, but I have recently seen back extensor endurance or planking being adopted in favor of the traditional # of sit ups in 60 seconds.

      Keep up the good work and the change will happen (eventually).

  26. I am a personal training and group fitness instruct. Since reading this article, I stopped teaching crunches. I have been finding abdominal strength has INCREASED already in the last few weeks and I have been fit all my life and doing crunches on a regular and consistent basis every week for the past 12 years… It's amazing the gains from this change! And the variety of new exercises that do not involve crunching are endless! I teach a whole core class (60 minutes) and always have different material to use. Plus this weeds out all the complicated teaching of the technical crunch. In the last 8 years of personal training, very few people actually do the crunch properly and I always had to help them form proper habits. It's not easy…often mistakes are leading with the chin (I call it chicken neck), tucking chin into the chest, using momentum to lift from other muscles, releasing the abs on the way down, improper breathing, and bringing the elbows too far forward. There are so many errors I now can eliminate and I am thankful for this study.

  27. If you disagree with Dr. McGill, I ask you this. What type of research have you done on the subject? Probably little to none. I realize there are those of you out there who view this as just plain sacrilegious. Yes, abdominals are capable of flexion and extension, however, the main job of the abs is stabilization and participating in the many aspects of rotation. These movements are the ones that mimic what you encounter in the real world, not crunches. ____Someone asked " I wonder how his midsection looks". I don't know, but I guarantee he's got a healthy back. Which is way more important than your cute little six pack.

  28. As a Registered Yoga Teacher, I was taught the forward bends and back bends should be done with a neutral lumbar spine. Backbends are bends of the thoracic spine only (opening of the chest and shoulders), not the lumbar spine. If the lumbar spine goes into hyperextension, it is do to a lack of flexibility in the hip flexors, and one moved too far into the pose for their flexibility level. Forward bends should be done with a completely neutral spine, with the natural curves of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine remaining. In a forward bend, you are simply hinging at the hips, or flexing the hips to open the hamstrings, with no change in the shape of the spine. If the lumbar spine goes into a flexion or a crunch during a forward bend, it means that one moved too far into the pose for their flexibility level. A spinal twist of some sort should be conducted after both forward and back bends to neutralize the spine.

  29. I find the argument that "I have been doing crunches for 10 years, and I have never had problems" to be one that is severely limited. If you are training yourself, fine, but if you are working with others you are entirely irresponsible if you program lumbar flexion based exercise. The spine simply does not handle it well. If you see enough clients, you will end up hurting one.

    The biggest problem with the "it hasn't hurt me yet" theory is two fold. One, disk injury is frequently the result of repetitive strain under low load conditions. The way that Dr. McGill is rupturing disks in his experiments is with repetitive flexion and extension (sit up type actions). The second problem is that it is an issue with research. You see, research could tell you what will happen, statistically, to a herd of 100 elephants on the way to a watering hole. Maybe it tells you that three will get separated from the herd, one will break his leg, and another will be eaten by a predator. Time and time again, it can be right. The problem is that the resarch won't be able to tell you what three will get lost, what one of 100 will break his let, and which elephant is going to be eaten.

    Nonetheless, if you are seeing enough clients or doing enough sit ups, the research shows us that there is a high statistical likelihood of disk injury with flexion based exercise. There is no way around it. Is it worth the risk? Not to me.

  30. What's to refute here guys. It is clear to me there are better exercises to develop core stability (not just torso flexion strength) that don't create as much compressive stress on the spine as does the crunch. Why risk what research is telling us is a bad idea, and do it anyway. Also, if you're on a forum arguing the merits of a crunch as an appropriate way to strengthen "your" whole body, you might want to double check the static posture you are currently afixed in while sitting at your computer. Just a guess, but doing a bunch of crunches probably isn't going to help your cause.

    Also, if you've read Ultimate back performance or seen McGill lecture, you'd know that he does advocate the use of hanging leg raises as a suitable abdominal exercise (re: external oblique recruitment) because of the unloading of the spine during the exercise. Additionally, the turkish get up is included as a great exercise for "steering core strength", which will develop a aesthetically midsection for those interested in bodybuilding endeavours.

  31. Sitting down is bad for your back so are you going to advocate never sitting down? Also running is supposedly bad for your back. So do people stop running marathons or use tread mills? I find people often look for excuses to justify their laziness. I've been doing a variety of ab exercises including crunches with weights and my back is stronger than it has ever been. I had a 36” waist down to 33”. I had no abs what so ever. Now I have some real definition. It took the past 2 ½” years to get this far. If this McGill guy found out what Lee Priest, Ron Coleman or Mariusz Pudzianowski do for ab work outs, he would freak out. Hard work, diet, good night sleep, sufficient rest and lots of determination. Plain and simple. No one said it was easy. I'm going to stick to what's proven by the real pros in the game not some out of shape numb nuts.

  32. The responses here are mostly amusing. The previous poster is at best an armchair trainer.Your abs and relation to back being stronger has no meaning. Useless drivel. Most of the response here do not even understand the function of the abs. The do not understand the association with posture. The abs flex the spine not the hip joint. The abs also try to stabilize the pelvic bones during hip flexion. Hanging leg raises the way the majority of people execute them are utilizing hip flexors as the primary movers and the abs end up burning due to the contraction of trying to counter the anterior rotation from the leverage or forces from the legs being raised in front of the body. Excessive abdominal work utilizing crunches tends to promote a poor posture. The many spinal flexions without corresponding training of the back extensors can lead to an excessively kyphotic position which is poor posture and then that can lead to shoulder and neck issues. . Lee preist and ron coleman are bodybuilders who pretty much could care less about health and function, however they both train the the backside of their bodies…unlike most peoplpe who just want abs. Pudzianowski is a strongman competitor who has to have …as much as I hate the word..functional strength due to the demands of his sport. This type of training trains his core.., another misused and misunderstood word, The difference is that his whole body is used as opposed to just focusing on his abs. BTW I have over 26,000 hours of hands on research with clients .

  33. Any exercise is better than no exercise. As with all concepts, there is no one size fits all approach to exercise, injury prevention, function enhance and pain avoidance/management.

  34. Priest and Coleman are very obvious (or have been) users of steroids. Their midsection is clearly expanded due to this overgrowth and the tremendous loads they put on their bodies when weight training. I'm not advocating not to lift iron, I train myself, but there are clearly no IFBB members that can be used in all honesty as an example in this case. This argument could grow and lead to more quotes, research anecdotes and counter points in terms of proper routines and high volumes vs low volume, etc…but I won't go there.

    Not all new findings out there are the "end all" of things, so it is always best to verify supportive findings by other experts and to use common sense and logic.

  35. As a Kinesiologist and Strength coach and a follower of Dr. McGill's for a short time I have a couple things to say. Repetitive movements especially in an awkward posture can be quite damaging but this is all individual. Some people can run everyday while others have or get sore knees and need to take breaks. Dr. McGill first became famous because he had a goniometer system (measures angles) hooked-up to a olympic weight lifter and actually caught the lifters disc slip out and then back into place during the lift. Remarkable but also lucky for the experimenter; leading into more an more research.

    As a strength coach and a teacher of exercise I stay away from the original sit-up and crunch – even on the ball. There are a couple other exercises that are so much better you will never do a crunch again. The Stir-the-pot is a favorite of mine but I can't advocate it to people with back problems like this article seems to suggest. I have a client with an enigmatic bulge at about L4/5 and this exercise has aggravated the bulge. If you would like descriptions of these progressive crunches let me know.

  36. everything in moderation. many professional athletes (picture downhill skiier, a sprint start, dancers, etc…) use the "forward flexed" position in their sports regularly. if one never trains their muscles in these positions, they will not gain the necessary strength because your strength is only as good as your available range of motion. i do agree that any motion done in excess is bad; however, we must make sure we are training our bodies to fit the motions and activities we want to continue to do. simple as that.

  37. Does the same concern apply to use of an abdominal machine that works the abs, but from a sitting position and bending forward, using either weights or some system to adjust resistance levels?

  38. Wow this is revolutionary…some slum realizes that its almost summer and wants ripped abs. The answer? A CRAPLOAD of crunches/sit ups (400/day as stated by one comment). Neck strains and pains as stated by another. As a scientist myself and an avid athlete the following come to mind:
    1. To address the neck strains – I have known for the past 20 years to NOT put your arms/hands behind your head or neck while doing sit ups..never once had any neck pains. Guess who does? Those Who hold their neck while doing them.
    2. Crunch vs. Sit Up – Anyone that has visited a gym or has any muscle knowledge knows that range of motion is important. We have all seen the big tough guys move a ridiculous amount of weight 2 inches back and forth…give them half the weight and ask them to do a full curl and they cant budge it. Apply this logic to sit ups, lower number of reps with slow controlled movement and you have an EFFECTIVE and SAFE exercise.
    3. Overall fitness level – those of you who have had back pains or problems for whatever reason…how often did you do lower back exercises? Im guessing slim to none as this would a) strengthen your back extensors and core overall and b) PREVENT MUSCLE IMBALANCE (another critical concept for those with anatomy knowledge – can be applied to people doing too many chest exercises and not enough back…same thing). I have also been a personal trainer and have rid people of back pains by doing rehab like back strengthening exercises to the point where they were able to do exercises that would previously almost paralyze them with pain and agony.
    4. Take a look at the statistics of WHO actually gets these back and neck problems – athletes or people who simply want to lose weight/look good and walk into a gym and begin to mirror the exercises without knowing the big picture or proper form.

    I am NOT arguing the numbers that this professor is seeing but he is isolating a system AND its a computer model…these things are NOT directly translational to an in vivo system. Its a good insight into improving technique but not enough evidence to get rid of an exercise.

  39. That was great .I have tried this and the crunches too. I don't find any difficulty in doing both these.

  40. I have been doing 1000 to 2000 situp/crunches per day. Part of the reason is that I am an American refugee living in Canada. My profession of American
    Chemical Engineering has been deemed to be criminal by two Appellate Courts and now I am in the US Supreme Court. Anyway, I was confined in the American Prison system (sometimes maximum security) for nearly two years. The only exercise in a small cell where you are confined for 24 horus is situps and pushups. It is great for the abs. The key is to do them with a cushoning behind you. SInce I am free in Canada (I do not live in the USA where there is no trial, no Law and Order and no US Constitution and indefinite incarceration), I go to the gym and do 1500 situps with the assistance of a Bosa Ball (half sphere).

    My waist is very narrow and I do not have problems with my spine. My body
    fat is very low.

  41. Comparing a pigs spine to a humans?! Is the pig a primate? Is the pig bipedal? Can the pig squat-feed? Can the pig carry things with its limbs? Can the pig climb? No, no, and once again no!

    I mean this is a joke. The pigs spine is designed for completely different tasks than human spines! Using pigs to see the damage a weapon can make to human tissue, pigs hearts, yes. Pigs have similarities with humans, no doubt about it. But comparing a dead pigs spine to an alive humans?! Come on…

    Situps are bad for you, yes, and they work your hip flexors more than your abs. Crunches however, are a safe isolation for your abs.

    Planks are awesome, and everyone should do them. Hanging leg raises are also good. So there are loads of alternatives to crunches. But don't come and tell me crunches aren't safe because of your findings on a dead pigs spine. What's next, biceps curls aren't safe because the pigs limbs can't bend that way?

    I put the askscooby forum under website, so all who want free advice with no ads, noone telling you to buy a book and waste your money, can ask any question they like and get friendly answers with the science to back it up. Articles like these contradict eachother, often have horrible advice, and are always trying to sell you something. Getting fit should be FREE.

  42. This is nothing more than a well-disguised Editorial in my opinion. There are millions people on the world doing sit-ups, crunches and other ab exercises successfully and without any complaint. The ones who get injured are usually the ones who don't know anything about exercising in the first place or have a really bad condition beforehand (back problems, etc.)

    Comparing a pig's anatomy to the human anatomy one to one is a problematic starting point in itself. It doesn't help to conduct such studies on dead organs/bones/spines/whatever either. Finally the random value of 340 kg, which is completely out of context with no comparisons (how much force would a deadlift, a full squat, ANY task produce on the spine) renders the findings of this scientist absolutely useless.

    Human bodies are not made to be doing any kind of sit-ups or crunches? You do sit-ups every day right after waking up ("sitting up in the bed").

    Just look at this guy. He's selling workshops, books and other controversy stuff, just to earn money. Humans have been doing ab exercises for centuries and spinal injuries are very uncommon.

    Just look for free advice from respectable fitness lovers, who know what they are doing.

  43. This makes no sense. Pigs aren't made to bent. You can't just pretend it is the exact same as a human spine. Sure, some organs of a pig are very similar to that of a human. But the spine isn't one of them.

    Oh and if you do 400 crunches aday, you should start doin' something else. Some harder exercises.

  44. I am a personal trainer and I've had the benefit of attending one of Dr. McGill's workshops. I have also had many bouts of severe back pain throughout my life – disk related. Once I began taking his research to heart and really working it into my life and my workouts, I instantly improved. I had been to endless chiros, physios, etc, and had no relief. Since I began following McGill's premise about 4 years ago, I have had NO back pain of any kind (and it was not unusual for me to be immobile for weeks at a time in the past). As a result, I am a huge advocate of this work and incorporate it into all of my clients' programs as well as my group classes. We should all be following his protocols – they just make sense.

  45. I think Mcgill has progressed understanding of the core and spinal support immeasurably, however I also believe that there are never innapropriate exercises just innapropriate clients for that exercise. There are compressive forces in the seated position that are much higher than standing yet offices are not creating a standing environment for employees and yet theres no outrage like there is with people performing crunches? Also we all "crunch" when we get out of bed on a morning its a natural movement, its just that we can get obsessed with hundreds of repetitions in a vain atempt to get "abs" whilst you would never do this for another body part…400 lateral raises a day and your shoulder would soon tell you about it right?

    • i know that crunches and sit-ups are not good for the back, but what about the lying leg raises with the legs straight and raising them to 90 degrees.. would it damage the spine eventually? for example combining them leg raises with the bridge and the plank and side plank?

  46. Yogic and Pilaties crunch excercises are taught with neutral spine. A slight shoulder incline 10 degrees, keeping the thoraicic and lumber spine neutral double S curve and holding the pose 10 seconds with diaphramitic breathing. Rarely 2 set of ten reps are prescribed. The excercises are about control rather than movement.

    If your doing highly reptitive sit ups then that will cause a change and stress load in the neutral spine angle.

    I found a couple of days taking ibuprofen reduced inflamation, bring relief to the lumbar section and enabling the tense muscles, which incidently are responsible for the stiffness and pain, to stop contracting in response. You can then blend in some safe core excersises under this relief.

    Melanie, RYT posted below and she talks a lot of sense.

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