This is an article I have been meaning to write for a while after a twitter conversation regarding Gary Player’s fitness philosophies and in particular the emphasis he places on the importance of a strong core and the use of 1000’s of sit-ups and crunches to achieve this.
I love the emphasis on fitness Gary has brought to the game, and his general philosophy of lifting heavy, getting flexible, using plenty of bodyweight movements, etc but I am NOT a fan of crunches and sit-ups at all, let alone for high reps, and today I will delve deeper (well deeper than I can in 140 characters on twitter anyway) into the reasons why I never feature crunches and sit-ups in my programs, and why if you have them in yours you should take them out sooner rather than later.
Reason #1: Crunches only work the rectus abdominus muscles, not the deeper lying core musculature.
The rectus abdominus are the six pack muscles, responsible for flexion of the spin and making you look good when you take your top off. However in the golf swing the core must resist the lateral, extension and rotation forces acting during the golf swing in order to maintain neutral spine, it is the deeper lying core muscles that are responsible for this
Additionally, in the golf swing the body must work as a single unit in order to produce an effective outcome. It is therefore ALWAYS in our best interest to challenge our abdominal muscles with larger, compound movements, minimizing our time with isolation exercises, resulting in the desired outcome…a more powerful body, working as one unit to produce a more powerful, fluid and effective swing.
Reason #2: Nerve damage and disk herniation are potential problems
The crunch movement place ‘devastating load’ on the discs of the back. A spinal disc is essentially a ring around the outside, a middle, the nucleus, which is filled with a mucus-like liquid. Do a sit-up and the spine’s compression will squeeze the nucleus. The nucleus can work its way out of the disc, hit a nerve root and cause that oh-so-familiar back pain.
Reason #3: They put unnecessary wear and tear on the neck and spine
Crunches repeatedly flex and extend the spine, which is comprised of a series of interconnected discs. Much like any piece of complicated machinery, the spinal discs are subject to wear and tear. Dr Stuart McGill, the world renowned spinal health expert, puts it pretty brutally when he says “There are only so many bends in your spine until the discs eventually herniate.”
Subjecting the spinal discs to the excessive wear and tear of crunches can reduce the ‘shelf life’ of spinal discs and result in nerve damage, a disc bulge or disc herniation, all of which are difficult to treat. When we couple this with shearing and bending forces in activities such as golf swings, patterns of injury will usually emerge pretty quickly.
Ultimately, why waste the bends your spine has on a movement like sit-ups?
Todd Durkin also raised another point when he stated “If the desk position is so hard on the lower back and could cause aches and pains, then why would you lie on the ground and repeatedly crank your spine over and over again into the desk position”
The majority of us sit in the “crunched” forward position all day long. Driving to work. Sitting at our desks. Meetings, Meals and Watching TV on the couch. It’s nuts how much we sit. Better to not add to it at the gym by mimicking the exact same position you’ve just spent hours upon hours in when training abs surely. Instead utilise the ‘ab’ exercises I will be writing about in part 2 of this post on Monday – make sure to check it out!