Why I never program sit-ups or Crunches: Part 2

In part 1 I covered why I don’t use sit-ups or crunches in my own training programs and why I recommend others remove them from theres too so if you’ve missed that be sure to go check it out. This does beg a rather obvious question though, what to do instead?

As I touched on in the previous post, the role of the abs and core in golf swing is to transfer the power generated by the legs into the upper body, arms, hands all the way down the club and into the golf ball (this is know as the kinetic chain by clever academic types). In order to do this as effectively as possible we must minimise energy loss, incidentally this is why a centre strike goes further than one of the toe or heel – there is less energy leaked, similarly the abs must resist resist the lateral, extension and rotation forces acting during the golf swing. Doing so ensures we remain in neutral posture as we transfer energy up the kinetic chain and leak as little energy as possible. The more efficient this energy transfer the more consistent and faster we swing the club…win win!no_crunch_abs

In my programs abs are train in a way that challenges the body to function as one unit while targeting
anti-extension, anti-rotation and anti-lateral flexion:


Simply put, this any exercise where you are trying to resist extension at the spine. A classic plank or ab wheel are probably the most obvious examples, however one of my favourites currently is the dead-bug. Dead-bugs are a fantastic way to enhance motor control, whilst challenging  the anterior core and encouraging the  limbo-plevic-hip stabilisers to do their job.

The problem – most people suck at performing them! So here are some pointers along with a kick-ass video from the legendary Tony Gentilcore

1. Keep the lower back flush against the floor, which helps encourage more posterior pelvic tilt.

2. Take a massive breath and inhale through the nose to focus more on a 360-degree expansion into my torso. In other words, you’re not just breathing into your stomach, but also trying to expand sideways and INTO the floor as well as into your ribcage, but without allowing it to flare out too much.

3. From there SLOWLY lower contralateral limbs – in controlled manner, as to keep the diaphragm engaged and to make a concerted effort to resist extension – while forcefully exhaling air through the mouth. Do this until ALL your air is out.

Many don’t think of this part, but with all the air exhaled out, there’s now nothing to help stabilise the spine except the muscles themselves. It’s not uncommon for people to literally start shaking as they proceed with their set. This is okay, as long as you maintain proper spinal position, because it demonstrates that the muscles in the surrounding area are now doing their job more efficiently.

The contralateral core lift is another awesome option from the mind of Tony G. Full disclosure I’ve only recently found this exercise and haven’t actually tried it myself yet, but I absolutely love the idea of it. The reason I love it so is not only does it force people to resist extension, but it also dynamic neuromuscular stabilisation and trains the core by developing stability through the contralateral shoulder and hip.

In short, there’s a transference of force between contralateral sides – remember what I said early about the abs role in efficient transfer of force in the golf swing!

1. Place left palm inside the left inner thigh.

2. Tuck the chin and lift head slightly.

3. Push through right elbow and left knee.

4. Hold raised position for 5 seconds. Repeat once more, and then switch sides. That’s one set.

5. Be sure NOT to allow your lower back to go into extension.

Anti-Lateral Flexion

Anti-lateral flexion exercises are those in which we resist lateral-flexion or side-bending, e.g, loaded carries. For my money, you can’t go wrong with carries. There are a lot of benefits to performing carry variations – grip strength, hip stability, building a monstrous upper back, not to mention they just look cool – but resisting lateral flexion is number one.

When done correctly, there aren’t many things that parallel carries. Unfortunately, most trainees go way too heavy and completely defeat the purpose of the exercise. If you’re a competitive strongman or your last name ends with He-Man, I don’t give two shits how you perform your carries. You just need to get the job done no matter how it looks. For golfers seeking better movement efficiency, though, listen up.

The objective is to stay completely upright with absolutely no leaning. This is why I tend to prefer offset or suitcase carries because you really have to fight not falling over. Single arm presses are also great anti-lateral flexion exercises for this reason.


These include any exercises that resist rotation in the lumbar spine. Cable lifts and chops are popular options, although I have always been a huge fan of pallof presses. All of these can be made less challenging by starting from the floor (more stability), or more challenging using half kneeling or standing variations (less stability).

If you train 3 x a week simply add one exercise from one category, Monday anti-extension Wednesday anti-rotation and Friday anti lateral flexion for example. Hey presto you have a well rounded, performance driven workout regime for your abs.

2 thoughts on “Why I never program sit-ups or Crunches: Part 2

  1. Kathryn New

    Great article. I am a golf coach for a college golf team and I always discourage my team from doing crunches/sit ups. I had a professor in school talk about Stuart McGill’s pig spine study and it hasn’t left my mind since.
    On the other hand, if one were to train for body building (not that we are), would sit ups and crunches be a faster way to build a more defined rectus abdominus? I know they are potentially hazardous to the spine, but just for the sake of an argument. Because if that is the case, it would seem that body builders could look strong but actually be very weak. Agreed?

    1. nickbuchan Post author

      Thanks. Indeed, Stuart McGill is the major influence on my opinions on spine and core training. Agree 100%, if I were training a bodybuilder I would explain the associated risks but would still program weighted sit-ups and hanging leg raises as they probably do a better job of targeting the rectus abdominus through a full range of motion under heavy load and achieving the defined six pack necessary in competitive bodybuilding. That said yes the core musculature is responsible for a lot more than spinal flexion in golf (and sport in general) so it is very possible to have a ‘six pack’ but not have the core strength or functionality for optimum performance.


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