When Crunches Go Bad


CrunchesAll bodies are different. Some are loose, some are tight. Some are loose in some places and tight in others. There are many variables when it comes to the balance of the muscles in our bodies but we are all out of whack in some way simply because we are handed. Having a dominant side makes us imbalanced from the start. There is no such thing as being truly ambidextrous so there are always going to be issues between the two sides of the body.

One of my many endless refrains is that we are too short in the back and too long in the front. If that is the case the remedy should be pretty simple—do a ton of sit ups; the front of your body will shorten and the back in turn should lengthen. On one hand, I am anti crunches—the sit ups muscle, the rectus abdominus tends to dominate all of the other abdominal muscles to their detriment leaving them weaker than they should be because the sit ups muscles do all the work. On the other hand, I am pro crunches—we are all too long in the rectus abdominus even if they do take over for all of the other abdominals. Crunches or their variations are pretty much the only way to shorten this muscle to where we want it to be.

Yet another of life’s many conundrums.

Here is one reason why crunching away might not go so well. There are many shades of tight. When I do a standing forward bend, called uttansana in yoga, I am looking to stretch everything on the backside of the body including the legs and the trunk. I do this every morning within a few minutes of waking up. Along with a few other choice stretches it really gets my body going.

I feel that when I stretch in this way my lower back stretches along with everything else but I can’t tell you the number of clients I have whose lower back does not stretch at all. They can be in a forward bend feeling the calves, hamstrings, upper back etc, but not the lower back which, for all that I will it with my stare, does not give even a sixteenth of an inch.

Let’s turn that around. In uttanasana we are trying to stretch out the back body so there is no harm done if the lower back doesn’t give much by way of stretch. What happens if I am on my back doing crunches or something like that to shorten the rectus abdominus. Technically when the rectus shortens the muscles of the lower back should lengthen but we have already seen how they don’t go anywhere.

If that is your back you will get what you want from the abdominal work. The front of the body will shorten but the back of the body will not respond in kind. This creates a very congested environment within the trunk and abdominal organs.

If you fall into this category you need to figure out ways to bring length to the lower back first, which is not always the easiest of tasks, before you set about crunching the lower belly.

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5 Comments
  1. hi nice articles you write…well done.. i always hate these generic comments response but if i can ask you a couple of questions please. 1) professor stuart mcgill advocates not to stretch in the morning directly getting out of bed. why do you? and 2) i was under the impression shortening of the rectus was largely responsible for kyphotic back. why do you recommend this? these 2 questions are only from the knowledge i have gleaned just to inform you and am genuinely interested to hear your views

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