Weight Training : How to Do Sit-Ups on the Bench
Should I do sit-ups?
Most abdominal exercises are recommended based on their ability to work your abdominal muscles. However, this ignores the potential tissue damage that some exercises can cause. In other words, while some exercises may be good for your abs, they also have the potential to be bad for your back.
You may know someone whose back just went while they were in the middle of a simple everyday task picking up a pencil from the floor, lifting a bag from the car, or even just sneezing.
Very few back injuries, however, result from a single event, says Professor Stuart McGill, an expert in spine function and injury prevention at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Instead, most injuries to the lower back are the result of damage accumulated over time. And the event that appeared to cause the injury was no pun intended simply the straw that broke the camels back.
All of which brings me to the sit-up.
Drop the pressure
The sit-up is an effective exercise for anyone who wants to train both the abdominals and hip flexors. However, its also been shown to impose extremely large compression forces on the discs in your spine. That's a problem.
Your spine is made up of vertebrae separated by discs. These discs act a little like shock absorbers, helping to protect the spine from injury. In a laboratory setting, McGill and his colleagues have shown that one of the quickest ways to damage these discs is to load the spine while repeatedly bending it back and forth. Which is remarkably similar to what happens during the sit-up.
The US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has set the action limit for low back compression at 3300 N; repetitive loading above this level is linked with higher injury rates in workers, explains McGill in his book Low Back Disorders. Yet this is imposed on the spine with each repetition of the sit-up.
Doing sit-ups with bent rather than straight legs is often recommended as a way to take the stress off your back. But when the idea was put to the test, researchers found very little difference in lumbar spine compression.
A matter of time
Bend a wire coat hanger back and forth and, eventually, it will snap. You cant predict in advance exactly how many bends it will take before it breaks. But you know its going to happen sooner or later.
Likewise, the discs in your spine can only tolerate so many bending cycles before the accumulated damage manifests itself in the form of pain. Sit-ups may not damage your spine right away. But each set could be moving you one step closer to a crippling back injury that keeps you out of the gym for some time.
There are also better abs exercises to choose from. In fact, certain exercises have been shown, in some studies anyway, to work the abdominal muscles harder than sit-ups.
In one trial, researchers from California State University set out to test the effectiveness of several abdominal exercises, including rollouts, crunches, and sit-ups. Of all the exercises tested, some of the highest abdominal muscle activity was seen in the rollout, which involves no spinal flexion at all.
An exercise is a tool used to generate a specific training effect. Usually the best exercise is the one with the greatest risk-to-benefit ratio. As the old investment cliché goes, its all about maximising the upside while minimising the downside.
Exercises like rollouts, fallouts, the body saw and stir the pot will train the same muscles as the sit-up, but with less risk of tissue damage.
In other words, youre still getting a challenging workout for your abs without increasing the risk of a bad back further down the line.
Video: STOP doing Sit Ups/Crunches
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