Thursday, July 29, 2010

No more Cap'n Crunch

Gratuitous self-promoting time here on EFL. Have a look at my latest mini-article on Men's Health UK site. But I have to admit it was the MH editor that came up with the Cap'n crunch line. Why are those damn guys always so much better at writing than me...

This article was informed partly from a Dr. Stuart McGill article aimed at personal trainers that I wrote about previously. The subject of core training, while important, is ridiculously hyped (What? Say it ain't so!). McGill often points out that what should seek to achieve in training is "super stiffness" in the core. And while most people haven't a clue what that really means, nor do most care, at least about stiffness there, I'll break it down a little.

Dr. Lenny Parracino, a much smarter person than I could hope to be, said in a talk that the structure of our core serves to not only stabilize the spine, which is crucial for survival, but in order to act as a mechanism to transfer energy between the lower and upper body.

In other words, when you throw a punch or run you are transferring energy between your lower and upper body. If some of that force is lost through it's journey through the core due to lack of tension the your punch will be weaker or you'll run slower.

Or if you are in the gym deadlifting and your core is able to maintain a stiff, stable back then not only will you not be able to lift as much as your legs or upper back might allow, but the lack of stability puts excess stress on other structures such as your lumbar vertebrae, resulting in injury. Same thing for runners or cyclists, although it may take more time for dysfunction to develop.

So without further ado:

  • Don't do crunches, do Swiss ball planks

  • Avoid because... "The rectus abdominis – commonly known as your six pack – does not function primarily to bend the torso, but rather to brace the spine and transfer power from the hips to the upper torso," explains personal trainer Chris Bathke. What's more, he adds, a recent article by one of the foremost researchers on core and back health, Dr Stuart McGill, outlined how our lumbar discs can only take so many repetitions of flexion (such as a crunch) before injury and pain occur. Cap'n Crunch is a breakfast cereal. Not an aspirational nickname.

    Do instead... Swiss ball planks

    Why? They work the core the way nature intended – with little to no strain on your back. And they work it hard.

    Form Assume a plank position with your elbows on a Swiss ball and feet on the ground. Tighten your glutes and brace your core as if about to get punched. Now push your elbows against the Swiss ball while maintaining a stable torso. Three sets of 30 seconds should suffice.

    Progression Take the same position on the ball but this time move your elbows in a circular pattern (likethis chap). Again, make sure there is as little movement in your torso as possible. Do 15 seconds one way then switch directions for two or three sets.

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