You may be reading this and saying to yourself, “This makes absolutely no sense.” How can someone post an exercise of the week and it actually is the removal of a well-known exercise, the abdominal crunch? With all the research that is out there, it unanimously shows in the long-term, abdominal crunches are detrimental to the spine and disks. Stuart McGill has more than enough scientific evidence to show the damage crunches have on the back, but still it is probably the top core exercise in gyms across the country. Even with this evidence we have machines like the resisted abdominal crunch and torso twist at many gyms as well. I know the facility I work at is a victim of this even know the facts are there. I was recently reading on Mike Boyle’s forum and there was a post and several great comments about crunches, and substitute exercises. The point isn’t to not work your abdominals, but to realize we can engage the abdominals and rest of the core with other less dangerous and more beneficial exercises. The point is to stop doing lumbar flexion/extension movements, which can significantly increase your risk of injury. Here is a great video I got from that same forum on strengthcoach.com that shows many exercises that are explained from Stuart McGill’s book, Low Back Disorders. If you are a fitness professional it will be a challenge to promote this ‘no-crunch’ mentality, but after educating clients and other professionals on the facts, the message will get out there. Check out the video below:
I was working with a personal training client recovering from low back issues yesterday and I instructed her on the quadraped hip extension exercise. This is definitely a favorite of mine which is usually done incorrectly. I instructed the exercise and talked about it’s importance and she revealed that she knew the exercise was good, but did not “feel it” like she would with other exercises making her skeptical. I think that is often a problem as we always want to feel what’s working or have some kind of burning sensation to know it’s effective. In situations like this it is critical to educate the client on why you chose the exercise, what muscles does it work, and what to expect.
To properly execute the quadraped hip extenstion, start in the quadraped position (on all fours- knees under hips, and hands under shoulders). Use a mirror for visual feedback so you can view the entire length of the body from head to toe. Find a neutral spine position and draw in the belly button to lock in this position. Once you have achieved this starting point, extend the hip back as far as you can while maintaining a neutral spine. This is where this exercise goes wrong!! The goal isn’t to get the leg as high as possible but just far enough before you lose a straight spine. Also, make sure you are staying centered and don’t lean over the support leg.
The muscles being working during the quadraped hip extension are the spinal extensors including the longissimus, iliocostalis, spinales, and multifidii. Stuart McGill discusses this exercise in detail in his book Low Back Disorders and reveals it causes significantly less lumbar spine compressive forces (<2500N) compared to prone lumbar extension exercises (>6000N), concluding it is safer, especially during low back rehabilitation. Below you will find a video to demonstrate this exercise. Note the use of a broomstick to give feedback on positioning of the spine.