What do you mean ‘ditch the crunches and sit-ups’? How am I supposed to get a flat, strong stomach without them?
The truth is that you do not need to be doing crunches or sit-ups to get a strong stomach. In fact, doing these exercises won’t make it happen at all. There is a lot of advice floating around out there, suggesting you should be doing these fruitless activities, but why?
Many people assume that because these exercises work the abdominal muscles, they are burning the fat around your stomach.
Let me tell you why you shouldn’t be doing them
1. Fat around the stomach does not disappear by doing sit-ups or crunches. If you want your abs to show, you must first lose the fat around your belly area with a combination of diet and aerobic exercise.
2. Our abdominal muscles were built to move in many ways – bend, extend, twist and so on. These movements activate multiple muscle groups. If you continue to crunch, you are possibly setting yourself up for a fruitless exercise in lower back pain or muscle injury.
3. Our abdominal muscles brace the body and act as the bridge between the legs and upper body. Crunches and sit-ups do not replicate these within the scope of the exercise movement.
4. Sit-ups and crunches can lead to disc bulge or herniation. These are 2 of the most common lower back injuries.
5. Sit-ups and crunches focus on surface muscles instead of deep core muscles. The external muscles are just the cover, and do not provide any strength or improvement to posture.
6. Finally, if you have abdominal separation, otherwise known as diastasis recti, doing crunches or sit-ups will only make it worse. This condition is very common for women who have had children.
What can you do instead?
Let’s start with if you are suffering diastasis recti.
- Activate deep abdominal muscles while laying on your side. Place your fingers so that you can feel the abdominal wall inside your pelvic bone and then activate your lower abdominal wall by gently drawing in the area beneath your navel. Activate this for up to 10 seconds, while keeping your breathing normal, then relax.
- Activate the same deep muscles while laying on your back, similar to the above. A very important point here is to be comfortable, keep your feet flat and knees bent. Once again, place your fingers on the lower ab wall inside the pelvic bone, and activate deep abdominal muscles.
- Bent Knee Fall Outs. Similar to exercise 2 – start by laying on your back, with your knees bent, feet flat on the ground. Activate the lower ab muscles as above. Then slowly let your right leg fall out to the side, while keeping the left knee bent and pointing upwards to ceiling. It is important to keep the pelvis stable in this exercise so that there is no rotation in your torso. Return the right leg back to start as soon as you feel the trunk move. Relax your ab muscles, then repeat another 2 or 3 times for each side.
- Heel Slides. As per the above exercise, start on your back and keep your knees bent. Make sure you locate your lower ab muscles, and activate them. Extend your right leg, and keep extending until you start to feel your lower back arch. Once this happens, slowly bring your leg back to starting position. Relax the muscles then repeat 2 or 3 times per side.
If you have diastasis recti, any intense exercises have to be avoided, until your separation is rectified. The time frame for this can vary according to how big the separation is.
What if you don’t have DR, but just want to work your core without RSI or anything that can damage your spine?
These exercises will help;
- Side Plank
- Chin-up Isometric hold
- Good Mornings
- Half Kneeling Band Anti-rotation hold
- Front Barbell Squat
You might be questioning why I’ve recommended these, because half of them are not ab exercises.
That’s true, but they are designed to activate and build up your core, which is much more important, they will improve your posture which will relieve any stress on your back and can make you look thinner.
So, then, how do you get a strong, flat stomach? You should be mixing good nutrition with a good exercise program. The above exercises will also help you perform more aerobic exercise for longer without experiencing fatigue.
It is advisable to get enough sleep, which can be hard with a baby or young children, so try to take naps together. Getting just 20-40 minutes of sleep will improve your ability to focus and give you some more energy. It’s also necessary that you drink 2.5 litres of water a day, this can be hard, so it might be advisable to fill bottles and keep them in the fridge, or buy some bottles from the supermarket if you can.
Remember, your core is more than just the outer muscles, and crunches/sit-ups are not going to help reduce body fat.
What are your nutrition tips for busy mums? Share below.
Image source Shutterstock.