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    Crunch the Crunch

    By Cinder Ernst

    This is the third article in a series about strengthening your core. So far, we’ve discussed core anatomy, we’ve discovered that you can’t spot reduce, and that the pelvic tilt is the #1 ab exercise to master. Check the San Francisco Bay Times archives online for more details.

    Today I’m making a case for not crunching. A traditional abdominal crunch is done lying on your back with knees bent and hands behind your head, and then curling your upper back up off the surface. It’s like the beginning of a sit up. The crunching motion does work your abdominal muscles, but crunches also contribute to poor posture.

    Here’s what I mean. You know how we do a lot of activities in life that have our shoulders round forward, such as reading, computing and driving? Those activities create posture positions that lead to neck, upper back and shoulder pain. That forward (slumping) posture can also create a hump in your back. (Coming soon: The Posture Perfect, Anti-Hump Training Series). When you think about the motion of a crunch, can you see that it contributes to that shoulders forward position? Crunches can also exacerbate neck pain.

    Crunches basically train your body into poor posture. Isn’t it nice to know you can let go of thinking you should be doing them? The other downside to crunches is that to do them properly, you really need to be lying on your back on a hard surface. I know lots of people, who for lots of reasons, don’t want to lie down on the floor and many who actually can’t lie down on the floor. What to do instead?

    The pelvic tilt is the starting point for ab training that supports good posture and creates core strength so you can be more mobile and have more fun. Check the archives for directions, or search YouTube for pelvic tilt or Tush Tilt. The pelvic tilt is kind of like a crunch from the bottom of your abdominal wall. The good news is that when you crunch from the bottom, that motion can relieve lower back stiffness while you strengthen your core. Win, win win!

    Beginners, start with a basic pelvic tilt on the floor or bed or look up Tush Tilt on YouTube for a chair version.

    More advanced exercisers can increase the challenge of the pelvic tilt in these ways:

    Table Top Tilt: Assume the position, then raise your bent legs into a table top position. You want right angles from hip to knee and from knee to foot, so your knees will be directly over your hips, adding the weight of your legs as resistance to the pelvic tilt. Keep the move small and controlled. If the table top position is too hard, bring your knees closer to your chest and/or bend your knees. Bending your knees shortens the lever and decreases the difficulty.

    Dead Bug: Assume the Table Top Tilt position. Do a pelvic tilt and hold it. Before you add in the Dead Bug legs, practice holding the pelvic tilt in this position while you breathe regularly. Breathing while you perform a sustained pelvic tilt is a great skill. When you are comfortable holding Table Top with a sustained tilt, then add in Dead Bug legs by slowly straightening one leg forward while you keep a strong pelvic tilt (meaning your spine stays “glued” to the floor or surface while you straighten). Only go as far as you can while keeping your back down. You may have to work up to straightening your leg all the way. Start by doing one leg at a time. A more advanced version is to move your legs in opposing directions—one going out as the other is coming back to table top. This is where the Dead Bug name comes from.

    Build slowly from where you are, in terms of physical fitness. Pay attention to how the exercises feel for you. No particular set of exercises is right for everybody. Find what’s right for you.

    Cinder Ernst, Medical Exercise Specialist and Life Coach Extraordinaire, helps reluctant exercisers get moving with safe, effective and fun programs. Find out more at http://cinderernst.com