Sit-ups and crunches have been the gold standard in abdominal exercise for the longest time, but all that is changing. Personal trainers and US military experts now believe that sit-ups, and possibly crunches, too, are dangerous to the spine. They put tremendous pressure on the lower back and can cause discs to bulge.
The US Army has already begun to phase out sit-ups for some soldiers, and the Navy and Marines are considering doing the same. They are even considering banning sit-ups altogether, because the risk of injury is so high. This change came on the heels of a study that showed that 56% of injuries reported during military fitness tests were the result of sit-ups. Now, military personnel who are exempt from sit-ups are expected to lift a 44 lb. sand bag instead.
So, if you’re hoping for six-pack abs, or at least to reduce or eliminate the mid-body jiggle, what are you supposed to do? Personal trainers around the country are recommending the plank pose. The plank is an isometric exercise borrowed from traditional yoga. In isometric exercise, a position that works a muscle or group of muscles is held, rather than repeated.
How do you do a plank? Start our on the floor or a yoga mat on your stomach. Lift your weight and rest upon your elbows, not your hands. As in a push-up, your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your heels. Keep your core muscles engaged by tucking your abdomen in tightly. Hold the pose.
How long you should hold it depends on your level of fitness. If you’re just starting out, try holding for 30 seconds (if you can) and gradually increase your time in 30 second intervals. There doesn’t appear to be any benefit to holding the plank pose for more than two minutes (or 120 seconds) at a time, unless you are trying to set a record. Planks have an added bonus of toning your arms, chest and back at the same time.
So, do your body a favor… replace your sit-ups with the plank. And if you somehow manage to hurt your back anyway, give us a call!