By Mary Ann Wilson, RN
If I were to tell you there was a more efficient way to work the abdominal muscles than sit ups and crunches, would you be surprised? Researcher, Dr. Stuart McGill believes that crunches, the typically prescribed exercise for strengthening the abdominal muscles, is actually harmful to the spine. If you are comfortable getting down on the floor you can click here to learn 4 alternative core exercises recommended by McGill.
For those who aren’t comfortable getting on the floor to work the abdominal muscles with exercises such as side planks, never fear! It’s possible to use vertical exercises to train for spinal stability and strengthen the core. Since the abdominal muscles are designed to function in an upright manner, with all of our muscles working together to perform a specific task, this approach makes sense.
The core includes the lumbar spine, abdominal muscles, back extensors, quadratus lumborum and latissimus dorsi, which pass through the core and link to the pelvis, the legs, shoulders and arms. The function of the abdominal muscles is to transfer forces from the ground up to the legs, trunk and through the upper extremities. The abdominal muscles also provide much needed stability to the spine.
The muscles that make up the abdominals are layered against one another. For that reason, they contract as a unit when doing an upright movement. They control the muscles of the spine, rib cage, and pelvis. When we move in an upright position, such as walking or running, we engage the nervous system, which in turn regulates the forces of the muscles, fascia and connective tissue.
Let’s take a look at one great exercise you can practice regularly to help create spinal stability and strengthen the core.
Wood Chop Exercise
Start from a seated position. Using a 8-10 inch ball, move it from one shoulder down toward the opposite hip and beyond. Repeat 8 times and change sides.
Next, try this exercise from a standing position (but only if you have good enough balance to stand unsupported). Step forward with the left leg. Plant both feet firmly on the floor. Move the ball from your right shoulder down toward the left hip. Allow the right heel to lift during the movement. Repeat 8 times and change sides. By following the ball with the eyes you also work the vestibular system which helps challenge and improve balance.