The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Good Life Works Better Than Bad Ab Exercise

It is not true that back pain and weakness is normal with aging. It is not true that to stop the cause of back pain you must do special exercises to strengthen one specific muscle or group such as the multifidus or abdominal muscles. It is not true that you need to rest or cut back activity to stop back pain, or use special devices.

Doing specific exercises does not stop the cause of back pain. Consider the number of people who do their back exercises, then bend wrong to put down their exercise equipment and pick up their things, then spend their day sitting, walking, and bending in the injurious body mechanics that created the pain in the first place. Examples and what to do instead are in the posts:
Leg Exercise That Helps Your Back and Prevent Back Surgery.

Last year, Ivy, a Fitness Fixer reader from New Zealand stopped a long disabling bout of sciatica by stopping the cause in her daily life and the exercises she was doing - Inspirational Ivy. Ivy was not sedentary. She faithfully exercised, so was surprised to wind up with sciatica so serious that she lost partial use of her leg. One of the positive changes she made was to stop doing crunches. Ivy wrote:

"I was one of these people who for years did 100 crunches a day thinking that they would strengthen my back and take away the pain. Not so. I have been following your Better Abdominal Muscles advice for a year now, it just being part of my every day life....the bonus being no more back pain."

Problems with crunches:

  • Most people already know that sitting rounded over the desk is unhealthy. Spinal discs are strong and withstand compression, but asymmetrical loading from chronic forward bending degenerates disc in front and bulges them outward, among other problems. The same problems occur with forward bending exercises like crunches, also called curl-ups, partial sit up, and abdominal flexes, among other names.
  • Crunches and other forward bending exercises do not work your abdominal muscles in the way they need to work in real life.
  • If you have tendency to a rounded upper back posture, have tight neck muscles, or already sit, bend, and walk around with your spine bent forward, adding to that with crunches is counterproductive.
  • Ivy did not have thinning bones, but for someone with osteoporosis, forward bending exercises add the possibility of promoting further kyphosis (upper back rounding) and crush fractures.

Ivy wrote me last week:

"Over that eleven-month period that it took to find your web site, I must have opened every web site there was that mentioned the word sciatica, some of which I took aboard and wondered why there was no improvement. I can smile now when I recall how a few days after following your advice, the pain had disappeared and I attended my great granddaughter's first birthday where I sat too terrified to move in case the pain resurrected its ugly head."

Ivy is a great-grandmother, and she is fitter now than when she started. She changed the way she exercised to make it functional instead of a list of arbitrary motions that did not relate to healthy movement in real life.

If you want to make one positive change for your health, stop doing abdominal crunches and use functional abdominal movement instead.

Better Healthier Abdominal Use:

More From Ivy:

  • Click Ivy's next adventure for applying healthy body mechanics in an unexpected day of heavy farm work.


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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.