The pendulum swings, things come and go and come again and it is said that there is nothing new under the sun. And so it is with exercise. You can find a myriad of folk, books and ideas on why you should do an exercise or not do it or why you should do it this way and not that way or even why it was good for you yesterday but is not good for Athletic-Man-Doing-Sit-Ups-Ab-Crunches-Outdoors.FocusFitness.B&Wyou today.

Sit-ups used to be the abdominal exercise of choice. Then it was crunches. Now it is planks. Mostly I’ve noticed that exercises get a bad rap when they are done incorrectly and injuries are noted. My experience tells me that too fast of anything and too many of anything cause injuries. Sit-ups got a bad name when G.I.s were required to do them with straight legs, in rapid succession and as many as could be done in a certain amount of time. Thus the G.I. backache was born. Others noted that sit-ups were hard on necks. They may be hard on necks if you’ve had a neck injury or if your abs are so weak that you pull on your neck to get you up. In today’s world there is one “expert” who feels that bent-knee sit-ups are dangerous because in the process of curling the back up the disc is squeezed out from between the vertebra resulting in a herniated disc.

I like sit-ups. They serve me well and I’ve been doing them all my life. At 81 I’m still doing them: 40 a day, 20 at a time, to slow music. The roll down part is more important than the sit-up part. When you roll down slowly you are strengthening while lengthening the abdominal muscles. Sit-ups are an example of ISOTONIC exercise, movement with resistance.

Sit ups with weighted feet, drawing by Bonnie PruddenTo do a sit-up properly, sit with your knees bent, feet held down, and your hands behind your head. Sit up with a rounded back and roll down very slowly with a rounded back button-by-button. If you are just starting out and can’t do a sit-up then get up any way you can and roll down slowly. After a week or so you will be able to do one sit-up.

Crunches and Planks
I’ve met lots of people who say they do 100s of crunches a day. What I find is that many of them can’t do one single sit-up. Neither can they reach down and touch the floor. What does that tell you? I’ve also met people who swear by planks and can hold the Athletic-woman-doing-plank-exercise.focusfitness.B&Wposition for minutes. However, they can neither do a single sit-up nor touch the floor. What does that tell you?

On the other hand crunches and planks have never been a part of my routine. Until a few days ago, when I tested myself, I’d never done either a crunch or a plank. I found I can do both crunches and planks easily.

Planks are an example of ISOMETRIC exercise. That is resistance without movement. Another form of ISOMETRIC exercise is the infamous “I must, I must, develop my bust” in which you hold both your hands in front of your chest as if in prayer and push one against the other.

Things to Consider

  • If you are weak to begin with, almost any exercise you attempt may hurt or strain, especially if you have not warmed up properly.
  • If you have a tailbone that sticks out and is uncomfortable when you do sit-ups, take a bath towel, fold it lengthwise into thirds, and then fold the ends over to the middle leaving a space for your tail bone.
  • You need to know that if you cannot do one sit-up as described above you have a 50% chance of having low back pain. If you cannot stand with your feet together and knees straight and bend over and touch the floor, without warm-up, you have a 50% chance of having low back pain. If you can do neither, chances are you have back pain or you will tomorrow.
  • You should also know that some people have herniated discs but no pain while others have pain and no herniated discs.
  • If you do sit-ups and want to increase your strength without spending more time, carry a weight behind your head. Start with one pound. A rock that feels nice in your hands will do. You’ll find that you increase your strength and decrease the number of reps needed.
  • ISOMETRIC exercise builds tension in the muscle. Since you are contracting the muscle without moving, at some point the oxygen supply starts to dwindle. Not a good thing if you happen to be diabetic or have fibromyalgia. Sufficient oxygen is required for normal muscle function. When a muscle is deprived of oxygen, it hurts.
  • The fastest way to get rid of muscle tension is to move. In our stress-ridden society we need to move!

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If you have questions or need help, email me at enid@bonnieprudden.com.

For more information about Bonnie Prudden®, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®, workshops, books, self-help tools, DVDs, educational videos, and blogs, visit www.bonnieprudden.com. Or call 520-529-3979 if you have questions or need help. Enid Whittaker, Managing Director, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®.