If you’re like most people interested in building a better, healthier body, it’s likely you’ve heard that crunches and sit-ups are the perfect way to get that tight core.
Perhaps you’ve already done your share of these exercises, thinking they were your ticket to your best back and abdominal strength.
The reality is that for decades, sit-ups, then crunches were status quo for any strength workout. What science didn’t know - and you may not have realized, either - is that not only aren’t crunches the best thing to do, they have the potential to harm your back and neck. And they may actually bulk you out rather than flatten your waistline and get rid of flab (more on that in a moment).
Today we discuss why crunches may be failing you - and a better way to build core strength, now and for life.
####<p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">What’s So Important about the Core, Anyway?</p>
“But I already know the core is important.” Sure thing - and we know you know! You’ve heard it so many times before. It’s the mantra for virtually any fitness workout, from HIIT (high intensity interval training) to Zumba to CrossFit to yoga to cardio kickboxing: “Focus on that core!”
But did you know your core affects more than just your center? Actually, the core - which includes your lower chest, waist, back and upper hips - supports a <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-real-world-benefits-of-strengthening-your-core">**nearly every move you do**</a>.
According to Harvard Medical School physicians (and our own combined decades of experience), the core area is needed for:
* Holding you upright, even if you’re sitting
* Keeping you steady while standing
* Lifting anything at all (including light objects)
* Nearly any sport activity
* Maintaining good posture to prevent back strain
* Avoiding compressed discs in the spine
* Sexual activity
* Balance and stability
* Reaching overhead or bending down
The core is so critically important that if it’s underdeveloped, you may experience back pain, headaches, muscle spasms, and perhaps even weakness in your arms and legs (that’s more common than you think).
It all boils down to core strength being key to feeling good in every part of your body, every day.
####<p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Are You Toning Your Tummy the Right Way?</p>
First, why are we giving you a new core exercise? After all, nearly everyone has heard of situps and crunches. You may even already be doing these, and wondering why you’re not getting results.
The fact is that crunches aren’t the best core toner for most people, particularly when first starting out on a strength-gaining program. In fact, it’s fairly easy to do sit-ups or crunches incorrectly. And if you have any physical considerations at all, such as <a href="https://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/abdominal-separation-diastasis-recti#1">**diastasis recti**</a> (separation of the abdominal muscles following pregnancy), sciatica, arthritis, muscle spasms or a herniated disc, you could do real harm attempting “traditional” crunches and sit-ups.
Another issue is that for some people - particularly men - crunches may actually make your waist appear larger, especially out in front. This gives an odd illusion of a “pooch” in the tummy although the individual is actually quite fit.
The reason for this phenomenon is that crunches and sit-ups work the rectus abdominus muscles more so than other muscle groups. These muscles run down the front center of your abdomen and are what give you that “six-pack” look. Unfortunately, the obliques - the muscles that come in from either side - are not worked nearly as much when you do a sit-up or crunch. This imbalance can cause a bulging look in the front.
Luckily, there is an easy, safe way to work your core, without strain to your back or neck (and best yet, with no gym fees! Let’s get going on that perfect core exercise.
####<p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">The RIGHT Core Exercise</p>
Ready to hear all about the best exercise to get you that fit, tight, strong core? It’s easier than you think, can be done almost anywhere, and is appropriate for nearly anyone. (NOTE: If you have physical limitations, a chronic medical condition, or have a herniated disc or other spine issue, ask your doctor before attempting this or any exercise. More info is below.)
All you need is your average set of human core muscles, and a chair.
That’s right - this amazing, easy exercise can be done nearly anywhere, while sitting. Pretty much anyone can do it, even those with some physical limitations (more on this in a moment).
This core exercise is done while simply sitting in a chair, and you’re going to love the results!
####<p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">How it Works and Getting Started</p>
This exercise works by challenging your obliques as well as your rectus abdominus muscles. You’ll be achieving this by using a motion that moves across the body, instead of straight forward, as with a sit-up. The name for this highly effective motion is the contralateral (literally, “across the body”) pattern.
Your rectus abdominus firms the belly and gives a flat look, assuming a normal BMI and healthy amount of fat over the muscles. Meanwhile, your obliques “pull” you inward from the sides, almost like your own permanent internal girdle. The result is a strong, balanced, sexy look, and better abdominal and back strength than ever before.
Let’s get started – grab that chair!
####<p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">How to Perform the Chair Core Exercise</p>
What you’ll be doing during this exercise is activating deep core muscles, not just the external muscles. You’ll be combining two large muscle groups as well as a series of minor ones in order to strengthen and pull in your entire core, including the front, back and sides of your trunk and abdomen.
As we’ve stated, this move uses a contralateral movement. If you’re wondering exactly how that feels, take a slow stroll across your living room. Yes, right now! Your arms will naturally gently swing. So will your hips.
What you’ll notice is that you’re actually twisting just slightly with every step, alternating the swing inward from one side to the other. That’s a natural movement (as opposed to the straight-forward movement of sit-ups), and one that we’ll be exaggerating and holding here.
Fascinating, huh? We love geeking out on fitness and we’re sure you love it, too...but you’re also probably anxious to get start on the move, so let’s go.
Grab a sturdy chair. DON’T attempt this or any seated exercise unsupported (for example, in a soft La-Z-Boy, not that we don’t totally love those). You can also choose a stool, but make sure it’s not a rolling stool.
* Start this move sitting up straight; posture is important. Try not to “curve” your upper back during this exercise.
* Take your right elbow and press it across your body to your opposite (left) knee.
* Squeeze the elbow as close to the knee as you can. If you can comfortably do so, touch the elbow to the knee. If you’re not flexible enough, see the Modification below.
* Make a fist and hold it. Squeeze tightly. You’ll feel your core contract as you do this
* Hold the pose for 10 seconds.
* Now relax.
* After a brief pause, repeat the move, for a total of 8-10 times depending upon your fitness level.
**REMEMBER: Do the other side too! Repeat steps 1-8 above**
<br>Important: **NEVER STRAIN**. If you can’t put your elbow to your knee because you’re not at that degree of flexibility yet, here’s a modification that will be just as effective:
* Put your hand on top of your knee (instead of putting your elbow on your knee).
* Press down with the hand that’s placed on your knee.
* Lift up the knee.
* Squeeze! Hold for 8-10 seconds.
* Now relax.
If you’re working your way up due to a flexibility issue, a recent injury or other considerations, try for 5 repetitions on each side at first. After a week, move up to 8 repetitions and after that, as is comfortable, attempt 10 reps.
####<p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Medical Considerations</p>
Okay, you knew this was coming: your warnings list. Remember: we always take your safety seriously. And as we are not medical professionals, we can’t advise you, sight unseen, over the internet, to go ahead with any move. So here’s what to keep in mind:
Do not attempt this or any core move if you’re pregnant except with your doctor’s permission.
If you have brittle bones/low bone density, ask your doctor about performing this exercise.
The core exercise from a chair can be a great substitute for standing or prone core moves if you’ve recently sustained an injury. Ask your physiotherapist whether to incorporate this move and be sure to run through it with him or her to make sure you’re doing it correctly.
NEVER strain to the point of pain. Ever! We mean that. This is critical in order to avoid injury, which could keep you from working out for weeks or months and may have a serious impact on your future mobility.
####<p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">How Often Should You Do This Exercise?</p>
If you’re using this move exclusively (in other words, if you’re just starting out and have no other workouts planned for now), you can safely perform this core exercise daily. Some people work up to twice a day. However, we recommend that you stick with once, and as you get stronger, add on other moves, which we’ll discuss in later articles.
You may experience a small degree of soreness, due to a release of lactic acid, the day after your first session or two. This phenomenon is known as <a href="https://www.onhealth.com/content/1/muscle_soreness">**DOMS**</a> (delayed onset muscle soreness), and it’s completely natural. Over time, the soreness should disappear. You will then only experience soreness as you continue with workouts that challenge new muscles, or challenge these muscles in a more significant way.
That’s it! Simple, right? But we’re just getting started: just wait to see what healthy, strength-building goodies we have in store for you in the future!