Most of us are familiar with “crunches”. Most of us are probably also misinformed on the true benefit of crunches, and how they can add to any healthy exercise routine. It would be hard to miss the infomercials where the man and woman with shredded six-pack abs tell you if you buy their product, in a matter of a few hours, you will have abs like Hercules. Hopefully most of you have figured out that is not true.
The most notorious rumor about crunches-performing tons of them will get rid of abdominal fat. As most rumors go-this one is also incorrect. Remember that fat accumulates on our body as stored units of energy. This occurs when we consume more than our bodies can make use of, so we convert the excess into stored energy.
There is a very simple equation for us all to remember: Energy in versus energy out. If you burn more calories than you consume you will burn fat and lose weight. Are the mechanisms underlying the specific means of this equation complicated and variable? Yes, very complicated, but for all intents and purposes, the energy balance equation is valuable to remember. Which brings us back to our crunch. Movement requires energy, and in general helps to activate the utilization of stored fat as an energy source. But- shredded six pack abs like those of the fitness models on infomercials are not gained from doing crunch after crunch, or swinging your legs back and forth on an ab lounger, or hanging upside down for 4 hours a day. Genetics, diet, and exercise are all apart of the “Herculian Ab Equation”.
Strengthening the “core” musculature is absolutely necessary for stabilizing the spine and postural support. Studies have found a comprehensive exercise program including a solid dynamic core incorporated program alleviates, in some cases eradicates, non-specific low back pain. In addition to this there is an extremely valuable benefit to flexion of the spine that most of us wouldn’t even consider.
Ever notice as grandma and grandpa age they seem to shrink? The obvious reason is because we are growing, but outside of that-they really are shrinking! Throughout the aging process our disks begin to weaken and dehydrate, losing that much needed cushion between our vertebrae. Studies have shown disk degeneration may largely be contributed to age related decreases in disk nutrient status. This is where we introduce- the crunch! Spinal flexion enhances nutrient intake and reduces our inflammatory response that in many cases breaks down our disks over time. A program appropriate for your unique situation factoring in variables such as age, strength, spinal health, nutritional status and overall health; can offer benefits including increased flexibility, muscles strength, connective tissue strength, disk nutrient flow and absorption, neuromuscular coordination, and motor learning. Thus creating a protective long-term positive effect on spinal health. Be sure to always consult a professional before starting a program. Happy crunching!
Beth Harris, CSCS
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