Why 30 Ab Day Challenges May Hurt You

Note: Blog Dr. Dunaway Was Interviewed for By The Wall Street Journal

Recently I saw on Facebook a friend joined the “30 day Ab Challenge” which started the 1st of June.  Immediately I cringed at the thought of the thousands of lumbar spines that are heading down the repetitive injury road.  A road that promises a destination of skinny waists and six packs, but dead ends in bulging discs and inflamed facet joints.

So, Let’s assume the goal with this program is to increase the core strength, and it targets those not currently active and needing a jump start.  With this in mind, here is a breakdown of the program.

The Challenge is a combination of 4 exercises; Sit-ups, curl-ups, planks, and leg lifts.  You perform increasing amount of these 4 exercises on a daily basis as you “progress” in strength.  There is a rest day every 4th day.  Let me explain why this is a recipe for chronic injury.

First, forced flexion in any “core exercise” is an attempt to work the rectus abdominus (also known as “abs”), and because this is a single plane exercise (no rotation or lateral bending involved), you are working a very isolated portion of the “core”.  It’s no more a core exercise than curls are a chest exercise (the point here being the pecs do contract when doing a curl, but you wouldn’t consider that a chest exercise!).  So without even getting into the detrimental effects that repetitive flexion and extension can have on a lumbar spine, the first two exercises don’t make sense to have in this challenge.

Instead of Crunches or Sit-ups, Watch THIS VIDEO and perform the progressions of an exercise called "The Dead Bug".

The plank can be a very good exercise and there are many challenging variations all of which challenge scapular, pelvic, and lumbar stability.  However, this is rarely performed correctly.  Most people do not focus on scapular stability and have little to no glut activation, both of which are vitally important components to the core.  Watch these short videos about the proper way to perform different plank variations.  Take the progressions very slow and be mentally present when you preform them, there is more to this exercise than just “being rigid”. Hollow Body Plank Side Plank

Leg lifts can also be a good exercise to perform when done correctly, but they are HARD to perform correctly.  Likely what happens when the mere mortals among us attempt a leg lift, is excess lumbar (or low back) extension courtesy of the psoas or hip flexor muscles.  Repeating this over and over will damage the posterior joints of the lumbar spine, as well as weaken the discs.  In order to know if you are performing the leg lift correctly follow these simple steps.

·       First, lay on your back with slightly rolled towel placed in the small of your back and legs flexed to 90 degrees so the soles of your feet are pointed towards the ceiling.  As you tighten down the gluts and core, you should feel your lumbar spine create pressure into the towel (have someone try to pull the towel out at this point. They shouldn't be able to).

·       Keeping the abdomen and gluts very tight, slowly lower your legs until you feel the pressure start to release off the towel (or your partner can pull the towel out with the same pressure).  This is the point where your core fails and you start to be pulled into the danger zone. 

·       Try This Instead: Starting in the previously described position, lower the legs until your lumbar spine just starts to extend (you start to feel less pressure on your hands).  Hold this position for 3-5 seconds, then bring your feet back up to start position.  Repeat this up to 5-10 times (or for a total of 90 seconds) but not to total failure.  Each rep should take about 5 seconds. 

Again, these comments are in assumption that most people engaging this 30 day ab challenge are doing so with a lower level of fitness.  Jumping into a program like this is recipe for disaster and pain.  If you don’t consider yourself a beginner in your fitness goals, there are better, more advanced exercises to be doing anyway for both performance or aesthetic purposes.  Don’t get sidelined by injury by blindly jumping on fitness bandwagons like this.  If you need guidance, get it from a trusted source!

For more information on Chiropractic treatment, education on Body Maintenance techniques, or coaching for sustainable exercise programs visit www.ChiroStrength.com or call the office 931-321-1414 to schedule your FREE consultation with Dr. Dunaway.