5 Exercises Better for Your Core (and Spine) than Crunches

Who else has been doing crunches and has low back pain? This was me in high school. I was trying to be healthy and workout. I did this by doing lots of crunches. I also got low back pain. I stopped doing crunches and the pain went away. I started them again and the pain came back. I stopped doing crunches and have been great ever since.  The risk/reward for crunches just isn’t there. The Military is even ditching crunches and moving to the plank for their entry testing.

We do crunched because we want a strong core, but there are far better exercises that will strengthen your core and put you at a lower risk for injury. Your core’s main focus is stability. It’s the pillar that your arms and legs move from. The following exercises are putting your body in a position where the core is required to hold your body (spine) in a neutral position i.e. your body must resist a force pulling it from a neutral position. This force can be gravity or a weight. If you look at the picture you see a plank with a stick on the back. You can tell you are in a neutral position if when a stick is place on your back it’s touching the head, upper back and butt. 

Low Plank 
Set your plank up with your elbows below your shoulders and feet close together. Hands should be clawing into the ground. Think about if someone were to come over and try to pull a finger off the ground they would not be able to. Create some tension by pulling your elbows towards your toes. You will feel your core light up. You can also press your heels together and squeeze your butt. Make sure you stay pressed away from the ground, not falling prey to sinking into your shoulders. Hold this plank for one long breath or thirty seconds. As you exhale think about pulling your belly button towards your spine. 

Dying Bug
Lying on your back reach your hands to the ceiling. As you exhale, reach your opposite arm and leg to opposite walls. Be sure to keep your foot flexed by leading with your heel. Return to the starting position and then switch to the other side. Another thing to think about is keeping the bent leg still and not letting it come in closer to the body. This movement should be performed slow and in control. As you exhale think about pulling your belly button to the ground. 

Bird Dog
This is the opposite of dying bug. Start with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Toes should be tucked under. Exhale as you reach your opposite arm and leg to opposite walls. Stay pressed away from the ground and claw hands into the floor. Be sure to keep the moving toe pointed straight down. We don’t want it turning out to either side. Return to the starting position and switch sides. This should be done slow and controlled.

Farmer’s Carry/March
Stand tall with a weight in each hand. Shoulders should be away from your ears and elbows slightly bent. You can then walk for a designated distance or time maintaining a tall posture as you walk. You can also march in place trying not to shift your weight side to side as you pick up your leg. This should be done slow and controlled. Think about keeping your belt buckle neutral, not pointing towards the ground. You can level this up by only having weight on one side.

Lateral Band Hold
Stand tall facing perpendicular to the band with feet no wider than hip width. Reach your arms forward keeping your shoulders away from your ears. Give long exhales pulling your belly button towards your spine. After about thirty seconds switch to the other side.

As you see from these exercises the best core work comes from keeping your spine neutral and fighting the force that is pulling it from that position. So great news! You can ditch the crunches and do these exercises for a stronger core and lower risk of injury!

Progress Your Push Up

Progress Push UpFor many individuals, being able to do a push up from the floor is a huge accomplishment. However, it is a goal that may require some work outside the gym. Before you begin to work on your push up you need to be able to do a plank in good form. This means if you placed a stick on your back, your head, upper back, and butt would all be touching the stick. Setting up your push up in good form is crucial.  If your set up is not correct, you are starting your push up with a disadvantage. Once you are set up correctly, good form throughout the push up is key. Poor form can lead to pain and/or injury. It is better to do fewer push ups in good form than to continue in poor form. See how to get set up and push up in good form. Nick will also show you different progressions  you can do at home to get to perfect your push up and do them form ground. Enjoy  seeing your core and arm strength improve!