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It would appear from the fitness magazines and television infomercials that sit ups and crunches are the way to a six pack. Not only is this untrue, but it could also be ruining your lower back.

You want abs, what do you do?

Chances are your ab routine revolves around sit ups and crunches, a few leg lifts or hanging knee raises, maybe some Russian twists and a quick round of all the ab machines at the gym.

How’s that working for you?

I’m guessing not that great.

First up, not only are six pack abs made in the kitchen, rather than the gym, but these exercises are inefficient, and above all, potentially dangerous.

Ab training isn’t useless – it may be overrated when it comes to building your six pack, but stronger abs, and a stronger mid section in general can help increase reduce lower-back pain, improve your posture, boost your sports performance and help build strength on the “big” exercises like squats, deadlifts and overhead presses.

However, the way most people train their abs – with these spinal flexion movements such as sit ups and crunches, is just about the worst way to train your core.

The Trouble With Flexion and Rotation

Spinal flexion and rotation aren’t necessarily always bad, if you perform the movements correctly and have a healthy spine. The trouble is, most of us don’t have great spinal health. Due to the vast amounts of time we tend to spend day to day sitting down at desks, in front of screens, in the car and at home, our spines aren’t in particularly good shape.

Add to that the fact that most folks have poor posture and exercise with bad technique, and stressing your spine is the last thing you want to do.

Whenever you round your lower back, such as in a full sit up motion, your spine curls around. Again, there’s nothing awful about this, provided you have a healthy spine. However, as most peoples’ spines either have about as much flexibility as a wooden board, or would rival a jellyfish in terms of stability, bending it in this manner isn’t a great idea.

This spinal flexion places a high degree of stress on your intervertebral discs and over time, repeated spinal flexion can lead to disc bulges and herniations. If you’ve had spinal issues in the past, or are suffering from a disc related injury, sit ups and crunches are a definite no no.

The same goes for rotational movements too. Russian twists are probably the rotation movement you’re most familiar with, where you sit on the floor holding a medicine ball or weight plate, lean back and twist from one side to the other. While slightly safer than flexion movements, rotation still isn’t an action your spine particularly likes, especially if you try to force the movement by twisting as far as you can, or even worse, add flexion into the equation too by rounding your lower back.

So it seems that your go to ab exercises are not only failing to deliver your six pack, they’re wrecking your lower back at the same time.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • "The Truth About a Healthy Spine – Part II"
  • By Dr. Michael Stare
  • Published on May 3, 2013
  • Accessed on May 9th, 2013
  • Retrieved from
  • Photo by