Ab exercises and lower back health?

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    Ab exercises and lower back health?

    So there are some exercises said to be just bad for your lower back. One of these is full sit-up, which put a lot of pressure on the spine. Another one is sitting twists. It's said that twisting your spine while flexing it is really bad for the spine and the disc. If so, then it will not be just sitting twists but also moves like knee-to-elbow crunches.

    I got the info from this channel. These are not really news, and I think we can all agree on the sit-up part. This sitting twist one makes sense to me, too, and I also see it else where (just on the net). What do you think? TheRaven Damer It's not uncommon to see sit-ups, sitting twists, etc., being included in Darebee workouts. Should I avoid them or are there right ways of doing them without screwing up my spine?


    kandy great question. Yes, current research suggests that classic sit ups don't work the abs as much as, let's say the basic plank or the side plank and they do put some force on the spine. For people who do a lot of them that would really be an issue. We are aware of this. We continue to use them for very specific reasons. The human body responds to the physical demands made on it and it changes to meet them. This is known as the SAID principle, where SAID stands for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands.

    When we include sit ups in a workout we make sure that it is not a massive amount and we are not just targeting the frontal abs (also known as erectus abdominis) but also the hip flexors. One of the reasons sit ups are getting a bad rep is because they don't exclusively target the abs and in order to see the same results that you'd see from a plank (for example) you need to do so many that you do run the risk of damaging the spine. Most of the exercises we use in Darebee workouts do more than one job. In addition we don't anchor the feet, this reduces some of the load on the spine as it allows the free movement of the legs. The same principle applies to knee-to-elbow crunches. We want Bees to not just have great abs and a strong core but also be able to be agile with it, hence the specific movements involved.

    If you don't have a problem with your back there is no real reason to avoid doing sit ups or knee-to-elbow crunched. As always you want to be reasonable, warmed up and listen to your body. A repetitive movement of anything would create damage regardless if it is done to a really large number without proper warm up or a gradual building up of numbers. I hope this helps.


      Damer Thank you. But how about some of the challenges that makes you do hundreds of sit ups in a day? Like the Ab Advanced challenge, which makes you do 600 sit ups and 600 sitting twists on day 30.

      If that movement damage your spine, it will still damage it no matter what, right? I mean it's different from training something trainable like building muscles.


        kandy no. It is not unfortunately as easy as the correlation you mention suggests.

        There is no easy way to explain this without going into some length here so I apologize in advance for my elaborate, technical response to what is a seemingly simple question. Basically all forms of exercise are a means of imposing mechanical damage to the muscles. This damage causes an adaptive repair response part of which is inflammation. We know from extensive studies that in order for adaptations to kick in and strength to increase in muscle fiber the specific exercise (whatever it is) needs to recruit fast twitch fibers.

        The amount of muscle damage that a muscle experiences after a workout is the main determinant of the frequency we can use for training it. The susceptibility of a muscle to muscle damage after a workout is affected by: (1) prevailing fiber type, (2) the level of voluntary activation that can be attained, and (3) the working sarcomere lengths of the muscle fibers. This is because muscle damage is mainly a biochemical effect, and more oxidative (slow twitch) muscle fibers are far less easily damaged than less oxidative (fast twitch) muscle fibers. Thus, the ability to activate and train fast twitch fibers is the main determinant of whether a muscle experiences damage. Some of the elements that determine whether muscle damage occurs, of what type and how effective it will be for strength are (in no particular order): Pennation angle, muscle fiber type, ability to transform force laterally, myofilament packing and density, voluntary activation response, antagonist activation, synergist or stabilizer activation, coordination, tendon stiffness, muscle cross-sectional area size, muscle fascicle length. This is without even getting into the load that the muscles experience during a particular exercise, a load that can be created through either external loading (i.e. pile on weights and force the body to move with them; hence "resistance training") or internal (by using volume to tire out muscle fibers used in ordinary, daily movement and recruit the ones that are not so we can 'damage' them and trigger the adaptive response that leads to muscle fiber strength improvements.

        To make matters even more complex consider that while we have a body of scientific evidence that suggests that inhibiting the inflammatory response adversely affects strength we also have evidence that the inflammatory response itself is not always welcome and should be controlled. The reason I mention all this is that there is no shortcut and there is no 'safe' form of exercise that will also deliver the benefits we want. The factors are so many that the moment we drill down each individual is a complex universe that needs to be treated as such. This is why we stress how important it is to listen to your body and basically take full responsibility of the project called "You". Part of that responsibility lies in building up strength in an incremental, sustainable way.

        This brings me directly to your question. Would 600 sit ups and 600 sitting twists be harmful to the spine? If a beginner were to attempt them with bad form, poor core strength, insufficient lateral abs strength potentially yes, they can damage themselves, but that is also true of someone way fitter who attempts to do it too quickly without proper warm up. In both cases (the beginner especially) the expectation is that they will actually feel where pressure is being placed on their body as they exercise and will be unable to continue to the point that they do lasting damage to themselves (which is why bodyweight exercises are, on the whole, way safer than anything that has to do with weights).

        The reason a beginner (or someone who is more advanced but hasn't warmed up properly) can injure themselves comes down to how the body disperses the mechanical load imposed on the muscles. The skeletal muscles are the primary point of transfer of mechanical load. The skeleton provides the anchor points for them. From a mechanical vector force point of view that works the same whether we look at the body in a single, isolated action (like a bicep curl) or a more complex one that recruits several different joints and a lot of different muscle groups (like sit ups). When the muscles tire or the load gets too much for them they sustain damage (a good thing), become de-strengthened (temporarily) and a higher load is then experienced elsewhere in the system. In your question that higher load will be the spine. In a normal setting no lasting damage will be done to it. My beginner scenario however as well as my advanced fitness practitioner who hasn't warmed up properly scenario present the same fundamental case: both are hyperloading their muscles and not listening to their body which means they are attempting to 'power through'. In that scenario the possibility of injury goes up for both, equally. My "really large number" comment refers to this as well.

        We've discussed in the past, internally, utilizing exercises that would safeguard people in both of these scenarios. Unfortunately there are studies on injury caused by so many different forms of exercise (even walking seems to cause injuries) that the only 100% safe alternative is to do nothing which is not a viable alternative at all.

        Athletes (who have real pressures on their performance and a time window for achieving maximal strength, speed or endurance) have no choice. They take the risk on the principle that "if you want an omelette you have to break some eggs". We don't want to employ that mentality necessarily. At the same time we do want to become the best versions of ourselves possible. This means testing to see where the limits are and pushing against them in a more restrained way. It also requires us to adopt a balanced approach. A weak lower back (because we have done no exercises to help develop the muscles that support it) will always feel more load than a strong one. This is another reason why we use so many exercises (like twisting abs or punching, to name just two) that recruit so many different types of muscles in their execution.

        So the safest way forward, always, is incremental, consistent gains (and Challenges like the Ab Challenge you mention here provides just that for advanced users) with the aim to feel that the body we live in is something we own and control 100%.

        I hope this has answered your question (apologies about the length). Please let me know if there is something I haven't adequately covered or if there is something related to this that crops up. Also, thank you for providing the opportunity to cover this. It is a valid question to which there is no easy answer and being able to discuss it is a good way of learning what we can do and what we should do and why.


          Originally posted by Damer View Post

          This brings me directly to your question. Would 600 sit ups and 600 sitting twists be harmful to the spine? If a beginner were to attempt them with bad form, poor core strength, insufficient lateral abs strength potentially yes, they can damage themselves, but that is also true of someone way fitter who attempts to do it too quickly without proper warm up.
          This also depends on the person. I consider myself quite fit overall, but my ab strength is rubbish, as is my lower back strength. I've had to learn how far I can actually push myself, and when to stop. With any exercise, that's usually when my form starts to suffer.

          IMO its better to do 15 situps with perfect form, that 30 sit ups with improper form. The latter is less effective and makes injury more likely.


            Nevetharine the hardest thing to achieve is that listening to your body and learning how to correctly manage its limits. You're onto an awesome path with such skill.


              Originally posted by Damer View Post
              Nevetharine the hardest thing to achieve is that listening to your body and learning how to correctly manage its limits. You're onto an awesome path with such skill.
              I still stumble a lot I've trained to the point of nausea twice this week. But its getting better.


                I believe that regardless of the exercise the difference is made by the numbers and the frequency but above all by the self-awareness of how one feels.
                As good as an exercise can be if I can't do it well and it disturbs me as much as I can pay attention to it or improve its shape I will NOT make it a basic exercise for my training, I can do it once in a while and even for longer than row but not on a daily basis for months or even years.
                I did sit-ups for a month on alternate days, at the end of the training reaching 120 in a row without problems but this is true for me