Looking at Back Pain: How Crunches hurt your Back

Looking at Back Pain: How Crunches hurt your Back

Hot take: Not all Exercises are “Good” for You

Have you ever stopped to think that while there’s organizations and board of experts like the FDA to regulate America’s food and drug industries, there isn’t an organization dedicated to regulating the quality of exercise and fitness programs?

Now, don’t get me wrong; exercise, fitness and movement are great for the body. But not all movement is created equal, and not all exercises are holistically good for our bodies.

Let’s go back to the food industry metaphor. Most of us know that not all food is good for us. There are some foods that are healthy and some that aren’t. We need to start thinking the same way about some of our fitness programs and types of exercises.

I’ll give you an example of an exercise that is one of the most common offenders: the widespread and overly used crunch. I know what you’re thinking – “Doing lots of crunches will strengthen my core, which is a good thing, right?”.

No doubt, strengthening your core is super important. But how we do it matters. Let’s compare the ever-popular crunch with a posture faux pau that we’re all guilty of: slouching at our desk.

Why Crunches are Bad for your Back

Everyone knows that the slouching all day in front of your computer is bad for your back. Your low back aches unceasingly, your hips get tight, your neck is store and you get headaches all the time.  

Here is a short and not at all extensive list of other more damaging influences of slouching.

  • Mechanically loads the diaphragm and adrenal glands causing a sympathetic body response which is why anxiety and low energy often mark our days
  • Sympathetic stimulation shuts down brain cognitive function lowering our task efficiency
  • Slouching tightens and restricts diaphragm and compresses the Vegas nerve responsible for all our organ motility (movement) impacting digestions, hunger signals, nutrient extraction and system metabolism
  • Sitting all day squishes (this is the scientific term; we checked) our lungs and impinges oxygenation to our cells increasing oxidative stress.

Everything I just said sounds bad, but now consider that many of us spend 90% of our waking hours holding this type of posture.

So, look again at the pictures and see how the sitting postures is exactly the same shape our body has to hold while doing a bunch of crunches to train our core and have nice abs. Although the positions vary in relationship to gravity, your body is still having to hold that harmful shape.

In general, while the overall posture is unhealthy for your back, holding this shape in a crunch is even worse than just slouching at your desk. While slouching in front of your computer is a fairly passive effort, doing a crunch is an active effort. You are aggressively pushing your back into that shape, and driving pressure through your muscles and joints.

I don’t want to discourage you from strengthening your core, but it’s important to choose exercises that don’t exacerbate damage that’s already being done to your back. More often than not, your back, neck, shoulder and knee pain can be resolved from good posture and alignment throughout the body – doing 1,000 crunches a week is not the solution to back pain.

Strengthen your Core the GST Way

Begin to evaluate your workouts for bad ingredients. This usually comes in the form of the mechanics (the way your body machine moves).

Just like there’s a healthy and unhealthy way to eat, there’s a healthy and unhealthy way to strengthen your core. Our advice at GST Body?

  • Stop scrunching your back on the floor to do crunches
  • Quit compromising your posture to get in a “good” ab workout

Instead, we suggest you incorporate movement into your ab workout, and find core work that takes your spine and rotates it, bends it, and moves it dynamically.

Here are a few movements we like to do that strengthen our core without leaving our backs and bodies racked with pain.

Have more questions or want to talk to an expert? Contact our team today!



Stay healthy and happy, friends!

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