Almost every person who starts an exercise program to change their body shape wants a “toned” stomach area. Unfortunately most of us have been conditioned to associate our flat washboard stomach dream with sit-ups and crunches. Let’s explore why these exercises aren’t the best options for a toned or strong core.
Before we start it is worth pointing out that your body fat levels often have a bigger bearing on your stomach size than your muscle tone does. I saw a great T-shirt slogan that explained this well;
“I take such good care of my stomach muscles that I even have a layer of fat over them to protect them.”
It’s unlikely that any amount of sit-ups or crunches will help this! Hence before worrying about the tone of your muscles it’s important to address your body fat levels through diet and exercise.
Now let’s get started. I want you to consider your body posture throughout the day. I have never met a person who gets told that they stand up too straight or lean too far back. On the other hand plenty of people confess that they feel their posture is hunched over or that other people have noticed them slouching. This posture puts the spine into a position that is called flexion. It’s the same position that we adopt when we are sitting in a chair eating our meals, sitting in front of a computer, driving a car and perhaps the worst offender – sitting on a comfortable lounge.
In flexion your stomach muscles are relaxed. Try this; slouch forward and pat your stomach area like you are tapping a bingo drum. The tissues underneath your hands will be soft and squishy. Now stand up tall and slightly lean back. Again pat on your stomach area. Did you notice a difference?
What you should have felt when you were standing is that the tissues underneath your hands became firmer. This is because as you stood upright and leaned back, your stomach muscles had to work hard to stop your body from leaning further back. When you are sitting and slouching, the stomach muscles do the exact opposite and switch off as they don’t need to stop you from slouching further – this is the role of the back muscles.
Now let’s consider what happens when you do a sit-up or a crunch. What position do you put your spine into? Hopefully you guessed it – your spine is put into flexion. The same flexion that we are in when we sit and slouch. We spend so much time in flexion throughout our daily activities that we really don’t need any more of it from sit-ups!
So what are the best ways to strengthen the stomach muscles? Hopefully you will realize that they aren’t the ones that involve flexion of the spine. Leave us a comment and let us know what your favourite core exercises are.