Why Would I Do Crunches? Seriously.

I’m in the middle of an experiment, on myself, and wanted to share some preliminary results with you because I think they’re important. They have definitely surprised me.

The experiment has to do with throwing out most notions I had about how my body should look, what foods I should eat, if coffee is good or bad for me and how much should I be sleeping and … well, what’s the truth of this body, mine?

One of the first findings, on exercise: crunches seem kind of ridiculous to me now. Really any exercise where I’m using resistance to pull my trunk forward into flexion.

Why? It’s not that it doesn’t make my abs look strong, look like a lot of what’s painted as a healthy body for a guy in his early 30’s. It does help them look that way. It’s that they’re being trained out of a good context.

That is: most all of us have no problem rolling forward, i.e. into flexion, right? In fact, we’ve got this movement a little too wired: we’re sort of stuck in a half-slump position that we’re always fighting. Why, then, would we send such a strong signal via our neuromyofascial web (the muscles, connective tissue, neurology, the whole bit that dictates our “mechanical” body as we think of it) to pull further into flexion?

Again, it makes the abs look a certain way, because they are indeed working hard to pull the trunk into flexion, like in a crunch. Though two things seem to happen in this poor-context exercise:

  1. I’m more prone to injury, and instability/weakness in general (more on this in a second).
  2. It takes constant tending to to maintain the kind of muscle mass that was gained this way. Why? My daily posture is fighting it, i.e. helping to pull my trunk into a more upright position, that is: extension relative to this crunched position.

Something like a plank (essentially holding a pushup position, and variations thereof) is different. In this position, my front/back, inside/out and left/right need to work in concert to keep me stable as I work towards a more lengthened position (if you’ve done Pilates, you’re familiar with this concept).

So I’ve been playing with stuff like that. And back/hamstring/glutes exercises in a functional context. Mostly for me, that’s been variations of this Foundation workout.

It’s been about three weeks, and two things have happened:

  1. I feel more upright, supple-yet-stable on a daily basis. In fact, I feel this especially right after a workout.
  2. I’m much stronger in classic abdominal exercises. It’s crazy, actually, and a huge finding for me. Last night, I played on an ab wheel—where you’re on your knees and you roll a wheel away from you and then back (a big challenge for your trunk)—and it was 5x easier than it’s ever been. And I used to do that exercise! I was amazed.
  3. My rock climbing, which I’ve been doing for 15 years, is feeling more solid, more integrated, more fluid. And stronger.

The moral of this story, to me: if we’re only going after a look, we’re missing something. We can use machines to make muscles look a certain way, but if it’s not in a good context, i.e. if it’s not being used in a way that is helpful and in integrity with your body as it is right now, you’ll be missing a big, if not vital, piece of the pie.

Happy to chat more about any of this, just shoot me an email!

Cheers, Liam

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3 Responses to Why Would I Do Crunches? Seriously.

  1. Ali says:

    Amen, brother!

  2. Liza says:

    Liam, I have been playing with the ‘fascial fitness’ ideas in a lot of yoga poses, specifically standing ones like ‘Chair’ + ‘Crescent Lunge’, and am finding the same thing. I tossed much of the forward-curling ab work out I had been adding, and have gone back to some pretty basic movement that feels back-oriented. I also came across the ‘Foundation’ series, went ‘Oh! Looks familiar!’. I feel stronger than ever, my lower back wobblies are pretty much gone, and underneath a certain bit of feminine adipose tissue, my entire ‘core’ area just plain feels happier and more integrated. Saludos~ Liza

  3. Liam Bowler says:

    Thanks, Ali! And Liza, that’s awesome … there’s a really good conversation happening on my facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/liam.bowler.142/posts/10151777333257561) right now about the what/when/why of all this, that you’re speaking to and would feel right at home in 🙂

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