Want a stronger core? Skip the sit-ups

Health News from Harvard Medical School


Sit-ups once ruled as the way to get tighter abs and a slimmer waistline, while “planks” were merely flooring. Now planks — exercises in which you assume a position and hold it — are the gold standard for working your core, while classic sit-ups and crunches have fallen out of favor. Why the shift?


One reason is that sit-ups are hard on your back — they push your curved spine against the floor. Sit-ups also work your hip flexors, the muscles that run from the thighs to the lumbar vertebrae in the lower back. When hip flexors are too strong or too tight, they tug on the lower spine which can be a source of lower back discomfort.


Second, planks recruit a better balance of muscles on the front, sides, and back of the body during exercise than sit-ups, which target just a few muscles. Remember, your core goes far beyond your abdominal muscles.


Finally, activities of daily living, as well as sports and recreational activities, call on your muscles to work together, not in isolation. Sit-ups or crunches strengthen just a few muscle groups. Through dynamic patterns of movement, a good core workout helps strengthen the entire set of core muscles — the muscles you rely on for daily activities as well as for sports and recreational activities.


How Good is Your Balance? Try this test now. 

Start by standing comfortably near the wall, holding your arms in any position you choose. Lift one foot an inch or two off the floor so that you are balancing on the other foot. Time how long you can do this before having to put the raised foot down or touch the wall for support.


If you can’t stand on one leg unassisted, lightly touch the wall or hold the back of a chair with one or both hands for support. Use less support as you improve your balance.


If you can hold this single leg stance for 60 seconds or more, you have excellent balance. If you can’t hold it for more than 10 seconds, you could be at risk for a fall. If so, get a copy of Core Exercises and ask your doctor or physical therapist for more ways you can improve your balance and prevent falls.


For more on the benefits of strengthening your core, buy Core Exercises, (link: https://www.health.harvard.edu/promotions/harvard-health-publications/core-exercises-5-workouts-to-tighten-your-abs-strengthen-your-back-and-improve-balance?utm_source=delivra&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=focuson-fitness-1&utm_id=1327724&dlv-ga-memberid=74104858&mid=74104858&ml=1327724), a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.