Why You Should Stay Away From Sit-ups and Crunches

Why You Should Stay Away From Sit-ups and Crunches by Elmira Family Chiropractic

Sit-ups seem to be a go to exercise when people make the decision to get in shape. Why?

Well, 1) they are fairly easy, 2) we have been told they help to get a strong core and 3) you don’t need any equipment to do them.

This pretty much means that anyone could do them… but the question is, should you do them? 

Why are crunches or sit ups so bad for you? 

Simply put, each time you perform a sit-up or crunch you flex your spine into a position that can cause damage to the joints and discs. 

In between each bone or vertebrae of your spine is a disc, each disc in your spine has a ring around it, and in the middle is a mucous-like liquid called the nucleus. When you flex your spine, like in a sit-up motion, the compression squeezes this inner liquid. When this liquid makes its way out of the disc (it can bulge or herniate), it can hit a nerve root and cause back pain. 

Intervertebral Discs by Elmira Family Chiropractic
Intervertebral Discs by Elmira Family Chiropractic

How much compression actually occurs?

Research has determined that both crunches and traditional sit-ups generate at least 3350 newtons (= to 340 kg) of compressive forces on the spine. Some perspective: Occupational Health and Safety guidelines consider anything above 3300 newtons unsafe… so really sit-ups are unsafe.

What should I do instead?

Core weakness is often a weakness found in most patients we see.  An unconditioned core plus a desk job or a job with repetitive motions can be a recipe for low back pain because both require significant core stability.

This is why we always recommend supportive core exercises, when indicated by our testing, for each client depending on their current stage of life, fitness level, occupational loads and overall lifestyle demands. 

Some of our favourite core exercises are in our video library

  1. 3 months Supine (similar to a dead bug)
  2. 3 months Prone
  3. Tabletop (similar to a Birddog)
  4. Side plank plus kick through
  5. Tripod
  6. Shin box flow – you have to maintain proper core stability to do this exercise effectively

But please don’t even bother to do any of these until you can properly breathe – see video

The exercises we choose keep the spine in a safe neutral position, minimize compressive forces, and impact multiple layers of the core complex to get the best results. 

If you have an questions, please ask!

Dr Sarah

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