Abs: The problem with crunches

Kristine Timpert's quirky little book "If Babies Did Crunches" tries to sugarcoat an important message for adults: Beware of crunches.

The not-just for-kids book stresses that if you really want to banish tummy flab or back pain, clean up your diet and mimic your child's natural play patterns, which includes squatting, pushing, pulling, balancing and lunging.

One of the biggest mistakes new moms make, for example, is they start doing crunches to get back in shape. This only makes things worse. And if babies tried it,

"His back would get tired, his pelvis would tipThose short, tight muscles wouldn't help him a bit!" she wrote.

For the adults she added: "When we continually exercise on the floor or seated on machines, the nervous system loses its ability to quickly communicate with the muscles during movement leaving the joints susceptible to injury."

Timpert isn't the only one bashing crunches these days. In "The New Rules of Lifting for Abs," Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove welcome readers to the "No Crunch Zone." They argue that years of research show crunches and situps can do more harm than good, causing back pain and neck problems.

Timpert agrees. In an email, the neuromuscular therapist -- she has been trained to work with muscle tissue and trigger points or hot spots in the body-- and CHEK practioner, answered a few more of my questions:

JD: Why did you write the book?

KT: Fifteen years ago I was seriously injured in physical therapy.  They manipulated me right into major surgery to relieve two cervical disks from my spinal cord. The top neurosurgeon in New Jersey saved my life. Nine months of recovery - minus physical therapy -- I reached out to the fitness industry to get strong. Unfortunately I received two more spinal injuries as a result of poor exercise recommendations from trainers.  I found myself in terrible back pain again. No one had the knowledge to help me; everyone wanted to either inject me with something or operate. Then I found the CHEK Institute in California.  After one lecture video I had enough information to stabilize my own spine.  I went into the city to see Paul Chek in person and from there was determined to be the best CHEK Practitioner.

JD: What is a CHEK Practitioner?

KT: A CHEK Practitioner is someone who not only understands anatomy but knows what the anatomy is doing when the body is in action. We are able to access a body to identify what's working and what isn't. We use exercises as drugs.  That means if you have a herniation in your low back, I am going to prescribe a list of exercises to help you get better fast.  I am a top Level 4 CHEK which means I have studied the four programs designed by Paul Chek. He was recently named one of the top three people to contribute to the exercise industry.  He is also the reason we have Swiss balls in the gym. 

JD:  So what's wrong with crunches?

KT: In my book I talk about functional movement like squats and lunges. Crunches aren't necessarily bad, they're just terribly overused and misunderstood.  Crunches are fine when done in harmony with functional movement. Kids need to squat freestanding and move like they do when playing outside. Pushing and pulling on a rope swing will do more for you abs than crunching.  Sitting in school all day, doing homework, watching TV, riding in a car, etc., starts to create the problem.  We're in flexion all day and then we lie down on our back and crunch. Flexion, flexion, flexion and no extension.

JD: What should people do instead?

KT: Crunching on a swiss ball allows the spine to flex and extend. Making sure the tongue on the roof of the mouth will strengthen the neck too. Planks are also good but I like a variety.

JD: What problems do you see with children? KT: Forward head posture, rounded upper backs and big lumbar curves. They stand with their knees in rotation and their feet in pronation. At school they sit on machines to exercise or do squats with their backs against the wall.  When they do crunches, they always hold their heads and NEVER are they taught how to put their spines in extension. It's a physical fitness nightmare.

Copyright © 2018, CT Now