Should you include sit-ups and crunches in your training?

Should you include sit-ups and crunches in your training?

These exercises have been a mainstay of physical conditioning routines for as long as physical conditioning has been around. We all know that one person that starts their day off with a hundred (or other arbitrary number) sit-ups or crunches. We’ve been told for countless years that the best way to train your ‘abs’ is to do sit-ups or crunches in any number of different varieties…. but is it really that simple?
Let’s look at the exercises themselves. At their heart, sit-ups and crunches are built around the action of flexion of the spine. When we lay supine (facing up), we are using gravity to provide resistance against this flexion action. This places load on our rectus abdominis (commonly referred to as the ‘abs’) and to a lesser degree, the obliques (1). With this in mind, we can correctly draw the conclusion that these exercises can be used to strengthen or condition the ‘abs’ (dependant on rep ranges etc), and even cause hypertrophy (increased muscle size) of the ‘abs’ if the load is appropriate. So far so good, right? But is repeated flexion necessary, or even healthy?
For a number of years now, a large number of trainers, strength coaches, and physiotherapists have been moving away from prescribing or recommending these exercises to clients. The driving reason behind this change is the research conducted by spine biomechanist Dr Stuart McGill and his team at the University of Waterloo, Canada, who used in vitro testing of pig spines (which are very similar to human spines) to demonstrate that repeated flexion of the spine is highly likely to lead to disc pathologies (1). McGill’s findings were that high numbers of flexion movements in the spine ultimately lead to disc injuries such as herniation.
Not all health and fitness trainers have subscribed to McGill’s findings. His major opponents consider his use of porcine cervical spines with no active muscular attachments as not being representative of the moving spine in a living human. One of the major threats to disc health during movements, is the compressive force created by the contraction of muscles acting on the spine. As the muscles pull the spine in various directions, the compression on the intervertebral discs shifts, and becomes uneven which can lead to disc herniation. Biomechanical modelling predicts that up to 18% of this compressive force can be offset by the presence of intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) during spinal flexion (2).
These arguments are for the most part theoretical however, with no conclusive clinical evidence to support them – leading us to the conclusion that right now, the best research we have on the effects of repetitive flexion of the spine is Stuart McGill’s. Factoring in McGill’s research, alongside the correlation of genetics and spinal degeneration (3), it’s difficult to justify the prescription of crunch type exercises when lower risk, more practical training approaches exist.
Some organisations (such as the ADF, Police Departments etc) have a requirement for members to perform sit-ups or crunches in workplace fitness assessments. Our advice in this situation would be to only program the required number of sit-ups/crunches required to get you through your fitness test, and ensure you have prescribed exercises to train your spinal extensors to balance out the number of flexions you are performing (deadlift variations are a great way to do this).
As always, having an experienced professional to develop your training programs is the best way to ensure you are keeping a balance in your exercise prescriptions, and performing the safest possible exercises to address your needs.
References:
(1) McGill SM. Low Back Disorders. Champagne, IL: Human Kinetics, 2002
(2) Stokes IA, Gardner-Morse MG, and Henry SM. Intra-abdominal pressure and abdominal wall muscular function: Spinal unloading mechanism. Clin Biotech (Bristol, Avon) 2010
(3) Battie ́ MC and Videman T. Lumbar disc degeneration: Epidemiology and genetics. J Bone Joint Surg Am 88(Suppl 2), 2006 
Move Well to Move More to better Health! The genius is in the order!

Move Well to Move More to better Health! The genius is in the order!

Senior Couple stretching In Park

Couple stretching in Park – Moving well to Move more!

If I could wave a magic wand, and make exercise feel easy for you; if you knew you were going to feel light, agile, nimble – would you want to do more of it??

60% of our population (an average figure across many ‘western’ countries) is inactive… I don’t think that this is because people intrinsically dislike movement! I think we lose our joy of movement at some stage, maybe it’s not a clearly defined line in the sand, but that change certainly happens… after all, we can all see the faces of kids when they are in the full blown joy of movement, right? when they are running after a ball, or jumping into a pool… so what happens? why do we stop to enjoy that movement, that used to give us so much happiness once upon a time?

I think the answer is that it has become hard to move.

One way or the other, it just doesn’t flow anymore does it?! There’s less time for it; it just seems like hard work. Maybe there’s fear of pain, or fear of an injury. Perhaps it’s as simple as the fact that we may stink after sweating (!) and the process of being ‘presentable’ again is too hard…

We all know the benefits of exercise right? So information is not the answer either… so can I challenge you to explore the FUN you used to have when you allowed your body to gain full flight?

I strongly believe that one of the keys to wanting to move more is being able to move better! It’s about putting it in the right order. Think about it for a sec… if you move well, then movement is all of a sudden easier. Things ‘connect better’. There’s less pain; less effort. There’s more power! More strength! More agility! More CAPACITY.

The key to moving more, what ever your motivation, is to move better. From there we can start to set new goals! Such as being able to re-join that sporting club you loved; being able to run around with the (grand)kids without fear of not being able to move tomorrow! or perhaps you want to run your first marathon, or climb a high peak… Or do a tumble turn again!! what ever that goal, let us help you put things in the right order, set up the right process for you to move better – so you can move more!!

FROM 0 TO 1000KM ‘RIDE AS ONE’ – MULTIPLE DAY BIKE EVENT PREP: Laying a solid foundation

FROM 0 TO 1000KM ‘RIDE AS ONE’ – MULTIPLE DAY BIKE EVENT PREP: Laying a solid foundation

IMG_4282Too much of a good thing is never good.

Well, this also holds true when it comes to training for a specific event. While specificity of training (that is, training specifically for the event one will compete in) is very important, specialising too early, or being too repetitive in training is a sure way to develop injuries down the track. So laying a solid foundation, one that will be the base for the highest possible peak of success, requires well planned variety.

(more…)

From 0 to 1000km ‘Ride as One’ – Multiple Day bike event prep: Choosing the right team

From 0 to 1000km ‘Ride as One’ – Multiple Day bike event prep: Choosing the right team

ahp-team

Well, the last few weeks have seen me starting to clock up a few kms on the new steed, and I’m absolutely loving it. Having purchased the right bike, and being fit to it properly has made a huge difference to my enjoyment on it.

By the way, do you know what the right number of bikes is to own? Apparently it’s N+1, where N= the current number of bikes you have! On hearing this, my wife, Nina, corrected me by saying it’s actually D-1, where D= the number of bikes purchased leading to Divorce papers being filed…. Oops!

But I digress…!… What I’d like to chat to you about in this post is one of the foundations to successful performance in any field: having the right team around you!

SETTING UP THE RIGHT TEAM

As I alluded to in my last post,  my physical endeavours over the years have led to the accumulation of a few scars, and stiff joints – although luckily never a broken bone! Add to this the fact that I’ve just had my 42nd birthday, so my muscles and connective tissues are not quite as subtle as they used to be! Those of you that know me  will have heard me say that I don’t like it when people use age as their excuse, as after all “age is just an accumulation of behaviours” (there you go, I just quoted myself…). However, I would be going against all physiology textbooks if I didn’t grant the fact that we do lose some ‘pliability’ as we age! Throw in the mix the fact that neither of my parents were Olympic athletes or superheroes, so I have to make do with less than impressive sporting genetics. All this just means that I need all the help I can get to stay in good shape!

A large part of this help comes from a great team of Allied Health professionals, which in my case includes a chiropractor, a couple of physiotherapists (with different areas of expertise), a podiatrist, and the input from my trusted Exercise Physiology team at iNform! Oh, and once in a while, a psychotherapist helps ensure I don’t take my kid-like sporting loves across to other areas of my life! So as you can see, I’ve got all bases covered!!

But this is should not just be the case just  for someone of my age or older trying to tackle all that life has to offer, but also for the younger athlete wanting to maximise their performance. My experience in Strength and Conditioning, and a short stint in coaching runners showed me that a key to long term success is strongly correlated to one’s commitment to being supported by the right people at the right time. Quite simply, the harder you want to push yourself, the more likely it is that little cracks will appear. And these need to be well managed, and managed early, to avoid significant set-backs down the track.

So, moral of today’s story: Get the right team around you… in every area of life. To run a successful business we use business coaches, marketing consultants, financial planners, accountants, etc. So why should your body and active pursuits be any different?? If you want or need more guidance on this, drop me a line, as helping our clients manage these teams is one of the key things we do!

RIDING UPDATE

As I mentioned earlier, these last couple of weeks have seen my riding increase a bit! In fact, on Saturday we had our first ride as a group with some of the Ride As One group! It was great to meet some of the people I’ll be sharing these journey with, and we did a nice 60km loop around Adelaide! The downside of the last couple of weeks has been a bit of a dichotomy between having been swooped a few times by magpies who seem to be out in full force at the moment with the coming of spring; but also, a lot of rain which makes it feel like winter is holding on for as long as possible! To help deal with the weather side of things (any advice welcome on how to deal with the magpies! Other than being told to toughen up!) I’ve logged a couple of long mountain bike loops that are looking after the strength in the legs just nicely!!

This is a nice segway to next week’s topic – one of the key principles towards avoiding injury and enhancing training longevity and enjoyment: Variety!

And don’t forget to sponsor the ride at http://my.leukaemiafoundation.org.au/iNformMaxMartin17

From 0 to 1000km ‘Ride as One’ – Multiple Day bike event prep: Screening – The right start

From 0 to 1000km ‘Ride as One’ – Multiple Day bike event prep: Screening – The right start

bikefit2016_picScreening is a critical part of our solutions for our clients to set up the right start before beginning their exercise journey. And so my exciting journey from 0km to 1000km in one week would be no different! Establishing the right screening process to address my weaknesses and asymmetries is the first step I took.

My Bike Fit experience

I enlisted the skills of my great colleague and friend Shane Burgess from SmartHealth to conduct a bike fit assessment. I just purchased a beautiful new bike, and I’ll have to increase my kilometres on it quite significantly from month to month, I wanted to make sure that the steed and I fit each other like a glove!

You see, my left leg is 5 millimetres shorter than my right leg. Add to this all the little physical quirks you develop after decades of exercising and pushing your limits… including the many stacks on my mountain bike when I also push my age by feeling like I’m a kid again – lead to interesting challenges on a road bike. On a road bike your pelvis is relatively fixed by the mandatory narrow saddle, and your feet are firmly clipped onto the pedals. This set up, while great for speed and power transfer, creates interesting pressures when your movement is not smooth and symmetrical! After a couple of hours of adjusting cleats, inserting spacers between my left shoe and the pedal, and tinkering with about every movable part of my bike, I was ready to start accumulating kilometres! The feeling on the bike after this process was impressive. I truly felt extremely balanced and efficient!!

Max posture

Movement Screening to set up gym training

The next step was to have my colleagues at iNform perform a Movement Screen on me to ensure that my training off the bike was also targeted to improve on my weaknesses, and ensure that I can maximise my return on investment from my time training in the gym.

I’ll write much more about the specifics of my training to improve my strength and functional capacity in future entries of this blog series. The aim will be to give me the best possible chance to enjoy the Ride as One, complete the ride, and be able to move afterwards!

What can you take away from this?

I once learned from a valued colleague of mine the following sage advice: “spend two thirds of the time allocated to a project planning it, and you will succeed”. To be honest, I don’t think y impatience has ever allowed me to follow this advice to the fullest, but I do know that before embarking on any significant challenge it is imperative to set things up right from the beginning, to avoid costly mistakes (injuries, pain, wasted training) down the track. So what ever your physical challenge, be it to run your first 5kms, a City to Bay, or a marathon; or to enter a new season of elite level training; make sure you get the right assessment and screening process first to target your training to your specific needs!

More about setting up the right team next week!

What can the Olympics teach us about ageing well?

What can the Olympics teach us about ageing well?

The Olympics are arguably the grandest sporting event to take place. 11,551 athletes from 207 different nations competed in 306 events in 28 sports. What we have seen in Rio 2016 is a age diverse group of athletes competing to be the world’s best. The really interesting part of all this is that it can show us that age can become just a number rather than a limiting factor. Ie: You are only as old as you think and act.

Let’s look at the numbers:
Oldest Olympian in Rio: Mary Hanna, 61yo equestrian (Australia)
Oldest Gold Medallist @ Rio: Kristin Armstrong 43yo (U.S. cyclist)
Oldest Gymnast in Rio: Oksana Chusovitina 41yo (Uzbekistan)
Oldest track and Field Athlete: Jo Pavey 42yo 10,000-meter running (Great Britain)

Now I am fully aware that not everyone wants to complete the copious hours of grueling training to become an Olympian. Some could not think of anything worse than even playing a sport, but what it shows you is that your life is not over once you hit that certain age that you deem “as being old.”

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you actually were?”

Physiologically it is understood that the body changes with each passing day, with the rate of regeneration decreasing as well as general degeneration of vital pieces of our bodies. Our V02max (which is numerical value that describes how much oxygen your body can use per kilogram of body weight) decreases as we age. One of the reasons for this is that for everyone (fit or unfit) our maximal heart rates decrease as we age. This reduces the output from the heart each beat and also the delivery of oxygen to the working muscles. This can lower general performance and endurance.

So, how are these older individual’s still competing against the world’s best and winning?

Training is the answer.

In the general population (on average) our V02max declines by approximately 10% per decade after we hit 30 years of age. Individuals who train in higher
intensities can reduce that drop to 5% per decade. That is 50% more oxygen moving around their body in comparison to someone who sits in an office all day.6a0120a92f5af5970b019aff7b6976970c-600wi

The typical rate of decline in muscle mass in the general population is quite similar to aerobic changes. Research has estimated that from 40 years of age, muscle mass decreases 8% a decade until we hit around 70 years of age after which losses increase to about 15% a decade. However strength training can minimise that loss. The cross section on thighs of a younger athlete, an older athlete and an inactive (sedentary) individual highlights that muscle mass can be maintained if trained.

The one thing that is highly noticeable is the domino effect of decreased muscle mass and strength. The loss of strength and muscle tissue lead to reduced mobility, followed by a decreased basal metabolic rate, increased body fat percentage, decreased metabolic enzymes, decreased insulin sensitivity, and finally a decrease in bone mineral density.

Whilst a majority of us over 30 are not trying to gain selection in an Olympic team, training like athletes can have us feeling better, more mobile, lighter, and most importantly not “too old”

 

 

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