It’s Crunch Time for Sit-up!

  1. Contrary to popular belief, sit-ups don’t protect your back. Studies show that building static back strength is the key to preventing injury.
  2. Sit-ups and crunches actually compress the spine more than is allowed by typical OH&S standards.
  3. You risk even more damage if you do a sit-up on a Swiss ball – hyper extending your back below its midline is a no-no.
  4. Flexing forward at the waist is also a bad idea. Your abs were designed to be a rigid hoop to support your spine.
  5. Sit-ups are a far less effective abs exercise than planks, which work your six-pack and obliques up to 25 per cent more efficiently.

Lou Schuler, co-author of The New Rules of Lifting for Abs (Avery 2010), hasn’t done one in 10 years. “The idea of doing crunches and sit ups is to make the abdominal muscles bigger” he says. “But we all have muscles there. My son had a six pack for most of his childhood, without doing a single sit-up. He was just a skinny active kid.”

It’s not breaking news that diet (ditch the sugar and refined carbs) is more important than exercise if you want a torso that looks like a box of steaks.

But most guys probably don’t realise the most effective moves for chiseling the rectus abdominis aren’t crunches or sit-ups – which can do more harm than good.

Studies from 2006 & 2008 show moves like the rollout work the upper and lower abs about 25% more effectively than a crunch or sit-up.

The best way to target your gut does the exact opposite of a crunch. According to a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy last year, the Swiss ball rollout, in which you place your fists in a ball and extend your body like a bridge, is better than the crunch for creating a ripped stomach and building strong lower back muscles to support your spine.

The rollout isn’t new; it’s simply a dynamic tweak of the plank, one of the oldest exercises in the book. In a crunch you bend your spine. In a plank you brace it. That makes all the difference. The basic plank- toes and forearms on the floor, shoulder blades back and down, bum down – is harder than you might realise.

If you can hold it for 60-90 seconds, try a more challenging version. The following exercises are organised in ascending order of difficulty - do them in front of a mirror to monitor your form, and be sure to finish when it goes off.

Written by Paul John Scott, from the Spring.summer edition of GQ Style Australia

Plank with feet elevated. Raising your feet increases the load in nearly any exercise and the plank is no exception. You can make this harder by placing your feet or forearms on a fitball.

Plank with arm and opposite leg raised. Start by holding a plank and raising just a leg, then try raising just an arm. To finish the progression try one arm and the opposite leg. Aim to hold for 90 seconds.

Side plank on fitball. Put one forearm on the floor, feet on the ball and your free hand on your waist. Your bum shouldn’t be sticking out and the side of your top shoulder should be pointing to the ceiling. [image: side plank on fitball]

Swiss ball roll out. Start with your knees on the ground and your fists on the ball. As you roll out, keep your back straight at the extension. Be prepared to feel the after-effects the next day. Aim for 10-15 reps with good form.

Front plank and row. In a plank position, with your shoulder blade pulled back and down. Pull a cable towards your chest and hold for a few seconds before returning with control. Do 10-15 reps. Repeat on both sides.