Ditch the sit-ups. Do these 5 exercises instead

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Sports medicine experts agree, a strong core – abs, hips, sides and lower back – is essential to physical performance and injury prevention.

And what’s the traditional core workout? Sit-ups. In all their endless variations, sit-ups have been a staple for body builders, athletes and coaches for years.

But as our knowledge of anatomy, movement and sport performance has improved, we’ve arrived at a remarkable conclusion:

Sit-ups suck, and you can stop doing them. Here’s why:

Sit-ups don’t mimic athletic activity.

Ohio State physical therapist Chris Kolba, PhD, MHS, PT, CSCS, says the latest thinking in physical training is “sport specific.” Simply stated, the more your workout looks and feels like the sport you play, the greater the carryover to that activity.

A sit-up requires you to lie on your back and flex your spine repeatedly to lift your shoulders off the ground. It’s not an activity relatable to any sport.

Sit-ups defy gravity (and not in a good way).

When designing sport specific exercises, Dr. Kolba and his colleagues at Ohio State Sports Medicine look at how gravity, ground reaction forces and momentum affect the body during a particular sport, and how the muscles and joints interact to complete a movement. In most sports, the body is upright, so core exercises performed in an upright position would be a better choice.

So what about sit-ups? Are the gravitational forces the same? Are the ground reaction forces the same? Is the momentum the same? Nope. Not to mention that repetitive flexing of the spine is known to cause disc degeneration, poor posture, tight hip flexors, breathing dysfunction and a handful of other problems that lead to breakdown and poor performance.

Sit-ups don’t do enough good.

Dr. Kolba explains that your core connects your hips and shoulders, and by extension your arms and legs. When you move, all forces go through your core, whether they are generated from the top down or the bottom up. If your core is weak or inefficient, you face decreased performance and the potential for injury as your body attempts to compensate.

Sit-ups only focus on your abdominals, so not only do they not strengthen the core completely, they also do not contribute to full-body coordination. Your legs, core and arms have to work together, so they should be trained together.

Here are five examples of vertical core exercises. 

Central Ohio personal trainer Kristina Feduik shows us the ropes. Try using a medicine ball or small weight if they’re handy. Start out on two legs if it’s more comfortable. The speed of the movements can be varied, but do them with good control and avoid excessive back bending. Perform 3 sets of 12-15 reps.

1. Single Leg Overhead Posterior Reach

Works your anterior core and abdominals, and aids balance and hip stability

  • Stand on one foot
  • Hold a med ball overhead
  • Squeeze your butt
  • Push your hip forward slightly
  • Reach your arms back
  • Tap the wall, and return
  • Don’t overextend your low back!
  • Repeat on the other leg

2. Single Leg Overhead Side Bend Reach

Works your lateral core muscles, and aids balance and hip stability for side-to-side movement

  • Stand on one foot
  • Hold a med ball overhead
  • Squeeze your butt
  • Bend sideways
  • Tap the wall, and return
  • Repeat on the other side

3. Single Leg One Arm Posterior Rotation Reach

Focuses on rotational core movements, and aids balance and hip stability

  • Stand on one foot
  • Hold a med ball in the opposite hand
  • Slowly rotate to the left
  • Reach back to tap the wall, and return
  • Don’t over rotate!
  • Repeat on the other side

4. Diagonal Chop

Works your anterior core and hip during the over-the-shoulder portion, and your posterior core and hip during the down-and-across portion. Don’t excessively extend or bend your spine at the end of the ranges

  • Start by holding a med ball at hip level on one side
  • Lift the med ball up and over your opposite shoulder, pivoting your feet to alleviate torque and stress to your low back
  • Perform in smooth, rhythmical manner
  • Repeat on the other side

5. Forward Lunge and Reach

Works your upper and lower back, posterior hips, and legs

  • Stand holding dumbbells at chest or waist level
  • Perform a forward lunge. As you lunge, extend the weights out slightly in front of your knees
  • As you return to the start position, pull the weights back to chest or waist level
  • Adjust the height of your reach and the depth of your lunge to your ability/limitations
  • Be sure to maintain the curve in your low back. Don’t round out the low back
  • Alternate legs with each lunge

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