Abdominal crunches

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You Think You Need Crunches...
But They Could Hurt Your Back

Reality TV shows like MTV's Jersey Shore show how crunches can ripple the abs, but it wasn't until the last decade or so that we've fully understood what they do to our spines. "They're really hard on the discs," says Dr. Michael R. Bracko, an exercise physiologist and certified strength and conditioning specialist in Alberta, Canada. "Imagine that the discs are like jelly donuts stacked in between each vertebra," he says. "If you repeatedly flex the spine by doing crunches, it could cause the disks to rupture." That's a situation we'd like to avoid.

Better: Planks. "The best way to work the core is to keep the spine in a neutral position," says Bracko. "Planks work the rectus abdominis as well as the obliques, which help stabilize you."

How to Do Them
  • Start in a modified push-up position, but instead of keeping your arms straight, your elbows should be on the floor.
  • Your back should be straight, your neck long, legs straight behind you. Make sure your bottom doesn't sag below your hips.
  • Hold this position for 10 to 30 counts; then relax for one minute.
  • Repeat three times.
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.