by Dr. Jolie Bookspan PhD
No More Crunches! No More Back Pain!
A Revolution In Abdominal Muscle Fitness for
By Dr. Jolie Bookspan
Why "Do" Abs?
Most people don't know what abs specifically
or how. You've heard that abdominal muscles help your back, but exactly
how? Your "abs" have something to do with posture? But exactly what?
know something vague about "support" but what does that really mean?
are practically synonymous with ab exercises but are terrible for your
posture and don't work your abs the way you need for real life. What
you do instead? Using abs doesn't mean sucking them in or making them
Then how do you use them? Did you know that you need your abs while
up and walking, and particularly while standing and walking with tanks
on your back? How can you do that?
What's Wrong With
It's practically universal to see a gym full
people yanking their necks doing crunches, then stand up and walk away
with no use of abs, or knowledge that you are supposed to use abs when
standing up. Crunches don't work your abs the way you need for real
Crunches don't train you how to use your abs the rest of the day.
promote poor posture, even when done properly. Crunches make a person,
who likely spends much of their day already hunched over a work area,
that hunched posture which may be mechanically promoting the back and
pain they think they are working their abs to prevent.
What Does It Mean To Use
Using your abs does not mean "sucking them
or "tightening them," or "pressing your navel to your spine." Using abs
means contracting them, not tightening them, to move your body just
any other muscles. Abs connect from your ribs to your hips. When they
they pull your ribs and hips closer, bending your spine forward. You
have to curl forward to use your abs. Using them properly while
means not allowing your back to sway, and instead, keep your torso
When you stand up and don't use your
muscles, that allows your ribs and hips to be too far apart. Your low
sways, exaggerating the normal backward curve. Too much of this kind of
arching lets the weight of your upper back press down on your lower
grinding away your soft tissues and discs, and irritating the joints
each vertebra attaches to the next.
Use all your ab muscles working (not
to consciously keep your torso from arching to the back or side, not
be pulled forward, back, or side under the weight of the loads you
or your body weight. It's a free workout.
To understand what abs do for your posture
they contract, try this:
* Stand up and put one hand on the front of
ribs where your abs begin. Put your other hand on the front of your hip
bone where your abs end. Hold these two points with your fingers.
* Draw your two hands toward each other,
your torso forward. Hold that position. That is what crunches do for
They hunch you over you forward. How much do you use this posture in
* Now still holding onto your ribs and hip
arch back and let your ribs lift up and your abdomen curve out. See how
the distance between your two hands increases, showing how ab muscles
when slack, allowing your back to arch. Feel your body weight fall onto
your low back? That is what not using your abs allows—an arched back
your weight smashing your low back. You even become shorter.
* Now pull your two hands on your ribs and
toward each other so the distance between your ribs and hips decreases.
Your torso will come upright to a straightened, taller position (Don't
curl so much that you round forward). This shows how you use your abs
control posture and stop the strain of flopping your body weight on
low back. This is how you need your abs working to stand up properly.
Contracting your abs changes the shape of
torso by pulling your spine forward. You want to do this just enough to
take out excess arching so your upper body weight doesn't slump onto
low back. You don't want to do this so much that you round forward
which many people not only do all day, but practice in a gym with
How To Use Abs While
Walking With Scuba Tanks
Tanks and gear bags don't make you arch your
or have bad posture. Not using your torso muscles to counter the pull,
and allowing your back to arch is the problem. Try this:
* Stand up wearing tanks, or any heavy
Stand sideways to see your profile in a mirror.
* Allow the weight of the tank or gearbag to
your upper body backward or sideways, and increase the arch in your
This is standing up without using your abs. (Don't do this if you get
pain.) You'll probably feel the old familiar pressure in your low back.
* Now straighten your body as if starting to
a crunch, against the pull of the load on your back. Don't allow your
to stick out or your neck to crane forward. Tuck your behind in
to take the exaggerated arch out of your back. This is how you stand up
using your abs to maintain proper posture against a posterior load.
Maintain your posture when carrying gear.
lean back, hunch forward, or hike your body to the sides to carry the
Use your muscles. Use this ab technique all the time when standing and
walking with scuba tanks, and climbing the boat ladder. Your gear could
be a built-in ab exercise.
How To Use Abs While
Up To The Boat
You need to use your abs to maintain torso
when reaching for things and lifting things overhead. This is when most
people have no concept of abs, and because of that, allow their upper
weight plus the weight of their packages to smash their low backs,
of times daily doing things as innocuous as putting things on shelves,
pulling shirts off, even combing and washing hair. Imagine the damage
improperly lifting heavy equipment and supplies overhead. Try this:
* Stand up and reach overhead. See if you
your ribs to lift up and your back to arch.
* To fix that, straighten your body by
enough forward, as if starting to do a crunch, to take the exaggerated
curve out of your low back until you feel you are using your torso
to hold your body weight. Don't curl your body or neck forward.
* Now reach overhead again. Wave your arms
Keep your torso from increasing the arch no matter what.
* Now try it while lifting weights overhead.
you use your abs properly, you'll feel a new strength in your torso.
Transfer this skill to your daily life for
torso posture for lifting gear, putting cargo up on roof racks, heavy
up on counters, and whenever you lift and reach. Don't lean backward
carrying things. Your gear could be a built-in ab exercise when you
up using your abs to maintain proper posture against an anterior load.
How To Use Your Abs When
All of these same principles of using your
when standing apply to swimming horizontally through the water. Many
allow their weight belt to pull their back into an exaggerated arch,
them look like they are facedown in a hammock. The fulcrum of the kick
becomes their low back joints instead of the muscles of the abs and
Use your abs to straighten your posture against the pull of your belt
gear. Your body will be streamline, your kick will be powerful, and
back will be grateful.
It's Not Arching Alone
That is Bad
You are supposed to have a small inward
in your low back. Arching your back, by itself, is not the problem in
pain and posture control. The problem is not using muscles to keep your
upper body weight off your low back. This is often confused, and some
think they must never arch their back. Back extension is, in fact, one
of the most important exercises for back health. Crucial back exercises
for strengthening require range of motion to an extended position. The
supported arch is important to use for tennis, gymnastics, yoga,
and other activities. Many people don't know to use their abs during
kinds of moves, and just allow their low back to fold backward under
their weight. By holding your upper body weight with your abs you can
and extend back without your weight pressing onto your low back. It's
that eight of 10 people develop back pain in their life, almost all
Most is simple mechanics. See our three back pain articles in our 'Bone
What's Wrong With The Way
Why not just do ab exercises to prevent all
problems? A recent fitness industry survey looked at common ab
and ranked them from most to least effective in using ab muscles. The
is that the surveyors completely missed three basic concepts. An
can work a specific muscle but still promote bad posture and not be
for the rest of you. Even if an exercise will activate your ab muscles
more than another exercise, it still may not be useful for things you
for daily life. Simply strengthening a muscle will not transfer the
skills you need for proper use in sports and recreation, or for back
The "experts" say to do crunches for strong
to "support" you. But strengthening alone will not fix your posture or
your back pain. Plenty of people with strong muscles have terrible
It's like having brains and not using them.
It's a Revolution
Next time you are standing around noticing
back hurts, check if you are standing and moving in a way that is
your back because you are not using your muscles. Notice if you are
your body weight, and the weight of your gear, smash down on your low
Check if your belt or waistband tilts downward in front and up in back,
showing that you may be arching your back instead of holding straight
Use your muscles to tip your hip back under you and lift your weight up
and off your low back.
Discard the outdated and misleading notion
"tightening" your abs, or any muscles to use them, or the old "press
to spine." You cannot breathe properly or function that way, and
around with "tight" muscles is a factor in headaches and stress/strain
related muscle pain.
Yes, this is new and different from what we
in school. That's why it's a revolution in ab fitness. It will change
whole way of thinking about abs and teach you exciting new skills to be
a fitter, pain free, and healthier diver. You'll get ab exercise
going to a gym. You'll stand taller. You'll burn calories. You'll save
your back. You'll exercise your brain. It's a revolution.
Information in this article was excerpted
"The Ab Revolution™ by Dr. Jolie Bookspan. The new expanded second
has 111 jam-packed pages of comprehensive, step-by-step concepts and
to develop and use your abs for "real life," from the simplest daily
activities to the most advanced and challenging maneuvers. The Ab
is used by SEAL team and law enforcement and the nation's top spine and
Scuba-Doc cares about your health. Get
on back pain, and just about every other health and fitness topic, in
& Fitness in Plain English."
Dr. Jolie Bookspan is a career military
She is now back in private practice in Sports Medicine in
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