Important facts about your abs & spine

  • 3/30/2011
  • P-ublic E-nemy
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  • I don't know why my mom saves all this, and don't you dare imply anything.

    No, it's not gay porn. Up there's a collection of my old gym notes, article clippings, & books. Even though it was the new millenium, we didn't have the interwebs at my crib. So I'd cut out kinesiology knowledge from the racks of my public library & corner store. Yes, fuck those librarians & Korean grocers.

    For people like me, who accepted the wisdom of countless ghostwritten Flex magazine articles (seriously, why does Nasser El Sonbaty sound like Gore Vidal?)...Dr. Stuart McGill sounded outright sacrilegious:

    Source: University of Waterloo & New York Times
    Dr. Stuart M. McGill is a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo (Waterloo, ON, Canada). His advice is often sought by governments, corporations, legal experts and elite athletes and teams from around the world.

    First off, let's get this out of the way. This video & blog post deal with abdominal strength training, not the appearance of a six pack. Understand this lardo, you still have abs. They're hidden under that McDonalds playpen you call a gut. To get rid of that fat & make your abs magically appear, you need to create a caloric deficit (meaning you burn more than you eat). Starving yourself won't cut it, because that will cause your body to go cannibal & feed on your own muscles. Sorry, but Fatty McGoo must run. No amount of spine-killing crunches or spine-preserving curls can substitute for the huffing & puffing of 6 days worth of 40 minute jogs.

    Now back to the issue at hand. When I share this with friends, the denial is astounding. Motherfuckers will not think twice when someone suggests something "extreme & risky" evidenced by muscle injuries & child porn charges. But ask them to try something "safe & effective", they demand unquestionable scientific evidence.

    For that science, see Dr. McGill's book 'Low Back Disorders'. All the experiments, diagrams, & statistics are in there. I'll share one quick highlight here:

    Source: Low Back Disorders (Page 88-89)
    The traditional sit-up imposes approximately 3300N (about 730 lb) of compression on the spine (Axler and McGill, 1997). The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) (1981) has set the action limit for low back compression at 3300N; repetitive loading above this level is linked with higher injury rates in workers. Yet this is imposed on the spine with each repetition of the sit-up!

    Many recommend performing sit-ups with the knees bent, the theory being that the psoas is realigned to reduce compressive loading, or perhaps the psoas is shortened on the length-tension relationship so that the resulting forces are reduced. After examining both of these ideas, we found them to be untenable. Given that the sit-up imposes such a large compression load on the spine, regardless of the leg's being bent or straight, the issue is not which type of sit-up should be recommended. Rather, sit-ups should not be performed at all by most people. Far better ways exist to preserve the abdominal muscle challenge while imposing lower spine loads.

    The book also reveals another important point: There isn't a lower & upper rectus abdominis. For example, I'd do crunches for my upper abs & frog kicks for my lower abs. Instead, the book explains, the abdominal region should be viewed as a cable "with active tension along its entire length". Meaning, you fire one bead & it travels up & down.

    Learning this was a fucking godsend, because I'd have to drive to the gym to use roman chairs & hanging rigs on my core days. Now I hit the living room & perform McGill's modified ab curl. I do them with the elbows raised slightly above the ground & tongue touching the roof of the mouth. These remove the cheats of the shoulders & neck.

    I never bothered with obliques before. And I abandoned the lower back deadlift long ago because I'd always end up jerking & making things worse. So it's been great reincorporating these groups using the side bridge (obliques) & bird dog (back).

    The side bridge & bird dog are especially dangerous. It's very important that you use the hips & surrounding glutes to navigate the movements. Should you bring your back into it, you will hurt yourself.

    The ideal thing to do is get a copy of Dr. McGill's DVD 'Ultimate Back'. Whether you're a lay person looking to be safe, or you live at the's worth the price. The second disc explores each of these exercises individually. You get detailed information on form along with great visual demonstrations.


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