Sit-ups and crunches are terrible for you, say personal trainers — here’s what they suggest instead

  • Crunches and sit-ups are being shunned by fitness experts in the US military and elite gyms.
  • At least four trainers have told Business Insider that there are far better ways to strengthen your core muscles and get fit in a hurry than sit-ups and crunches.
  • But if you love a good crunch, there is a right way to do it: Don’t move too fast, and keep your low back on the floor the entire time, pulling your rib cage towards your pelvis with your core muscles.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

If you like to sit down, stand, or bend down and pick things up from time to time, then you are a fan of your abs, whether they’re rock-hard or not.

Abdominal muscles connect our rib cage to our pelvis, keeping our spine healthy and our mid-section strong enough to carry us through the day. Strengthening your core can help improve your posture and better prepare you to tackle all kinds of everyday tasks, and (of course) it can also help you develop a trimmer, more firm waistline and a chiseled frame.

7 PHOTOSBloated? 6 Foods to Shrink Your BellySee GalleryBloated? 6 Foods to Shrink Your Belly

Read on to learn which foods flatten your stomach.

Bananas

The potassium in bananas absorbs water retention caused by sodium.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Yogurt

The probiotics in yogurt increase the “good bacteria” in the digestive tract, which helps digestion and prevents bloat.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Herbal Tea

Herbal tea soothes inflammation and relaxes the digestive tract.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Cucumber

Cucumbers are a diuretic. The high water and low fiber content in them increases urination and de-bloats.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Papaya

Papaya has a laxative effect.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Rice

Unlike some carbs, rice can be fully digested, therefore has the least potential to form gasses in the gut.

Image Credit: Getty Images

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Unfortunately, the basic crunches and sit-ups we’ve been taught are not actually the most efficient or healthy ways to build a strong core. Worse, they may cause serious damage to your back and neck if you do them wrong.

At least four different trainers and kinesiologists from celebrity gyms, universities, and fitness centers across the US have told Business Insider that sit-ups and crunches are simply not their preferred moves. And the nonprofit American Council on Exercise (ACE) says that when it comes to crunches, a lot of people “perform this movement too rapidly” and cheat their way in and out of the move by using their hip flexors to help them into the crunch.

“This technique tilts the pelvis anteriorly, increasing the stress on the low back, and should be avoided,” the ACE says on its website.

Here are a handful of reasons why trainers, exercise scientists, and the US military all dislike traditional crunches and sit-ups, along with their recommendations for better core moves.

“Six-pack” abs have developed something of an unattainable appeal, but the truth is that everyone has abs. These muscles are grouped into three separate areas of our mid section.

There are the surface “six-pack” muscles (rectus abdominis), the deep core stabilizers below them (transverse abominis), and the side muscles (obliques).

The problem is that many core exercises, when done wrong, don’t target these areas of the body very well. That’s partly why both the Army and the Navy are phasing out their sit-up tests by the end of 2020.

Similarly, the Department of Veterans Affairs warns that straight-leg sit-ups “may cause undue strain on the lower back.”

9 PHOTOSExercise that starves off agingSee GalleryExercise that starves off aging

Activities like walking, yoga, and tai chi have recently been tied with brain benefits like faster processing speed and better attentions span.

If you’ve recently considered beefing up your regular workout routine, you may have found yourself asking exactly how much exercise you should be doing to get results.

Previous research has hinted that the magic starts to happen with 45 minute workouts. But a growing body of evidence suggests that the time you spend on a single workout matters less than the total time you spend at the gym over long periods. That means whether your latest workout was 5 or 50 minutes is less important than whether you manage to hit the track or pool regularly, or at least several times a week.

As a large new review of nearly 100 well-designed studies published in May in the journal Neurology: Clinical Practice concluded, older folks who clocked in roughly 52 hours doing things like walking, biking, or yoga over a 6-month period (which breaks down to roughly 1 hour of exercise 3 times a week) showed significant cognitive benefits over people who did less exercise or none at all.

Those benefits included better processing speed and superior performance on tests designed to measure things like ability to pay attention and time management.

"This is evidence that you can actually turn back the clock of aging in your brain by adopting a regular exercise regimen," lead study author Joyce Gomes-Osman, a rehabilitation scientist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told MedPage Today.

Aerobic exercises like jogging may help reverse some heart damage from normal aging.

Many of us become less active as we age. Over time, this can lead some muscles in the heart to stiffen.

One of those at-risk muscles is in the left chamber of the heart, a section that plays a key role in supplying the body with freshly oxygenated blood.

A recent study split 53 adults into two groups, one of which did two years of supervised exercise four to five days a week while the other did yoga and balance exercises.

At the end of the study, published in January in the journal Circulation, the higher-intensity exercisers had seen significant improvements in their heart’s performance, suggesting that some stiffening in the heart can be prevented or even reversed with regular cardio.

"Based on a series of studies performed by our team over the past 5 years, this ‘dose’ of exercise has become my prescription for life," Benjamin Levine, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern who wrote the study, said in a statement.

Strength-training moves like tai chi are best for preserving muscles from age-related decline.

Strength or resistance training can take many forms, but it typically involves a series of movements geared toward building or preserving muscle.

Tai chi, the Chinese martial art that combines aseries of flowing movements, is one form of strength training. The exercise is performed slowly and gently, with a high degree of focus and attention paid to breathing deeply.

Since practitioners go at their own pace, tai chi is accessible for a wide variety of people, regardless of age or fitness level.

Tai chi "is particularly good for older people because balance is an important component of fitness, and balance is something we lose as we get older," I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a recent health report called "Starting to Exercise."

There may be a powerful link between regular cardio, like swimming and walking, and a lower risk of dementia.

A study published in March in the journal Neurology suggested that women who were physically fit in middle age were roughly 88% less likely to develop dementia — defined as a decline in memory severe enough to interfere with daily life — than their peers who were only moderately fit.

Starting in 1968, neuroscientists from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden studied 191 women whose average age was 50. First, they assessed their cardiovascular health using a cycling test and grouped them into three categories: fit, moderately fit, or unfit.

Over the next four decades, the researchers regularly screened the women for dementia. In that time, 32% of the unfit women and a quarter of the moderately fit women were diagnosed with the condition, while the rate was only 5% among the fit women.

Activities like cycling may also protect your immune system from some age-related decline.

For a small study published in March in the journal Aging Cell, researchers looked at 125 amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79, comparing them with 75 people of a similar age who rarely or never exercised.

The cyclists were found to have more muscle mass and strength and lower levels of body fat and cholesterol than the sedentary adults.

The athletic adults also appeared to have healthier and younger-looking immune systems, at least when it came to an organ called the thymus that’s responsible for generating key immune cells called T cells.

"We now have strong evidence that encouraging people to commit to regular exercise throughout their lives is a viable solution to the problem that we are living longer but not healthier," Janet Lord, the director of the Institute of Inflammation and Aging at the University of Birmingham in the UK, said in a statement.

Other types of strength training can include moves like planks and squats.

At its most basic, strength training involves using weight to create resistance against the pull of gravity. That weight can be your own body, elastic bands, free weights like barbells or dumbbells, or weighted ankle cuffs.

Research suggests you can use heavy weights for fewer reps or lighter weights for more reps to build stronger, more sturdy muscles.

Chris Jordan, the exercise physiologist who came up with the viral seven-minute workout — officially called the Johnson & Johnson Official 7-Minute Workout — told Business Insider that healthy adults should incorporate resistance training on two or three of the four or five days a week they work out.

Cardio workouts may also improve the look and feel of your skin.

A study from researchers at McMaster University found that people over 40 who regularly did cardio tended to have healthier skin than their sedentary peers. The overall composition of the regular exercisers’ skin was more comparable to that of 20- to 30-year-olds.

It’s not yet clear why our workouts appear to play a role in skin health, but the researchers found elevated levels of a substance critical to cell health called IL-15 in skin samples of participants after exercise — perhaps shedding light on why cardio can improve the look of our skin.

Aerobic workouts may guard against age-related decline because of reduced brain connectivity.

As we age, the brain — like any other organ — begins to work less efficiently, so signs of decline start to surface. Our memory might not be quite as sharp as it once was, for example.

But older people who develop Alzheimer’s disease often first enter a stage known as mild cognitive impairment, which involves more serious problems with memory, language, thinking, and judgment.

A study published in May looked at adults with MCI between the ages of 60 and 88 and had them walk for 30 minutes four days a week for 12 weeks. The researchers found strengthened connectivity in a region of the brain where weakened connections have been linked with memory loss. That development, they said, "may possibly increase cognitive reserve" — but more studies are needed.

Cardio may also be tied to increases in the size of brain areas linked to memory, but more research is needed.

A study of older women with MCI found a tie between aerobic exercise and an increase in the size of the hippocampus, a brain area involved in learning and memory.

For the study, 86 women between 70 and 80 years old with MCI were randomly assigned to do one of three types of training twice a week for six months: aerobic (like walking and swimming), resistance (like weight lifting), or balance.

Only the women in the aerobic group were found to have significant increases in hippocampal volume, but more studies are needed to determine what effect this has on cognitive performance.

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Instead of the ab test, US soldiers will be evaluated on their ability to do movements that they might actually use in combat, like deadlifts and drag-and-carry moves.

The US army now recommends four core training moves that “train all these muscles in a manner that mimics their function.” These include bent leg raises in which soldiers “contract the abdominals as if you are preparing for a blow to the stomach,” as well as bridges, side bridges, and leg lifts.

The Navy is replacing its sit-up test with a plank, as Task & Purpose reported. 

Trainer and exercise physiologist Tony Maloney from the National Institute for Fitness and Sport clearly supports the US military’s change. “I’m not a huge fan of sit ups,” he told Business Insider.

The true job of our core muscles, Maloney noted, is to stop movement and stabilize the spine, which protects our spinal cord and lets us stand and bend.

Maloney said he prefers old-school exercise moves that force people to work on stabilizing the core, like moving up and down from push-ups into planks while keeping the ab muscles engaged.

Reuters

“You can add a whole bunch of things to a plank to make them a lot more fun and more effective,” Maloney said.

Once you’re comfortable holding a standard plank (keeping your core tucked in and spine long), you can play around with different versions, like one-armed planks or side planks. You can also try bringing your knees in to your elbows or lowering down to your forearms.

Evidence also suggests that regular strength training with weights is great for your core. Maloney recommends a move called “suitcase carriers.”

To try this, start by holding a heavy weight (like a kettle bell) at your side like a briefcase. While maintaining a strong, stable core and upright position, walk forward for a bit. Then repeat the move carrying the weight on the other side.

Sources: ACEJournal of Strength and Conditioning Research

Celebrity trainer Emily Samuel, who works at the Dogpound gym in New York, agreed that it is “functional movements that apply to real life that are obviously the most important to do.”

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She emphasizes strengthening methods that will “help you get off the floor if you fall.”

One of Samuel’s favorite functional core moves is the hollow hold. “You lay on your back, and raise your feet a couple of inches off the floor,” she said.

Keep your back flat on the floor, and when you’re ready, extend your arms overhead and “keep your core tight,” Samuel said. It may not look like you’re moving much, but you’ll feel the burn quickly. 

Trainer Anna Kaiser, who has worked with celebrities like Shakira and Karlie Kloss, told Business Insider that many people “push their abs out” when doing crunches, creating a “rounded lower belly shape.” That’s the opposite of what’s desired.

Related: Let these photos inspire your next workout session: 39 PHOTOSCelebrities flaunt 2019 summer beach bodsSee GalleryCelebrities flaunt 2019 summer beach bodsTo our next stop!!!🦐🦞🍝🧜🏼‍♀️🍹When in Italy… @dolcegabbana !!!! 🐆🐆🐆❤️❤️hit the halfway mark with some major career goals, about to get myself back on a beach y’all🍹toot, toot #cantknockmyhustlefeels off-brand but going for itBest use of a vacation. The hubby taking pictures. Lol 😝 📷@nickjonas 👙 ☀️ 🍸 💏Twirling myself into the weekend like 🤣😎 (swipe left 👈🏻) Happy Saturday Dolls! I’m so excited the sun is out in So Cal and to get some things finished up around the house for Baby! I am in the home stretch now! I’m rocking my baby bump at 9 months preggo! (almost at 38 weeks! ) 🙌🏻 My body has definitely changed, and I have gained 30 pounds during this pregnancy, but I am owning my curves (and bigger breasts) and having fun just embracing it, cause who knows if I will ever have the opportunity to do this again 🤷🏼‍♀️————————————————————————-I am also excited to be rocking one of the bikinis from my new #GretchenChristine Collab with @amandalouisebeach and guess what……it still fits me comfortably at 9 months preggo!(same size I had before) It’s because the fabric is so stretchy and soft! 🙌🏻 I customized mine to have the light topaz stones on it! Remember what is so cool about this collection is that you can customize the color of your bikini and stone color you want! Click the link in my bio then “swimwear collection” to shop all the different looks! 👙 ————————————————————————My gorgeous flowy coverup is from my friends over @ladyjetset and was so perfect for the pool, oh and it can also be used as a dress! ————————————————————————-Cute heart shape sunnies are from @amazonfashion and were like $9 🙌🏻❤️ #spraytan by @naturalbronzing ————————————————————————-Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! Love you all! 😘Mondays don’t always have to suck…📸: @davidfosterCosta Rica 🇨🇷 last weekGrateful.Felt like a princess thanks to @princessbermuda ✨ we loved it here so much 🇧🇲I couldn’t pick one to post…. so tell me your favorite ;)European summerrrr days 😍😍 1) pasjaca beach, croatia2) mogren, montenegro3) vlorë, albania☀️Britney Spears and boyfriend Sam Asghari in Miami(Credit: Instagram/Britney Spears)What does this wildish intuition do for women? Like the wolf, intuition has claws that pry things open and pin things down, it has eyes that can burn through the shields of persona, it has ears that hear beyond the range of mundane human hearing. With these formidable psychic tools a woman takes on a shrewd and even precognitive animal consciousness, one that deepens her femininity and sharpens her ability to move confidently in the outer world.Clarissa Pinkola EstésBikini weather finally here 😘😘😘 @elizabethhurleybeach #crystallinebikinisend me my check @johnlegend @lve_winesout of office 💛🌴In tonight’s episode of #RHONY we head to Miami and get into a little trouble… don’t miss it on @bravotv tonight at 9/8c!I’ll give you what you need When you give me what I deserve https://t.co/kYQPiI1yVvMust try the new @Coppertoneusa Glow sunscreen! ❤️❤️❤️ sun protection + body glow 🌟 #sponsored #CoppertoneGlowEarly Morning Swim…Fish were jumping Pelicans swooping by and warm Rays of Sunshine …just soaking it all in ! #luckyhousepccranberry legsYellow fin grouper 1st one!36 ft downPole spear … free dive💗💗💗🎉#bodycompleterxmy secret is out ❤️ @bodycompleterxKourtney and Khloé take ___________ PS (I can’t believe we shot season 1 over ten years ago)LVE BoatSorry I messed up the pic 🤷🏾‍♂️46 🖤📸 by @dwyanewade as per the prenup🍉🌼🌼🌼Enjoying my vacation 😍Whipped up a #310shake to start my day! It’s so easy to eat clean on-the-go with @310nutrition. Packed with plant-based protein, probiotics & superfoods, they are so much more than just a weight loss shake!They have awesome deals now + use “310glance” for FREE shipping at checkout! #cleaneating #310ad #weightloss (yes I’m a little sunburned) 🙈quick escape to Palm Springs 😎☀️-📸 @laurenbenedictmowlIsland Hopping 🇬🇷 #WadeWorldTour2019🖤🖤🖤#WadeWorldTour2019I never want to leaveFave bikini of the season #minkabikini #elizabethhurleybeachL is for the way you look at meTuesday…Twos Day! ( get it?) with my Two Daughters, From Two years ago in Two piece bathing suits for @si_swimsuit. ☀️⭐️☀️⭐️☀️ •••Some of the comments compel me to repost my little poem about comparing my daughters!! Here’s what I think, one more time … “Ones a ‘Betty’ and ones a ‘Veronica’One plays Piano, and one the harmonica,One is salt, the other pepper,One travels light, and ones a schlepper,One dances in moonlight and one in the SunBut don’t try to pick your favourite oneComparisons drive them both totally mad,They worry the other one will be sadWith all of their hearts they love each otherand I’m so proud to be their mother!”#family #love#sisters #werenotcompetingUp Next

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Kaiser said traditional crunches can’t effectively target the body’s deep core stabilizers — the muscles in our mid-section (like the transverse abominis) that can help our core “appear flatter.”

Kaiser recommends trying some c-curve moves instead of crunches. To do this, start with your knees bent on the floor and tilt your pelvis forward, pulling in your ab muscles. Then raise your arms to your ears and pulse them towards the back of the room.

Carbon 38

Kaiser also recommends a twist on the classic push-up for ab strengthening work.

Lower your body down into a half push-up position with elbows bent, and then tap your knees onto the ground together in six slow, deliberate taps. Feel your belly burn as you keep your core engaged and your spine long.

If, despite all this, your heart is set on doing old-school crunches when you work out, just make sure to perform them correctly.

A lot of people aren’t kind to their low back or neck when they do crunches. 

To do the move right, think about pulling your ribs down towards your pelvis while you’re performing a crunch. Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Your chin can move slightly towards your chest, bur you don’t want to jerk the neck around. Maintain good contact between your low back and the floor while you’re crunching, and don’t rush it. 

Reverse crunches are also a great way to hit all your ab muscles all at once. To do these, lay on the floor with your hands out to the side. Lift your legs into the air, bending them so that your calves are parallel with the floor and your knees are over your hips. Then exhale, contract your abs, and raise your hips off the mat, as if you were trying to bring your knees toward your head. Keep the 90-degree angle of your knees steady. Hold the move briefly at the top, then slowly lower your knees back to their starting point above your hips, with control.

21 PHOTOSThe Best Protein Choices and Worst for Your Health and the EnvironmentSee GalleryThe Best Protein Choices and Worst for Your Health and the Environment

Learn which proteins are best (and worst) for you and the world around you.

1. Lentils: Eat These Often

The most climate-friendly protein. We love lentils because they deliver fiber and nutrients, such as iron and folate.

2. Tomatoes: Eat These Often

Eating more fruits and vegetables can help ward off disease. They’re low in fat and calories and give you fiber and important micronutrients. But, EatingWell’s Nutrition Editors note, they don’t provide much protein (1 gram per tomato), so also make sure to include higher protein sources in your diet.

3. Milk: Drink This Often

Choose organic and/or milk from grass-fed cows. EatingWell editors recommend choosing nonfat or low-fat (1%) milk. Buying local milk will have a lower carbon footprint, too. Look for milk that is rBGH-free (growth hormone).

4. Beans: Eat These Often

Beans deliver protein, fiber and nutrients. Opt for dry beans, when you can, for the lowest carbon footprint.

5. Tofu: Eat These Often

Excellent source of plant protein. Keep in mind that if the label doesn’t say USDA Certified Organic or non-GMO, there is a good chance it was made from genetically-modified soybeans.

6. Broccoli: Eat This Often

Broccoli gives you only 2 grams of protein per cup, so while it is a low-carbon food (and great for your health), the EatingWell Nutrition Editors note that you’ll need to include higher-protein sources in your diet.

7. Yogurt: Eat This Often

Choose organic and low-fat or nonfat yogurt when possible.

8. Nuts: Eat These Often

High in protein and healthy monounsaturated fats.

9. Peanut Butter: Eat This Often

EatingWell’s Nutrition Editors recommend looking for natural peanut butter to avoid extra sugar and partially hydrogenated oils.

10. Rice: Eat This Often

The EatingWell’s Nutrition Editors recommend choosing brown rice since it is less processed than white, retaining the fiber and other nutrients. Whole grains, such as quinoa or millet are also good choices.

11. Potatoes: Eat These Often

Buy organic when possible, since conventionally grown potatoes tend to be high in pesticide residues (they’re on the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list of produce most contaminated with pesticides.)

12. Eggs: Eat These Occasionally

For the lowest environmental impact, pick organic and/or pasture-raised. Look for certified humane.

13. Tuna: Eat These Occasionally

Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. EatingWell’s Nutrition Editors choose light tuna to reduce mercury exposure.

14. Chicken: Eat This Occasionally

Best meat pick. EatingWell’s Nutrition Editors recommend that you cook it skinless to minimize saturated fat intake. Opt for organic, pasture-raised or antibiotic free for the lowest environmental impact.

15. Turkey: Eat These Occasionally

Poultry has the lowest carbon footprint of any meat, and turkey is a good choice. Opt for organic or antibiotic-free, but avoid less healthy processed forms (cold cuts, sausage, etc.).

16. Salmon: Eat These Occasionally

Choose wild salmon over farmed, when possible for the lowest carbon footprint. EatingWell’s nutrition editors note that salmon adds healthy omega-3s to your diet, so eat it and other fatty fish a few times a week.

17. Pork: Eat This Less

Choose pasture-raised, certified humane, when possible. For your health and the environment, skip processed pork, like bacon.

18. Cheese: Eat This Less

Stick to a single serving (1.5 ounces for hard cheese)—plus using a sharply flavored cheese can help you get the maximum impact for less. The EWG also recommends choosing organic and low-fat cheese, when possible. EWG lists cheese as the 3rd worst protein choice in part because they looked at 4 ounces of cheese—that’s almost three 1.5-ounce servings!

19. Beef: Eat This Less

Look for grass-fed and organic. Although pricier than conventional, it’s a healthier choice for you and the environment. Grass-fed beef is richer in heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Plus, organic, grass-fed cattle are raised in a way that minimizes the carbon emissions from manure. The EWG also recommends avoiding processed beef products, such as sausage.

20. Lamb: Eat This Less

The EWG ranked lamb as the worst choice based on carbon footprint and recommends choosing grass-fed, when possible. Since it’s not widely eaten in the United States, it plays a smaller role in carbon impact than beef, however.

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If your goal is to actually see your abs in the mirror one day, remember that exercise alone probably won’t be enough.

“There’s a common saying that abs are made in the kitchen,” Shawn Arent, the director of the Center for Health and Human Performance at Rutgers University, previously told Business Insider. “There is a certain truth to that. The diet does play a really important part in this.” 

No amount of exercise can make up for unhealthy food choices. So make sure to eat enough healthy fat, protein, and fresh produce to keep you standing up strong. 

See Also:

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  • 8 foods to avoid if you want to reduce your chances of cancer, diabetes, and early death

  • A chemical nerve agent may have been found in a mail bag at Facebook’s offices. Here’s why sarin is so dangerous.

SEE ALSO: A celebrity fitness trainer reveals 3 dynamic ab, arm, and glute moves you can do at home for a summer beach bod

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