JC Santana on Situps

First – Definition of a strong back is simple. A strong back is a back that can safely transfer the forces the hips generate – period! AND that makes all of the difference in the world – it is associated with performance and injury prevention.

Second – for an exercise to be functional is DOES NOT HAVE TO LOOK AND FEEL LIKE THE ACTIVITY IT IS TRYING TO IMPROVE. This is a huge myth about functional training. For example – a plank is excellent for core development for many reasons – it looks like nothing we normally do. Our Triple Threat series – (one leg bridging, curls, and hip lifts on a SB) is one of the best protocols for running and hamstring health – looks nothing like running. SO -sit-ups ups, crunches, and many other exercises like those can provide excellent training without them looking like anything. This is the whole idea of traditional strength training – movements that look very little like anything – yet improve overall strength and function. Functional training INCLUDE exercises that provide the SPECIFICITY BRIDGE between traditional exercises and the activity, and YES -these would also include MANY STANDING EXERCISES that more closely mimic the target activity. But to say that something is not functional it does not look like the target activity is ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT!

Next – What do crunches and Sit ups have to do with function – we can make an argument that sit ups are to the front part of the core what the Bicep curl is to the arm, and what a hyper-extension is to the posterior chain. We are not going to get into a debate about that, are we? Although NOBODY picks up anything just using a bicep curl, yet, the bicep curl will help people pick up items in front of them (e.g. children). The sit-ups open and close the hips flexors, while teaching AB stiffness, which is useful in force transfer of the core. Open hips flexors (which can also be trained from the standing and prone positions) are essential for human locomotion and overhead throwing. Therefore, although certainly not the only way to train – the sit-up has always been a great tool for general core health and strength. SO – it is not more ridiculous to concern yourself with sit-ups and crunches than to concern yourself with many other exercises and training methods (e.g. planks, pull-ups, bridges, hypers, rev hypers, etc.) – none of these look like anything we do – yet are very effective at providing function and health.

Now – I know what Stu McGill and Mike Boyle say – “it destroys the back . . . . puts pressure on this and that . . . . “ Well – It does put pressure on the back – BUT NOT PRESSURE A HEALTHY BACK CAN’T TAKE!! Generations upon generations were raised on a steady diet of sit-ups – what happened to them? NOTHING! When I was a young man the sit-ups were part of the Presidential Physical Fitness award. The military and municipalities required TONS of them. What happened to us? NOTHING – we are stronger than this generation that have not done them!! NO DATA SHOWS THAT GENERATIONS RAISED WITH THIS EXERCISE HAVE BAD BACKS!! SO – THE EXERCISE CAN’T BE ASSOCIATED WITH BACK ISSUES. Now, if a deconditioned person attempts them –they may hurt their back. But that true with anything. Are we really going to say that resistance training in general is bad because if someone puts 200 pounds on a structure that can only take 100 pounds it would cause damage? REALLY GUYS?

Come on people – we have inflicted enough fear and JERRY SPRINGER headlines to freak people out and allow the insane to be heard!! It’s time for some common sense, attention to HISTORY (not panic), and a little conviction for the truth. I have been doing sit-ups for over 40 years. AT IHP we have been doing sit-ups for decades. We not only have sit-up benches – we have declined sit-up benches! We try to make everyone’s back strong enough to be able to enjoy the benefits of the sit-ups.



My Top Three Bodyweight Exercise Alternatives.

I often hear people say that they have been a bit banged up from lifting weights and are looking for some alternative methods of resistance based training. My suggestion is that bodyweight training may be a great alternative. Some of the benefits include: improved joint health, increased mobility, and enhances neuromuscular adaptation (adapting the the movement patterns). Although a new routine may seem daunting at times, but with a daunting task often leads to great rewards.

Some rewards are mearly just getting more bang for your buck, you can often burn more calories in less time. In a recent study funded by the American Council of Exercise, researchers found bodyweight training can burn up to 16.2 calories per minute in men and 13 calories/minute in women. (That’s almost 1000 calories per hour.)

Another benefit is that you can workout anywhere. Since often no equipment is required for bodyweight exercises you are less dependent on relying on a facility equiped with the latest technology. We are often conditioned to believe that we need to move heavy objects or operate intricate exercise machinery to achieve a desirable physique. And why is this? Well.. it’s profitable. If the mission of many fitness clubs is to profit from the equipment, sales and membership fees then marketing and advertising is not likely geared to educate you on its alternatives.

So.. If someone where to ask me.. “Chris, if you where never to lift a weight or touch another machine again and you could only choose three alternative bodyweight exercises, what would they be?”

Well, here is my answer…

1. Alternative to Bench Press – Push-Up

How to do it: Kneel down on all fours and place your hands slightly beyond shoulder-width apart. Set your feet together and straighten your arms and legs. Your body should form a straight line from ankles to head. Keeping your elbows pulled in toward your sides, lower your chest to an inch above the floor, and press back up. That’s 1 rep.

Keep in mind this is not just a chest exercise. The exercise targets all the muscles in our upper body while building optimal strength in the forearms, shoulders, chest. The push-up is also a great for the ladies too. When done properly, the push-up also puts emphasis on building a strong core by stabilizing all layers of the abdominals and back. There is even some benefits to your hip joint, quads and hammies.

Are push-up exercises to easy..? Not always..

There are many variations of push-ups on of my favorite advanced push-ps is the Brazilian Twisting push-up.
How to do it? Assume a pushup position, but form fists with your hands so your knuckles are flat against the floor. Rotate your hips to the right and cross your right leg in front of your left. Then lower your chest toward the floor as you would for a standard pushup, being careful not to let your hips touch the floor. Push back up and return to the starting position. Repeat with your left leg.

2. Back Exercise Alternative – Recline pulls

How do I do it? First find or place a horizontal bar at a lower level (waist high) then lie with back on ground so bar is lined up with chest.
Next, hold bar with shoulder-width grip and pull your chest to the bar, keeping body straight and heels on ground
Lower with control; repeat.
A great goal would be (10 to 12 reps.)

If you need more of a challenge try mix it up by elevating your feet or adding a plyometric component. Trust me, they’re harder than they look!

3. Single Leg Squats Instead of Weighted Squats.

Ok on paper it looks great if you can squat 300lbs but is it necessary or even effective for balance, deceleration or force transfer?
I will leave that debate for another time. One thing I can tell you that a heavy back squat can pose more of a risk of injury than a single
leg bodyweight squat.

How do I do it? Downward Movement: With your weight balanced on the right foot and the toes of the left foot still on the floor, slowly begin to bend forward at the hips. Keep the abdominals braced. Do not allow the torso to shift or rotate. Keep your back flat and head aligned with your spine.

Upward Movement: Keep your bodyweight in your right side, exhale and slowly push the right foot into the ground to straighten hip and knee and return to start position. The core should be bracing through the entire movement to support the spine; keep the hips level and control balance.

Perform an efective number of repetitions. Change sides and complete another set of repetitions on the other leg.

More unilateral strength, become more efficiently loaded for locomotion. Single limb strength movements tend to require more stability and can activate the deep core muscles to help keep your body stable and balanced. You will use stabilization muscles that are not usually targeted and can remain dormant when training bilateral movements. Unilateral strength exercises can help to build an all around stronger, more stable, and faster body.

A good way to get started with bodyweight exercises without completely abandoning the weights is to take a hybrid approach. For example for your first target set go for the traditional exercise like a dumbbell bench press and then unload the chest with a bodyweight back exercise like the recline pull.

Christopher Vlaun | ©2013

“American Council on Exercise’s Pro Source”
“National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Essentials of Personal Training”; Roger W. Earle and Thomas R. Baechle; 2003
“Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and Its Applications”; George A. Brooks, et al.; 2004