First of all I want to say that I am not a personal trainer, but what I will write here has quality and I learned from people who know a lot about it.
I use this belief in my daily life and I am so much better! Here you will learn that doing sit-ups may be doing more harm than good and that the muscles work in a peculiar biomechanics and in a cross way. Not forgetting that with this information you understand the reason of that persistent low back pain, so you can heal it. And that hunchback?
Nowadays, low back pain is very common and is related to long periods of time sitting, something that our body was not created for. That and other factors create a muscle imbalance that might even change our bones. Posture is something that most people don’t care about and think that it is normal to deteriorate with age. Well, not necessarily.
When the body gives you pain, be grateful. It is a sign that something is not right, that there’s something it is not being able to handle. It is a blessing. Imagine suddenly waking up with a hunchback like the one in “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”…
If you have pain act to eliminate it and if you don’t have pain act to prevent it.
As I said in the beginning, the body works a bit in X, in cross. I heard this on a video of Elliot Hulse that you can watch here and it lighted up my mind. It made so much sense that I decided to study this question.
I found out that doing sit-ups is a bad and serious practice if you have developed hip flexors, which happens in people who sit a lot. The story goes that Vince Gironde, great body trainer, was once in his gym and saw someone doing sit-ups. He went to the cashier, took the money that the person had given to him and told him that it would only stay in his gym people who did not do sit-ups. Why this toughness? I started investigating.
The sit-ups and leg raise we commonly do work the hip flexors, the group of muscles shown in the following image.
On the left side of the image are the muscles I want to show you. On the right side there are all the muscles. As you can see there are a couple of muscles, called Psoas, that come from the spine. These muscles are recruited when we do sit-ups, which strengthens too much the low back. Another point to make is that we shorten these muscles by doing frontal flexion, causing us to have the so called ducktail. A strong low back – muscles of the front of the leg very strong – low back pain – weak abdominals – hamstrings (back side of the leg) and weak glutes. The opposite also happens and commonly these people have no butt.
If we shouldn’t do sit-ups, how to have a nice strong belly and make the low back pain disappear:
The exercise is called “vacuum”. It is a technique that uses respiration to strengthen the core muscles and therefore sit-ups. This workout is so simple that doesn’t even seem like workout and everyone can do it.
- Inhale calmly for 5 – 10 seconds;
- Exhale all the air, tightening the belly against the back to the maximum for 5 – 10 seconds.
I try to do 10 seconds and 10 repeats, but I need to do more, I admit. The position can be however you want, but to eliminate bad habits of wrong posture, I do it with my hands and knees on the floor. You can also do it lying down or standing. Just be very careful to your posture and if you have doubts do it with the four-way posture. You can do this exercise called Tummy Vaccum as many times a day as you want. This is a great exercise!
About muscle imbalance, when a certain muscle works more than its “partner”, it becomes overexcited and is going to create even more imbalance. For that reason, it is important to stretch the overexcited muscles so they allow the weakest and laziest muscles to perform. For me, it is important to stretch the low back and the front side of the leg. I’m going to give you an example for these two muscle groups.
There is no simpler stretching than this one. Just bring your legs to your chest and swing to the side you wish.
This stretching is also not difficult at all and it doesn’t have to be done with an exercise ball. You just need a couch, a wall or anything where you can support your foot well. Then push forward with the back leg and push back with the leg in front.
I also want to talk to you about the muscles of the chest and the muscles of the back. These muscles are very important for a good posture and to keep us upright.
Awhile back I used to have a forward leaning posture. My bones adapted to that posture and thus my shoulders and neck were projected to the front. Today my body is better, but I still don’t have the posture I want.
Holistically, a forward leaning posture means fear, need to protect your heart and organs (it makes sense if we image that posture). It means that we feel attacked and we want to protect ourselves. People with this kind of posture commonly have problems of self-esteem, so let’s increase that self-esteem, a topic that I’m not going to develop here.
With regard to muscles, someone with the shoulders projected to the front have the chest muscles overexcited. These muscles then apply pressure on the back muscles which in turn extend and allow the displacement. The muscles that I’m referring to are the pectoralis minor and the pectoralis major, shown in the image.
Following the same logic of the abs/low back and legs, also here it is important to stretch the overexcited muscles and work their “corresponding” opposite muscles.
There are several different stretches for shoulders and neck, but what really matters is the consistency of practice. We can’t wait big results after one month of daily stretching, when we had 20 years of wrong posture.
A wrong posture causes:
- Muscle pain;
- Back pain;
- Varicose veins;
- Poor blood circulation;
- Countless consequences derived from the problems described above.
My message with this article is about being conscious that our posture influences a lot our life and that we can improve it. We have the power to make that happen. I also want to tell you that the muscles need balance, no muscle should be stronger that the other. The rule is: when a muscle works too much, another works too less and so we must stretch the “worker” and work the “sleepy” one.
I gave you two stretches, one workout to strengthen the abs and I will give you more stretches and workouts that you can do at home. I’m also working on this myself. I focus on stretching the chest, low back and the front legs and on work/strengthen my back, abs, glutes and hamstrings.
There are other practices that we can introduce as visiting an osteopath, massages, acupuncture and conscience always. Counteract the tendency of being seated, and if it is difficult, find solutions that will force you to do it, such as sit at your office on an exercise ball . That is something I am willing to try. If you can shift between standing and sitting while working, that would be great!
@Ana. Only change those who commit to take action.