By Marianne Ryan PT, OCS
Clinical Director MRPT Physical Therapy
Is it your New Year’s resolution to have a nice flat tummy?
Think twice before you crunch!
I bet you didn’t know that sit ups and crunches can damage your pelvic floor muscles which prevents you from getting that flat tummy look.
This blog is part of a 3 part series on how to develop a flat tummy without doing abdominals crunches. We will teach you some safe exercises which will help you get that desired result.
For most of us, abdominal crunches are on life’s list of things we know we really should do, but are not really that much fun – like flossing our teeth or sprinkling flax seeds on everything we eat. Well, maybe what I am going to tell you will be good news – ABDOMINAL CRUNCHES CAN BE BAD FOR YOU!
The problem is not so much what these types of exercises are doing to your six-pack abdominal muscles, but the effect they are having on your pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles. These two muscle groups work together to help keep the lower part of your body stable so you can move more efficiently.
Your pelvic floor is shaped like a little hammock connecting the back and front of the pelvis; and it is meant to act like a trampoline. It is composed of a group of muscles whose job it is to support our abdominal contents, maintain bladder and bowel control and support healthy sexual function. When the pelvic floor muscles contract your deep or lower abdominals should contract at the same time, forming the base and front part of your core muscles.
When you do a sit up or, an abdominal crunch, the pressure in your abdomen rises. Your pelvic floor should contract strongly and automatically, like a trampoline, to match the increasing pressure. If you have weakness in your pelvic floor, the increased pressure will hone in on that area, and can worsen the weakness and cause serious problems, including problems with bladder and bowel control, organ prolapse and pain in the pelvis and lower back.
Also, performing sit ups or crunches can cause your upper abdominals to become over trained and much stronger than your lower abdominal and pelvic floor muscles; resulting in muscle imbalances. If this happens, each time you perform a sit up, the upper abdominal wall tightens and causes funnel pressure which presses down on the lower tummy and pelvic floor muscles. So, you run the risk of developing a little pot belly and a droopy pelvic floor.
The pelvic floor and your deep abdominal muscles are not normally trained to withstand the prolonged pressure created by repetitive crunches. It’s an endurance problem. Pelvic floor muscles can fatigue easily and lose its “trampoline like” effect of matching the downward pressure placed on it by the internal organs.
Take a toothpaste tube; make sure it’s fairly full. Now make it do a crunch – go right ahead and bend it in half! The lid represents a strong pelvic floor. Okay, now do it again with the lid off. Get the picture?
This doesn’t mean you get out of exercising your abdominal muscles altogether!
In the next 2 posts you will learn a great way of working out your abdominal muscles while keeping your pelvic floor safe.