No more sit-ups – thank you Harvard medical

Want a stronger core? Skip the sit-ups

Sit-ups once ruled as the way to tighter abs and a slimmer waistline,

while “planks” were merely flooring. Now planks — exercises in which

you assume a position and hold it — are the gold standard for working

your core, while classic sit-ups and crunches have fallen out of favor.

Why the shift? One reason is that sit-ups are hard on your

back — by pushing your curved spine against the floor and by working

your hip flexors, the muscles that run from the thighs to the lumbar

vertebrae in the lower back. When hip flexors are too strong or too

tight, they tug on the lower spine which can be a source of lower

back discomfort.

Get your copy of Core ExercisesWant to bring more power to athletic

pursuits? Build up your balance and stability? Or are you simply hoping

to make everyday acts likebending, turning, and reaching easier? A

strong, flexible core underpins all these goals. Core muscles need to

be strong, yet flexible, andcore fitness should be part of every

exercise program.

Second, planks recruit a better balance of muscles on the front,

sides, and back of the body during exercise than sit-ups, which

target just a few muscles. Remember, your core goes far beyond

your abdominal muscles. Finally, activities of daily living, as

well as sports and recreational activities, call on your muscles

to work together, not in isolation. Sit-ups or crunches strengthen

just a few muscle groups. Through dynamic patterns of

movement, a good core workout helps strengthen the entire set

of core muscles — the muscles you rely on for daily activities as

well as sports and recreational activities. For more on the

benefits of strengthening your core, buy Core Exercises,

a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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News and Views from the Harvard Health Blog

Caffeine and a healthy diet

may boost memory,

thinking skills; alcohol’s

effect uncertain

Drinking beverages with caffeine, having the occasional

alcoholic drink, and eating a healthy diet may help preserve

memory and thinking skills into old age.

Core workout can cause

muscle soreness

Many popular workouts that aim to strengthen your arms,

legs, and abs give short shrift to many of the muscles that

form your body’s core (the group of muscles that form the

sturdy central link connecting your upper and lower body).

Strong core muscles are essential to improving performance

in almost any sport — and are the secret to sidestepping

debilitating back pain. If you haven’t been working your core

muscles regularly — or if you challenge yourself with a new

set of exercises — expect to feel a little soreness as you get

used to your new routine. Extremely sore muscles a day or

two after a core workout means you probably overdid it and

might need to dial down your workout a bit. Next time, try to

finish just one full set of each exercise in the workout. You

might also do fewer repetitions (reps) of the exercises you

find especially hard. Once you can do reps without much

soreness, build strength by adding one more rep of the harder

exercises in each session until you’re doing the full number of

reps comfortably. Then try adding a second set. For example,

say you are doing planks, the modern alternative to pushups.

Instead of trying to do four front planks a day, start with one.

Stick with that for a few days, then add a second plank. When

you’re comfortable at that level — that is, not feeling a lot of

muscle soreness — add a third plank. And so on. If even one

plank knocks you out, cut back on how long you hold it:

instead of 30 seconds, try 10 seconds for several days, then

try 15 or 20 seconds, and so on. Delayed-onset muscle

soreness is a normal response to working your muscles.

Usually, it peaks 24 to 48 hours after a workout before gradually

easing, then disappearing entirely in another day or so. But if

you experience sudden, sharp, or long-lasting pain, check with

your doctor. For more on how to safely and effectively strengthen

your core, buy Core Exercises, a Special Health Report from

Harvard Medical School.

Featured in this issue

Core Exercises

Featured content:

The importance of your core
Safety first
Posture, alignment, and angles: Striking the right pose
Getting started
Special Bonus Section: Setting goals and motivating yourself
… and more!

Click here to read more »

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