Why the Crunch Will Destroy Your Golf Game

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Today’s guest article is written by Dr. James Caldwell, PT, DPT, CSCS, TPI Certified


“I do 50-100 crunches a day, so I know my abdominals are strong.” As a physical therapist, I hear countless patients make that statement and I have to shake my head and tell them that does not mean their abdominals are strong. Now,

how many of you do crunches on the regular? My guess is most of you reading this have done a crunch or two in their lifetime. Don’t worry, so have I. But I am here to tell you the crunch (let us include the sit-up as well) exercise is the worst abdominal exercise for your abdominals, your spine, and your golf game. Let us review why.

Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes

     The most important concept to remember with our musculoskeletal system is that no muscle works on its own. All our muscles have partners that assist them to perform whatever task it is we are performing. Our abdominals are no different and consist of four muscles: the rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, and the internal and external obliques. These muscles are arranged in layers, with the rectus abdominis on top, external oblique underneath, then your internal obliques, and finally your transversus abdominis.

     When performing a crunch or sit-up, the rectus abdominis is the primary mover of that action.  As you can see from the picture, the rectus abdominis is what most people commonly refer to as our “6-pack” muscle. The reason for this is that it is the most superficial abdominal muscle we have. Thus, when we work it out and it gets bigger, it bulges under our skin and becomes the first thing we see (if our diet is on point as well).

    What you can also see from the picture is that the rectus abdominis is a BIG muscle. It starts from our pubic bone and attaches all the way up by our sternum (this will come into focus later on). Separating the right and left muscle bellies is the linea alba (white line) which is predominately made up of connective tissue that holds the muscle bellies together and becomes a vital attachment point for all our abdominal muscles.

Our obliques are the next layer of muscle, specifically the external oblique. The external oblique begins on ribs 5-12 and inserts into three places: our iliac crest, pubic tubercle, and linea alba. The external oblique is responsible for opposite rotation of the torso. So, if you only contract your left external oblique muscle, your torso will rotate to the right. Just underneath the external oblique is our internal oblique. Beginning at the inguinal ligament, iliac crest, and lumbodorsal fascia, the internal oblique inserts into the linea alba, pecten pubis, and ribs 10-12.

     Finally, we have our transverse abdominis muscle, probably the most important abdominal muscle we have. This massive muscle begins at our iliac crests, inguinal ligament, thoracolumbar fascia, and costal cartilages of ribs 7-12 and inserts into our xiphoid process, linea alba, pubic crest, and pecten pubis. If you think the rectus is big, take a look at the picture of this muscle. The transverse abdominis is essentially our natural corset that is often referred to as “nature’s backbelt.” If this muscle is not trained properly, our whole “core” will break down.

Why it Matters

     So, why does this matter anyways? If you think about your every day life, when do you actually perform an abdominal crunch to help you through your day? Think about it: when you bend over to pick something up, it is not your abdominals that “crunch” you down, it is gravity. What controls that motion is actually your back muscles. This is a key concept that cannot be ignored.

     To put it simply, our abdominals are not designed to initiate movement as we think of it, but to resist movement. What are abdominals trying to do all day? They are trying to fight gravity or our daily activities from moving us out of neutral posture. Our abdominals are meant to be stabilizers, not movers. Read that again carefully.

Another important concept to dwell on is that our body always works in conjunction with one another. No muscle works alone in real life. So why do we train our muscles in isolation? Doesn’t make much sense does it?

     As I stated earlier, the crunch only works the rectus abdominis. What about the other abdominal muscles? Our internal and external obliques? Our transverse abdominis, probably the most important of all four? If we continue to train in isolation, our bodies will adapt to the forces we put on it and will be unable to perform when called upon.

How Crunches kill the spine

     Besides the above reasons mentioned, the crunch is also not good for our spines. In my last article, I talked about posture and how important it was. Now, think for a moment about those pictures and what their backs looked like. Did they look rounded? Arched? Or more neutral and relaxed? We naturally have three curves in our spines and our lumbar spine (low back) should always be slightly arched. However, the problem arises when we spend too much time in one position.

     Going back to our anatomy lesson, think about where the rectus abdominis attaches: the pelvis and the sternum. If we were to do 1,000 crunches every day, naturally that muscle will get bigger, stronger, and easier to fire as our brain gets used to firing it all the time. By overdeveloping such a big muscle and not focusing on any other, what will that do to our posture? As that muscle gets bigger and bigger, the tissues are going to get tighter and tighter, pulling us into a more rounded posture. Which segways perfectly into how it effects our golf game.

Asking for C-posture

     As I mentioned previously, my last article looked at the importance of how our address to hit the ball can affect our whole swing. If we are pulled into a more rounded posture, what do you think our address will look like? The “C” posture that we do not want and all the problems associated with it. That is why our training is so important and must carry-over to our golf game. What and how we train will translate into how we play on the course.

What to do besides crunch

     Okay, now that I completely bashed the crunch, what can you do instead? Well, there are a plethora of exercises to work with out there and I will showcase a future post on the topic, but let me give you two new ones to try:

1. Paloff Press

     Exercise that works anti-rotation. The band (or cable) that you use will try to pull you one direction while your abdominals stabilize you and keep you facing forward. More resistance is felt when you extend the arms and less when the cable is closer to your body. It is important to keep moving your arms out and in because that is more of an accurate simulation of what our abdominals do on a daily basis and in our golf swing (contract, then relax). In the video, it states to hold at the end, which you can do as well. I prefer to keep pumping the arms.

2. Farmer’s Carry

     Love this exercise. One arm carries work your abdominals a bit more, but both are equally effective. If you follow me on Instagram (check it out!), I show you how to perform this exercise with your golf bag. Another simple, yet effective exercise that is more functional because you have to walk as you perform it. The more movement we have, the better!

Conclusion

     When we train, it is important to always think about why we are doing an exercise. Especially when playing a particular sport, you also have to take it a step further and decipher how each exercise is specifically going to help your golf game. If the exercise is not going to help, do not do it. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to contact me!


Please find more of Dr. Caldwell’s content at https://jamescrcaldwell.wixsite.com

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