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Six Myths About Abdominal Muscles
Excerpted from the book The Truth About Back Pain
by Todd Sinett, DC, and Sheldon Sinett, DC

Myth 1: Strong abs mean a strong back.

"I need to strengthen my abs" is a statement we hear almost every day. But in reality, it's doubtful that your abdominal muscles are weak in relation to the rest of your body. Rather, the problem is more likely that they are not in balance with the rest of your muscles.

(Article continued below.)

Your abs are likely too strong, not too weak — even if you don't exercise regularly.

If you spend your day hunched over, the abdominal muscles will be contracted and tight, not stretched and loose. They aren't weak — they are actually too tight.

The heavy emphasis on working your abs comes from a gross misunderstanding of what constitutes good health. The fitness industry makes a fortune selling devices for spot weight reduction (devices or methods that promise to help people get rid of the fat from one part of their bodies, such as the belly or the thighs). And trainers everywhere still recommend sit-ups and crunches as the key to obtaining a flat stomach. But the exercises and devices often featured in infomercials reinforce the false belief that by working out just one part of your body you will receive great benefits.

If you think about it, you know this is wrong; you need overall body fitness to be healthy. The truth about all these methodologies lies in the fine-print disclaimer that accompanies most exercise equipment: "This product is effective only when used as part of a complete diet and exercise routine."

The key to a strong back is balanced abdominal muscles. Sure, you can work your abs, but no more and no less than you work your other muscles throughout the day. In our work, we've found that proper core balance must come first. If you correct the imbalance, it will correct the weakness and alleviate the symptoms.

Myth 2: A big gut is a sign of weak abs.

A T-shirt I recently saw in an airport sums it up comically: "This isn't a beer belly — just a protective covering for my rock-hard abs!" Big bellies indicate a high percentage of body fat but tell us nothing about abdominal muscle strength or weakness. Sumo wrestlers and large football players - and even some beer drinkers — don't have weak cores. These muscles may be covered with excess fat, but the muscles themselves may be quite strong.

Myth 3: Six-pack abs reflect good abdominal training.

Six-pack abs reflect nice-looking muscles, not necessarily properly functioning muscles. It is not uncommon that people with great-looking abs actually suffer pain from imbalance.

Myth 4: Good form while doing abdominal exercises is the best way to protect your neck from injury.

After years of treating patients, I am confident that sit-ups and crunches are the worst exercises and should never be done. A common injury sustained during these exercises is "throwing" your neck out. This was first thought to occur when a person didn't support his or her neck, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Crunches and sit-ups cause the abdominal muscles to be pulled too tight, as if you were wearing a straitjacket. This excessive pulling puts tremendous stress on your neck, and this is what "throws" your neck out.

Myth 5: Pilates is a safe, low-impact way to exercise your stomach because it stretches and lengthens the spine, thus preventing injuries.

While a lot of people swear by Pilates, the exercises can cause injuries, and we have a good number of Pilates teachers as patients. The Pilates Hundred exercise — done in almost every class — places an overemphasis on developing the abdominals. To do the exercise, you lie flat on your back and then lift your upper back and legs. You then push your arms up and down through the air in sets of 5 until a count of 100 is reached. This exercise not only puts a person in the C position (where the back is curled up) but does so under stressful circumstances.

Myth 6: An exercise mat and large ball are the two best pieces of equipment for getting a lean stomach.

An overall good diet and exercise regimen is the true key to a lean stomach. Your sneakers are actually the best piece of equipment to lose that gut. Sneakers represent fat-burning aerobic exercise. We all need to get out and walk!

Copyright © 2008 Todd Sinett, DC, and Sheldon Sinett, DC

About The Authors:
Dr. Todd Sinett is the owner of the Midtown Chiropractic Health and Wellness practice in New York City (www.midtownchiro.com), which provides chiropractic care and applied kinesiology, nutritional and supportive counseling, and physical and massage therapy to thousands of individuals, including noted sports figures and celebrities. The center hosts weekend wellness programs and corporate informational seminars and publishes a periodic online newsletter, Balance in the Body (www.balanceinthebody.com). Sinett has appeared as clinical expert on many television programs including The View, FoxMD, and Good Day New York. Visit his website at www.drsinett.com.

For more than forty years, Dr. Sheldon Sinett was a leading chiropractor and pioneer in combining chiropractic medicine with a variety of cutting-edge, holistic practices.

For more information, visit www.thetruthaboutbackpainbook.com.

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