Category Archives: Plank

The Scientific 7-Minute Workout : Not Really

It is NOT really a 7 minute workout! The original article which appeared in The American College of Sports Medicine Journalstated for most people the circuit program should be repeated for 2 or 3 times (totaling 21 minutes) for maximum benefits. I guess titling the article “The Scientific 21-Minute Workout” wouldn’t sell as many newspapers.

“…following the established ACSM guidelines for high-intensity exercise of at least 20 minutes is recommended (3). This may require multiple repetitions (or circuits) of a multistation exercise circuit.”

I have a few comments and issues with the article that appeared in the NYTimes on May 9th 2013:

  1. In order to receive the cardio and insulin sensitivity benefits one would need to do this workout at 100% of Vo2 Max….not likely for an average person. Working out for 7 minutes with body weight isn’t going to make a sizable difference in individual’s health or fitness level.  Especially if the rest of the day they do what most American’s do: sit and remain sedentary.
  2.  Not all exercises are created equally and there are many in this routine that will do little in   regards to increasing energy expenditure and cardiopulmonary benefits.  The crunch, plank and side plank are low intensity exercises with little strength and cardio benefits.
  3. The triceps dips exercise is a contraindicated movement for many people with shoulder instability, pain or heavy body weight.  Optimum extension of the average shoulder is 20 degrees yet when performing the exercise one’s body-weight might take them into 90 degrees of extension which might cause inflammation of the shoulder capsule and surrounding soft tissue.  Perhaps a close hand ‘diamond’ push-up would be a better substitute.
  4.  Strength increases in this workout are severely limited to one’s body-weight and lack of progressive overload.  In theory as one progressed in this routine they would lose weight and the exercises would become easier and easier which would create a plateau.
  5. According to the US Department of Health we need at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week (or 75 minutes of intense exercise) in order to improve your health.
  6. Science has been pretty clear in showing a causation with the more moderate activity one gets the better the mental health benefits .  So if you are looking to decrease depression or have a better temper you need to participate in more than 20 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
  7. This plan calls for little variation and thus is more predisposed to increase joint wearing, exercise stagnation, boredom and quick plateaus.
  8. A cookie cutter approach is never a good idea for a diverse population unless you want to get sub-par results or produce injuries.  Your workout should take into consideration your goals, contraindications, fitness level, age, risk factors, health and diet.  Anything short of this is irresponsible at best and injurious at its worse.

Please don’t get me wrong, the 7-minute workout undeniably has some benefits, but just as many limitations.  There is nothing wrong with the workout for the untrained person, and it can be a great starting solution for anyone looking for a quick training session.  Furthermore it could stand in as a effective workout to maintain your current fitness levels when time is tight or on vacation. Over the long haul it is not a well designed program for someone looking to maximize fat loss, lean muscle gains and increase strength.  It isn’t going to transform anyone from couch potato to elite athlete, but if it gets the sedentary people in our society more fit then its a win win for us all and our health care system.  Seven minutes is better than nothing! 

Doug Joachim – NYC Personal trainer
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Crunches Don’t Make Flat Stomachs, Hurt Backs…Maybe

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If I was to guess, the abdominal crunch (partial sit-up) is the most popular exercise in the gym. Too many people are under the impression doing crunches will melt the fat away from their midsection.  This is as wrong as a nun wearing garters.  It just doesn’t work that way.  Exercising a certain body part does not cause a direct decrease of body-fat in that area.  You can not spot reduce adipose tissue.  Unlike muscle cells, fat cells do not change after repeated bouts of mechanical stress.  Many factors will combine to decrease or increase the adiposity in your abdominal region.  Performing ab exercises will not directly affect the fat in your love handles, pouch and/or beer belly and may in fact cause you harm.

Crunches may actually increase the muscle bulk around your midsection and add to your girth.  This is especially true for neophyte gym-goers.  When you first start doing crunches the abdominal muscles will increase in size, pushing the fat farther out giving you the appearance of a larger waist.  But as your body adapts and you begin to lose weight (due to diet, increased metabolism, cardio and weight training) you might start to see the beginnings of ‘boxes’ as your stomach muscles reach a threshold.  The majority of crunchers don’t do 1 rep maximal sets (come to think about it, I’ve never seen it done) or progressively increase the load – plus the rectus abdominus has a limited capacity for hypertrophy. So don’t get your knickers in a twist, crunches won’t make you fat.

Like drugs, all exercises are dangerous and have the potential to cause great harm or good.   Depending on your goals and limitations you should weigh the pros and cons of all the exercises you select.

Crunches Pros:

  • Strengthens lumbar flexion
  • Strengthens rectus abdominus
  • Increases nutrient flow to lumbar discs
  • Increases forward spinal flexion mobility
  • Potentially a performance enhancing movement

Crunches Cons:

  • Puts a lot of stress on the lumbar spine (about 674 lbs. of force)
  • Uses a limited amount of muscles within the core
  • If you sit for more than 6 hours a day your lumbar spine is flexed (stretched) and your abdominals are shortened for that whole time which leads to a structural imbalance that crunches will make worse- eventually leading to a injury.
  • Most people don’t bother to work the antagonist (opposing) muscles i.e. erector spinae and create an even larger imbalance which open you up for injury
  • Crunches are stable and train a limited range with very little co-contraction from the stabilizing and secondary muscles.  A crunch is functional for getting up from the couch and bed but that’s about it.

There are many professional athletes and gym-goers who have been doing 10’s of thousands of crunches in their lifetime and never been hurt.   So should you stop doing crunches?  That depends.  If you have or are prone to lower back pain/injuries I would recommend doing a limited amount of spinal flexion (crunch) if any.  If strong trunk flexion is part of your fitness goals because it will help you with martial arts, boxing, throwing, gymnastics etc. then I would certainly keep crunches in your program.

The “core” musculature is in charge of stabilizing the spine, decelerating the body, preventing and creating middle and lower back rotation, flexion and extension.  It takes many muscles to perform these feats and they need to work in specific patterns to pull it off.  If your core training is limited to crunches you are likely building an asymmetrical house of cards.  It is important to have a well rounded core training program that properly engages movement patterns and builds better performance.

If you desire a flat stomach there are some better exercises to achieve this goal.  Namely the plank and all of its variations (some listed below).  This is such a great exercise because it engages your inner core musculature including your transverse abdominals (TVA).  These muscles do more to flatten you stomach then any crunch will ever do.  Your TVA (the stomach’s corset) is in charge of holding in your internal organs, protecting your spine, and stabilizing your trunk during all movement.

If you’d like to feel it work, put your hand on your stomach and cough.  The tightness you felt is the TVA contracting .   It is a common mistake to neglect the inner core muscles and work solely on the obliques and rectus abs.  I’ve seen many people with six packs that still have weak inner cores.  I call it a “fat six-pack”.   This is due to one or two things: enervation of the inner core musculature specifically the TVA and/or hypertrophy of the internal organs due to steroids and human growth hormone.

If a flat stomach is your goal, the exercises listed below will engage your inner core (TVA,  erector spinae, multifidus, longissimus, diaphragm and pelvic muscles)  and help build a strong and stable unit.

  1. Elbow Plank
  2. Side Plank
  3. Oscillating Plank on a Ball
  4. Moving Plank Contralateral lifts
  5. Low/High Wood Chops
  6. Front Squats
  7. Push-ups
  8. Supine Bridges
  9. Vacuum  Exercise (isometric)
  10. Dead Lifts
  11. Bird Dogs

This is just a sprinkling of core exercises that don’t involve a crunch, there are many many more.   Play around with your exercise program, hire a trainer and find what works best for you.  The thing is, if we didn’t spend most of our days sitting we’d wouldn’t have to work so hard for a flat stomach to begin with.  I guess this is another one of our first world problems.

Sources:

1. “Clinical Biomechanics”; The Mechanics of Torso Flexion: Situps and Standing Dynamic Flexion Manoeuvres; S.M. McGill; June 1995

2. S. Mcgill; Low Back Disorders: Evidence Based Prevention and Rehabilitation, Human Kinetics, 2002.
3. C, Richardson; C, Hodges; Therapeutic Exercise For Lumbopelvic Stabilization: A Motor Control Approach For The Treatment And Prevention Of Low Back Pain,
4. M. Siff; Supertraining; 1995.
Doug Joachim – NYC Personal Trainer
www.JoachimsTraining.com
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