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wall street journal

We are beginning to win the battle against the myth that sit-ups and crunches are a worthwhile fitness activity. Take the time to read the December 21, 2015 Wall Street Journal article by Rachel Bachman, “Why You Can Stop Doing Sit-Ups.” In physical therapy, I treat the patients who in a valiant, but misguided, effort to regain fitness launch into a series of crunch/sit-up exercises only to wake the next morning with debilitating lower back or neck pain. The numerous reasons you should avoid crunches and sit-ups are listed below:


Most fitness clients are already spending too much time in a forward bent, slouched over posture. Their cervical, thoracic, and lumbar vertebrae are bent forwcrunchard for hours a day– sitting too much, driving too much, texting too much… Many are proud at how easily they can fold their thoracic and lumbar spine over and “palm the floor.” The last thing they need is to pull the ligaments, discs, and joints of their spine into further flexion with crunches and sit-ups.

Your Mother’s Eyes and Your Grandma’s Spine

As we age, our spines tend to fall into the flexed over, end-range alignment of a sit-up.   Why would you want to accelerate the pace of this degeneration by performing activities that accentuate the slumped over, forward flexed, spinal posture of old age?

The One True Belly Fat Reducing Exercise

Your abdominal muscles, or “six pack,” will not become more visible with lots of crunches, sit ups, rip twists, belly blasters, or any other targeted training. There is no such thing as spot reducing. The ‘table push away’ is the best exercise to improve the visibility of any muscle. Unfortunately, it is the least utilized exercise in America.

Abdominal Muscle Biomechanics

The function of your abdominal muscles is not to create movement but rather prevent movement. They work with a team of other muscles to act as anti-extensors, anti-rotators, and anti-flexor muscles. The six pack muscle, or rectus abdominus, makes up a portion of the cylinder of muscle that serves to support your spine in a tall and stable position. Think “movement preventers” and not “movement producers.” Crunches and sit-ups train your abdominal muscles to do the wrong thing.

The Pros Don’t Use Them

I cannot think of any athletic activity that emulates the motion of a crunch or sit up. It will not improve your ability to run, jump, throw, or compete. The strength and conditioning coaches who get paid big money to make athletes more successful and keep them injury-free do not use crunches, sit-ups, or other repeated trunk flexion exercises in their programming.

Maybe Not Now, but Soon and for the Rest of Your Life

Your lumbar spine hates repeated flexion. It really hates it if you throw in some rotation along with compression from an exterior load like a medicine ball, weight plate, or kettlebell. Lumbar spine injuries are cumulative. The stresses build up until one day you bend over to pick up a pencil and your back “goes out.” Crunches and sit-ups serve to accelerate the rate of accumulated spinal stress. I know you have a friend who does one hundred twisting, medicine ball crunches a day and has never had a problem. I have a friend who has smoked for twenty years and says he feels fine.

To read Rachel Bachman’s article, click on the link below:


-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

Strength training

High intensity interval training

Eat adequate amounts of protein

Sleep long and well

FFAC has been making these recommendations forever. Take the time to read the article by Kathleen Hughes, “How Athletes Can Stay ‘Fast After 50’,” in the October 18, 2015 edition of the Wall Street Journal. If you are over fifty and are not following these fitness guidelines, you are missing out on the magic.

Click on the link below to read the article:


-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

Diner One:  The food at this restaurant is terrible.

Diner Two:  Yeah, and such small portions.

The food we eat tastes worse, and we are eating more of it.  If you look at the amount of brain tissue that is devoted to smell and taste it only makes sense that as we change the smell and taste of our food, we alter our feelings of satiety.  We are hard wired to search out foods that have the flavors that keep us healthy.  Modern food production has altered those signals and created eating habits that keep us overweight and under-nourished.

Please take the time to read the essay by Mark Schatzker in the April 9, 2015 edition of the Wall Street Journal, “How Flavor Drives Nutrition.”

Click on the link below:


-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS


Strength training has the biggest impact on older individuals.  It is the key to keeping older people independent for a lifetime.  Six weeks of dedicated strength training can take away limps, normalize balance, restore posture, and the biggest bonus, eliminate long standing pain.  In this time, they quickly double or triple the loads they can lift in their resistance exercises.  The impact strength training has on their lives is “game changing.” Unfortunately, it is difficult to convince older individuals that they need to strength train.  I might get a little help from a recent article by Laura Johannes in the 3/15/15 edition of the Wall Street Journal, “The Benefits of Pumping Iron in Later Life.”  This is what I liked and did not like about the article:

You Need To Start With an Evaluation

If you went to the doctor and he or she did no physical examination or diagnostic testing yet proceeded to prescribe a medication, we would all agree that you should be reluctant to take the doctor’s advice.  Unfortunately, the same is not true with fitness training.  Most people see personal trainers and launch into exercise activity with no initial evaluation of physical performance.  Exercise is the same as medicine- prescribe the proper activities for the proper problems, and the results will be good.  Do the wrong exercise for the problem, and you make no progress, or worse, you suffer an injury.

Please, Do Not Start On Machines

The recommendation to begin your strength training endeavors on machines makes life for the trainer simpler and your results minimal.  Commercial gyms love the machine training system– you can pump a lot of people through in a short amount of time with minimal supervision.  It takes more time, patience, and effort to train in a standing position, but it is what older, deconditioned individuals need.  None of the beneficial challenges to balance, posture, or coordination happen when you sit.  All of the important changes in performance that occur in the first three months of training happen because of neural adaptations.  Your muscles, joints, and brain need to work together as a team.  If you can walk into the gym, you can exercise in a standing position.

Hurray! Dr. Miriam Nelson

I bought ten copies of Dr. Miriam Nelson’s Strong Women, Strong Bones book in the mid-1990’s and handed them out to patients.  Hopefully, they are still circulating and spreading the word.  Dr. Nelson’s advice on strength training for women has stood the test of time.  Strong Women, Stay Slim is the body composition advice millions of American women are missing.

Eating Protein Is a Skill

I was happy to see the recommendation to eat more protein–not monumental amounts of protein–just some protein.  Many people do not make progress in their exercise endeavors because they have the protein intake of a bunny rabbit.  Recovery from strength training requires the building blocks of muscle in order to produce results.  A bagel for breakfast, a kale sandwich at lunch, some greek yogurt as a snack, and a dinner of soup, bread, and some ice cream does not supply the nutrients necessary for recovery.  I am convinced that eating protein is a skill—you need advice and practice to develop a new skill.

To read the Wall Street Journal article, click on the link below:


-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS