Fitness Considerations by Beth Learn

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After 20+ years of steady work in the fitness field, including a bachelor degree in Exercise and Sport Science from Oregon State University and certifications to teach multiple group fitness protocols, I’ve seen it all, heard it all, and have all the T-shirts to prove it. Literally. This lesson is about the fact that there are soooooo many ways to effectively and safely work the core without going near anything that looks like a plank or a crunch… not even the standing or splinted versions.

You should know that I’m not going to be giving away any landmark secrets here. The body can only move in so many ways, I believe that hooligans who try to patent their protocols or “sell the secret to six-pack stomachs” are slimy {let me tell you how I really feel} because none of it should be a secret!

Let’s start with this video…

Now ponder… If every person in the world began a fitness program with the same health history, the same alignment, and the same lifestyle, then prescribing the same moves to tone and shape certain body parts would make sense.

Indeed, since social and cultural factors have most of us experiencing similar circumstances and living in similar alignments, and reading the same viral articles set forth by the governing fitness regime, most of us have been attempting the same prescriptions of diet and exercise to tone our tummies.

However, for about 70% of women who have ever been pregnant – and many men and children as well – the pat standard crunches, sit ups and planks that your average personal trainer is certified to give you will backfire when it comes to strengthening your core.

But why? Why don’t they work?

The simple answer is that if any of your body parts are dysfunctional then they won’t function the same way as a body part that is fully functional.

To put it another way, if your core is caught in a dysfunctional pattern, the normally functional approach won’t work. If your leg is broken, I can’t command you to just walk on it. You need to splint the broken spot, get some physical therapy, and gradually work back into walking. The core is the same way. This is why crunches, sit-ups  and full planks often make a broken core worse: They perpetuate the dysfunction.

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Why Crunches Don’t Work!

Are you sitting up straight right now? If you weren’t, now you are 😉 Most of us slump when we sit, and crunches just strengthen the muscles that pull you more into that slump. Crunches take you out of alignment, ruin your posture, break down your intervertebral discs, bulge your belly {try one right now and see if your belly goes in or out} and they increase pressure to the pelvic floor … Hello, male diapers are available for sale in the incontinence aisle too! If you don’t believe me about what crunches do to your nether region, watch this extremely graphic full-on display of a woman’s bum while she does crunches (click!)

I also have clinical experience that has shown me how women who do loads of crunches early in life tend to have larger diastasis recti (DR) after they have children. Women who do crunches and sit ups after having babies are unable to get rid of their DR due the increased pressure against the connective seam of tissue in the abs. Read more about my view on crunches here and here. So Fit2B is full of workout routines that are minus the crunches and sit ups, even though this boggles the brains of most trainers who aren’t educated on the core beyond those basic moves.

Why planks don’t work.

Which way does your tummy face when you plank? Which way does gravity pull? Are there any bones in your belly to support the weight of your organs against that pull of gravity when you are in the face-down position?

The only thing separating your guts from the floor in a full plank position is the wall of your abs. If your abs have a DR or lack of strength or have the extra weight of intra-abdominal fat or pregnancy, you’re simply putting all that pressure and weight on the linea alba connective tissue fascia (yes I realize I just repeated myself 3 times for all you body nerds out there) that runs down the middle of your abs. No other muscle in your body has raphe running down the middle of it like the four layers of your abs do…

So maybe we should look at the abs a little differently than a gym-jock mentality: “Ugh. Me flex this muscle over and over to make it big and strong.” Because I don’t want big abs? I want healthy, flat, toned abs that have nothing to do with bikini season and everything to do with my ability to piggy-back my 5 year-old son down our quarter-mile driveway without pain and soreness.

Planking can be modified and supported to find the safe level of pressure for each client, but you have to be willing to put a hand on the tummy to feel if the core is just hanging like a sack of potatoes, or if the rectus abs are overfiring while the transverse does nothing you will still feel a big ridge of muscle that feels like work is being done, but is really just proof of pressure. Within Fit2B, we focus on baby steps. No 30-day plank challenges starting with full hands/feet nonsense here! We go sideways first and tackle that angle seven ways to Sunday, then hands/knees, then elbows/knees, then hands/knees, then hands/feet. That progression is crucial, but it’s been lost in the adrenaline junkie cry for faster, higher, stronger!!! Meanwhile, most exercisers are not ready for the olympics.

Why twisting moves don’t work.

It’s very true that a bicycle crunch where elbow goes to opposite knee is one of the most effective ways to recruit the most abdominal muscle fibers from all four layers of your abs: rectus six pack, internal and external oblique twisters, and transverse ab stabilizers.

Those are the nicknames and “boxes” we tend to put those groups into BUT AGAIN all of those are connected and intertwine in the middle by that thick chunk of fascia/raphe/connective tissue called your linea alba.

Now, if your linea alba hasn’t been stretched to the max (think about the seam on a worn-out pair of pants) then you can tug on it from all directions a few times each day, and you’ll be no worse for wear BUT if your have a DR where that raphe might also have some real holes in it (hernia) then twisting motions will have your internal and external obliques pulling on it from two opposite directions. We do use some twisting motions in Fit2B but they aren’t huge, and they don’t involve a corresponding crunching motion. 

So then, what moves do work? 

My personal favorite moves include: Supermans, Mermaids, Gate Pose, Pilates Side Leg Series, Side Bridge, Incline Plane, Squats, and Walking.

Walking is the best, low impact way to naturally strengthen and stretch ALL the muscles of the core and pelvic floor! Squatting does the same thing!

Click here for an additional video and more info about squatting from yours truly

However, the above listed moves are only a tiny slice of what this website right here – Fit2B – offers in a super inexpensive format that teaches hundreds of safe exercises that can be done despite diastasis recti. Use code “app19off” to waive the initiation fee when you join!

I’ve had trainers, physical therapists, midwives, doctors, chiropractors, pay for membership and access my workouts for several months so they can get ideas of safe moves to give their clients… because they weren’t taught these beneficial motions during their education!

Where do I start my clients? 

Above all, I start people with the core breath, getting the muscles of their core cylinder firing properly and in the right order. The very first routine in our world-famous Foundational Five series has them just sitting and breathing.

The second and third routines bring transverse work and alignment into the picture, demonstrating basic transitions such as standing to kneeling since that’s a tough one for people with core trauma. We practice all of that in a tummysafe manner.

Then we add some more focused motions while maintaining proper alignment and breathing. This is all within the first “Foundational Five” routines on our Start Here page. From there on out, the game is on as I progress you through beginner and advanced pathways that keep adding more challenges.

Join Fit2B for ZERO startup fee with code: app19off

Any move that places direct pressure on the core, causing the belly to bulge is out! Any move that allows proper breath and alignment is in! As you regain your core’s integrity and ability to transmit force, you’ll experience fewer moves that make your tummy pooch out, and you’ll find more freedom motion. The time it takes for that to happen, though, varies from person to person.

Additional Reading Recommendations

I strongly recommend you spend some time of the Fit2B blog where you’ll gain a great deal of knowledge about what does and doesn’t work in the core. As a favor to you, I’d like to highlight a few key articles as you continue your journey.

This article series {click} on our blog has a vast amount of information I compiled about the role of biomechanics (how you move in your daily life) and chemistry (mood, nutrition, hormones) in how fast a diastasis is able to close.

For Personal Trainers and Instructors: Read this and this and keep an open mind.

I’ve written over 100 articles for other blogs beyond my own about crunches, and two of my favorites are over at Whole New Mom:  Read this one about why crunches stink and then read this one about 4 things that cause belly bulge beyond crunches!

For Physical Therapists wanting training, I can’t emphasize enough how you should look to the work of Kelly Dean of the Tummy Team whom you’ve already learned from in this course. 

I hope this lesson blessed you today. Please book  a private consult with me (click the image above and select it from our shop) if you would like a personalized program or wish to collaborate with me as a professional.


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