Whether you work out every single day or hit the gym every blue moon, you’re probably familiar with the popular ab exercise crunches. If you had to take a guess, how many crunches do you think you’ve done in your lifetime? Hundreds? Thousands? You more than likely did them in your high school gym class, during a quick at-home ab workout, and you probably do them during your favorite group fitness class. It’s understandable why crunches are such a popular exercise — they’re simple and can be done anywhere, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good for you.
World-renowned professor of spine biomechanics, Stuart McGill, PhD, found that crunches and sit-ups place 3,300 newtons (340 kilograms/749.60 pounds) of compressive force on the spine when it’s in a flexed position. The repeated force of crunches can cause the discs in your back to bulge (the gel nucleus of the disc bulges), pressing on nerves causing lower-back pain and potentially causing a herniated disc. Whether you’re a regular at the gym or love to do cardio dance workouts every now and then, a disc injury can sideline you for quite some time.
If you’re currently experiencing lower back pain or would rather not run the risk for injury, Dr. McGill came up with the “Big 3” exercises to strengthen the core, focusing specifically on stability and control. If you’re looking to expand your repertoire of ab exercises that are back-friendly, consider the following moves for a strong core and a healthy back.