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Are Abdominal Crunches Putting You at Risk?

It’s important to consider the floor to your core before you do sit ups, crunches or Pilates “hundred” exercises. Oftentimes, people think of their abdominals as the primary focus area for core strengthening. However, it’s significant to note that your core (trunk support) is made up of deep abdominal muscles, back muscles, hip muscles and the floor to your core: the pelvic floor muscles.

Pelvic floor muscles are a hammock shaped group of muscles that attach from the pubic bone to the tail bone, holding up the structures that sit within the pelvis. This includes the bladder, urethra and rectum, as well as the uterus in a woman. These muscles help keep the urinary and rectal sphincters closed until you are ready to eliminate through urination or a bowel movement. They also play an important role in healthy sexual function.

When you do crunches, or Pilates “hundred” exercise, you create an increase in abdominal pressure. If the pelvic floor muscles are weak, they will not be able to stabilize the abdominal pressure from below, creating a bearing down force on the abdominal and pelvic floor organs. Over time, this can impact the support of the bladder and bowel, which may affect continence control, organ prolapse, as well as pelvic pain and lower back pain. As a prime stabilizer of the pelvis, weakness of the pelvic floor muscles will create muscle imbalance that may impact dysfunction in the lumbo-pelvis and hip joints. Who may be at a greater risk of developing pelvic floor muscle weakness?

  • Women who are pregnant or who have given birth
  • Women who are peri-menopausal or post-menopausal
  • People with chronic coughs, chronic lower back pain, or who are overweight
  • People with chronic constipation
  • Women who have had gynecological surgery, such as a prolapse repair or a hysterectomy
  • Men who have undergone radical or robotic prostate surgery
  • Individuals who participate in higher impact activity or sports including: marathon running, gymnastics, dance, or those who do deep squats with high weights or deep lunges with high weights

If you have had a diastasis recti (split of your abdominal muscle) during pregnancy, extra caution is required while doing abdominal exercises to avoid a hernia.

What can you do?

Adding specific strength training of the pelvic floor muscles may be necessary especially if you’re in the higher risk categories or if you’ve noticed symptoms related to pelvic floor muscle weakness such as urinary incontinence or prolapse (bulge of bladder, uterus, vagina or rectum). Scheduling an appointment to see a SCPT physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor rehab can be helpful in this process.

One of the most common forms of pelvic floor strength training is called “Kegel” Exercises. These exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, in which the Levator Ani muscles are squeezed and held for five seconds, then released for five -10 seconds, for a number of repetitions.  There are many safe core exercises that you can do to improve strength and work towards toning. Standard and modified planks are one example.

Are Abdominal Crunches Putting You at Risk? - Plank Exercise

Make sure to incorporate breathing (exhale with exertion) with abdominal core exercises and Kegel exercises.  All exercises should be performed while engaging your pelvic floor muscles with an abdominal workout.  Doing core workouts correctly will give you the results you want without putting you at risk for injury!

For more information, call 508-832-2628 or visit