Since the exercise craze of the ’80s, we have seen many variations of the “Butt Crunch”, “Ab Crunch”, anything you can crunch–and the more the better, right?
The action of a Butt Crunch is a repeated squeeze of the buttocks while sitting or standing–and squeeze and squeeze and squeeze. With the promise of a more lean and toned back-side, so many people have fallen prey to this madness.
Now people are insistent that they have to squeeze any muscle before they actually move to “get ready”. I see this every day with our new students coming into the studio so guess what our first job is?
To educate our students how to actually use their muscles for real life activities in a way that actually helps them do those real life things. Walking around clenching every muscle just to prepare to move is not helping them move better, I assure you.
Let’s talk about what this “exercise” does. First, in the past, the clench, crunch, squeeze, whatever you want to call it was supposedly used to tone the gluteus maximus primarily to give a leaner and smaller appearance. Second…um, well I’m not sure what other purpose it serves.
These so-called exercises certainly do not do anything beneficial for us from a movement perspective. The clench action definitely does not recruit the muscles around the hips and pelvis for the intention of moving. When was the last time you went for a walk or climbed the stairs with your butt clenched? I would not suggest that you try it…actually, TRY IT just for fun. It’ll be good for a laugh.
In present day, people use the clench technique to supposedly “activate” all sorts of muscles. For example, a client of mine was told to clench her butt to activate her Gluteus Medius when doing side-lying clamshell. Not surprisingly she could barely lift her knee off her bottom leg. When I explained the function of the Gluteus Medius, and offered some tactile cues by placing her hand on the side of her hip, she was able to feel that when clenching, she wasn’t using the Gluteus Medius at all, but instead could feel her Gluteus Maximus and her inner thigh muscles tensing on both sides. Once she relaxed the clench, she was able to feel that she could move the leg into a full range open clamshell with much more ease while the Gluteus Medius contracted under her fingertips.
Squeezing a muscle “to prepare” does not mean you are using it any more or even at all for the actual movement you are trying to produce.
Here’s the truth…
Some muscles move our bones, while others support a bony structure, like the pelvis, and further still other muscles perform the job of movement through a limb. In any case, if you are clenching a muscle to activate it for movement, it is not performing its job in a productive or efficient way. When we “activate” a muscle prior to movement that is called an isometric contraction–a contraction of a muscle without changing the position of the joint (uh hem, not moving).
Dr. Edward Laskowski of the Mayo Clinic states: “Isometric exercises help maintain strength. They can also build strength, but not effectively…they’ll improve strength in only one particular position.”
In actual fact, not only could clenching a particular muscle before movement create a dysfunctional movement pattern among that particular muscle group, it may also create dysfunction in other groups as well. In the case of the “Butt Crunch”, a number of other muscles will also inadvertently clench during this action resulting in an over-contraction of the hamstrings, the inner thigh muscles, the pelvic floor, among others.
But of course, it does give the student an impression that they are actually accomplishing something, but what?
We can do better, my Teacher Friends.
Here’s a quick tip…
If you cue a movement, and the student performs that movement, they are using their muscles. For example, if you ask your students to lift their pelvis into Bridge and they do, their glutes are working, and so are their hamstrings, spine extensors, abdominals, gastroc, quads, all the things you want.
Repeating the movement will not only build effective muscular strength of all those muscles, it will also correct muscular imbalances, improve quality of the movement, and make it easier to do.
As Joe P said, and this is my favorite, “Practice, Patience, Persistence”.
Interested in learning more valuable and applicable skills to help your students move better? Click HERE to check out the Body Harmonics Primary Specialist Certificate programs. All Movement Professionals are welcome.
Holly Wallis, Master Teacher and Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist, PMA®-NCPT
Director of US Operations, Body Harmonics Pilates & Movement Institute
Studio Owner/Director, ReActive Movement, 6200 LaSalle Ave, Oakland, CA 94611
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