Coaches: stop making your youth athletes do crunches. It’s idiotic. It’s dangerous. It’s setting your kids up for failure.
And I know this statement may leave you flabbergasted, but I could think of several other things that are far more shocking:
1. Picking up a hot chick at an anime convention.
2. Seeing a clown from hell in real life.
3. Getting a sext from Megan Fox.
Needless to say, me saying “no more crunches” shouldn’t be earth shattering. But in the youth performance world, there remain a plethora of misinformed people stuck in their old ways.
The other day, I posted a Facebook status that caused so much of an uproar that a zombie apocalypse almost occurred.
Here’s what I said:
While many strength coaches had my back, a few team coaches were as surprised as nuns entering a nudist colony.
No crunches? What do you mean I’ve been wrong all along?
Before I get into a dissertation about abdominal and spinal mechanics, the reason I’m writing this is because I’m passionate about safe training for youth soccer players, especially the 8-14 age group.
And as the performance field evolves, so should the knowledge of everyone who plays a part in a youth athlete’s development – trainers, tactical coaches, and parents.
Now none of this is to say all these people should sit for the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist exam, obtain a Master’s in Exercise Science, or snuggle with the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and Dr. Stuart McGill’s Back Mechanic book on a Saturday night.
At the very least, everyone should have an understanding of how to keep their youth players healthy through core training.
To that end, elementary and middle school athletes who are growing into their bodies must dial in on neuromuscular training – balance, stability, and intermuscular coordination through the core. And surprise: crunches accomplish none of these.
Moreover, crunches do not translate over to the function of the core during a game.
Here are several examples:
– Maintaining a vertical trunk for maximal and efficient sprinting speed.
– Being able to hold off defenders and withstand outside force to maintain possession of ball.
– Landing safely from a jump.
– Striking a powerful shot.
– Striking a powerful shot without losing balance from the plant foot.
– Reducing chance of contact and non-contact injury (unstable core could leader to wobbly knees and ankles)
– Changing direction quickly and safely.
The Anatomy and Biomechanics of the Core
When a kid is performing crunches, his abdominals are producing force and movement, which is counterproductive to the functional anatomy of the core musculature. Specifically in contact sports, the core muscles must be stable so that the limbs of the body can move freely and efficiently.
Also, crunches fail to take into account that the core isn’t just made up of the anterior side of the body.
Holy shit balls. There’s a back side?
Let’s give human anatomy a round of applause. ;-O
So rather than focusing on the rectus abdominal, what about giving the internal/external obliques, transverse abdominals, psoas major, multifidus muscle, quadratus lumborum, gluteals, and erector spinae some love?
All of these work together to make magical things happen.
Now I’m not saying crunches will kill kids, as some spinal flexion is okay and totally natural.
However, for soccer purposes, a core that can be stabilized and controlled, is in a youth athlete’s best interest when aiming to produce the best neuromuscular response throughout the entire body.
Remember David Luiz’s free kick in the 2014 Brazil World Cup?
During a soccer strike the core must be stable in order to keep the torso from falling forward. Here, the obliques also play a role by ensuring there’s no lateral shifting of the torso. This all allows the hip flexors, hip extensors, and leg muscles to do their job: produce as much power as possible on the ball strike. The plant foot is also able to stay balanced through the hip and core stabilizers, and this could reduce chance of knee and ankle instability.
Here’s a diagram to help:
Truthfully, this is just glossing over the tip of the iceberg. Core stability in soccer is everywhere, no doubt.
When holding off defenders, the erector spinae, obliques, hip stabilizers, and anterior core muscles work together to withstand the force exerted by the defender. This way, you don’t risk getting a red card from using your elbows and arms. You don’t need too. Because your core is durable as hell.
And when landing from a jump, whether this is from making a goalkeeping save or heading the ball, you’re able to land safely without instability in the knees and ankles.
Notice how my torso has minimal forward flexion, and most of the work occurs through the hips and core to control my landing. My knees are able to stay stable and minimal load is placed on my ACL. Boom.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention the cognitive piece of core stability training. If kids are able to prevent unwanted movement in their torsos, then they’re able to move the rest of their limbs freely and efficiently. This is critical for reducing the amount of stimulation and energy used from a nervous system standpoint. Efficiency is king and we should aim to reduce the amount of neural stress on our youth athletes.
So without further ado, here are 10 awesome core exercises that youth athletes can do besides crunches. Enjoy.
1.) Hollow Hold
2.) Plank Band Row
3.) Leopard Crawl
4.) Dead Bug
5.) Plank Leg Raise
6.) Contralateral Plank Punches
7.) Resisted Bird Dog
8.) Resisted Lateral Crawl
9.) Chaos RKC Planks
10.) Dynamic Plank Stability