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Military Muscle: Shred your middle, save your back

Strengthen your core without crunches

Mar. 20, 2012 - 02:07PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 20, 2012 - 02:07PM  |  
Army Lt. Col. Mike Ludwig is a Nurse Corps officer currently earning a second master's degree at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington, D.C., before he starts work in the Army's Office of the Surgeon General as a health informatics officer. The relentlessly energetic 41-year-old has already finished five ultramarathons this year.
Army Lt. Col. Mike Ludwig is a Nurse Corps officer currently earning a second master's degree at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington, D.C., before he starts work in the Army's Office of the Surgeon General as a health informatics officer. The relentlessly energetic 41-year-old has already finished five ultramarathons this year. (Rob Curtis / Staff)
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Bob Thomas is director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla. Click here to email him.

I went to the 77th Independent and Private High Schools National Wrestling Tournament at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania on Feb. 24-25 and saw wrestlers who will be NCAA champions in the next few years.

The attribute I noticed time and again was their tremendous core and abdominal strength. I look to help my clients achieve that without the debilitating spinal loads produced by standard crunches and situps. The military services are also looking at alternatives to crunches and situps as they review PT test requirements.

Three ways to strengthen your core and abs without breaking your back:

McGill curlup

This one was created by Dr. Stuart McGill, professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Do 10 reps to start; progress to the next phase once you've mastered the previous one.

• Phase 1: Lie flat on the floor, allowing your back to naturally arch with your hands palms down underneath the lumbar area, one leg stretched out and the other knee bent with your foot resting flat on the floor. Your head and neck should be rigid. Raise your head and shoulders, focusing the rotation around the sternum. Hold for a two-three count.

• Phase 2: Setup and execution are the same as in Phase 1, except your elbows are off the ground. This shifts more load to the abs.

• Phase 3: Setup is the same as in Phase 2, but pre-engage the abs and hold for a long five-count while doing deep breathing.

• Phase 4: Keeping one hand under the lumbar area with elbow raised, extend one arm straight behind your head and with small rapid movements, raise that arm up and down while simultaneously raising the opposite leg — the straight leg — up and down in small rapid movements.

Front plank

• Phase 1: Get into pushup position, but rest on your forearms, not your hands. Your back and hips must be in a straight line. Start with 20-second holds — your hips cannot rise or sink. The goal is to hold this position for 60 seconds and then add time from there.

• Phase 2: Raise one leg until it's level with your hips, then hold for 10 seconds. Return to the start position, then raise one arm to shoulder level and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat the movements, raising the opposite arm and leg.

• Phase 3: Ensuring that your abs and trunk are braced, raise both an arm and the opposite leg and hold for 10 seconds. The trick here is to keep your hips level. This is tough. Repeat the movement, raising the opposite arm and leg.

Band push-away

This focuses on the obliques. Progression is achieved with heavier bands and/or a longer hold time.

Loop a resistance band around a pole. Grab the handles or band, face perpendicular to the band and sidestep along it until you feel tension. Take an athletic stance (slight knee bend), with the band's handles at your chest. Push the band directly away from your chest, and hold for a five-count. Bring hands back to your chest and repeat for five reps. The key is to choose a band that will produce substantial tension. Turn 180 degrees and repeat.

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