Don’t Do the Facebook 30 Day Ab Challenge!

[January 2017 update:  This blog is an oldie but goodie – but the message is the same.  Don’t go doing some crazy exercise program that is going to hurt you just because you are all excited about getting back in shape for your New Year’s resolution.  Be sensible, consistent and you will see results too! – Jennifer]

I am screaming this from the rooftops!

Do NOT do the Facebook “30 Day Ab Challenge for those who need some motivation like me”. 

There are currently 2.7 million people signed up for this – but it doesn’t mean it’s actually a good idea.  Do you really want to be another lemming jumping off the cliff?

Definitely do not do this or any extreme exercise program if you are:

  1. postpartum
  2. have ever had back pain

Now, to be clear, the originators of the Facebook June 2014 30 Day Ab Challenge ALSO do not want you to do this program if you fit into the above categories.  They write in their instructions:

“Not everyone can do this, some may need to consult with a Dr., you may need to modify the exercises, you WILL NOT get something for nothing…”

The actual exercise routine was developed by, and originates on www.30dayfitnesschallenges.com . On this website they claim that they “are not trained, registered or certified fitness instructors or trained professionals, we are simply fitness enthusiasts who want to share great fitness challenges with you.” No wonder the program is so random and generally terrible advice.

The Making Mom Strong blog is for postpartum women. Especially smart women who want to do effective exercise that will give them the results they want, without hurting them or wasting their time.

Do not do this challenge if you are postpartum, but if you are convinced you want to do it…….. 

Definitely don’t do it if you are less than 6 months postpartum, maybe you could do it after 6 months if you are super fit and have been working your core hard for a while and looking for a challenge.

But really if you were one of my good friends and you asked my advice, I would say “just don’t”.

Jen’s critique of the Facebook 30 Day Ab Challenge 

There are 2.7 million people who have signed up for this challenge! Wow, I think even the organizer never imagined how viral this was going to go.

There is a huge desire to have a “6 pack” in our society (the USA, Canada and many other countries).  I am not sure how prevalent it is around the world, but here it is definitely a symbol of mastery over your body and ultimate sex appeal.

I would never recommend this program to my clients in the clinic, or anyone for that reason, because my job is to get people strong and painfree. You do not need a six pack for any reason other than looking hot.

The risks of doing the four exercises in the program are high. They could definitely increase your risk back pain and strain many other areas (like urinary incontinence, worsening a diastasis recti, pelvic organ prolapse.)

This Ab Challenge includes an ever increasing number of repetitions of 4 exercises: crunches, situps, double leg lifts and plank.  There are Youtube videos describing how to do the exercises, and people are posting comments on their progress, it’s mostly motivational with a few people complaining that their backs are hurting as well as their muscles.

These abs look great, and don’t do any crunches.

So here are my reasons that postpartum women (or truthfully anyone) should NOT do this program:

1. This program targets the abdominal muscles (to make a six pack), but has chosen exercises that put an extremely large load on the low back and the internal organs.

These exercises are focused on flexing or rounding the back in the sit ups and crunches, and overusing the hip flexors in the double leg lift. (Did you know your hip flexors are attached to the front of your low back – are you getting the picture that these could hurt your back?) The only exercise that really is a modern neutral spine core stability exercise is the plank.

You need an extraordinarily strong Transverse Abdominis muscle (TA) to support your lower back and not hurt yourself in these exercises.

Pretty much every postpartum woman I have met has an incredibly weak or even non-firing TA muscle.

There are exceptions to this rule, and I know that some postpartum women don’t need this advice – but the rest of you – slow down sistah!

2. Muscles don’t always work the way you think they do. 

Our bodies are so good at forgetting to use certain muscles and compensating with others to get the job done– this is especially true with the Transverse Abdominis.

I can’t tell you how many women I have tested can’t draw in their TA – instead they bear down on their pelvic floor or actually use their outer abdominal muscles which results in their abdomen expanding.

Doing exercises that push your abdomen out is why so many women have poochy abs for the rest of their life. They do millions of crunches or legs lifts and actually train their abdominals to bulge out – crazy, I know.

3. These exercises are way too hard, even from the beginning.

Double leg lifts are the hardest exercise in a series of possible leg lifts.

Why start with the absolute hardest exercise?

Your TA will get stronger doing a single leg raise, or even a bent leg raise.

So why start with a possible low back straining double leg lift? Especially if you are postpartum and you risk extra downward pressure on your bladder and uterus (ever met a 60, 70 or even 30 year old woman who had a hysterectomy because her uterus was actually falling out of her body – that’s what prolapse is.  No one wants to be this woman.)

4. The progression of repetitions from Day 1 to Day 30 are insane, not supported by the science of progressive overload of a muscle to gain strength.

Going from 5 reps to 200 reps for crunches and 15 sit ups to 120 sit ups in 4 short weeks is just silly. More is not better people!!

Most recommended increases in repetitions or timed hold of an exercise is more like “work up to 3 sets of 8-12 reps for increasing strength”. Let’s do the math, that would mean building up to 24-36 total reps – maybe even up to 50 reps. But 125! 200!! That’s just silly.

So what should you do instead?

Go back to our deep core series of 5 blogs, and build up to the hardest exercises over the next month or two. Work up to 3 sets of 10-12 reps of all the exercises recommended.

What if you are already doing the 30 day Ab Challenge or still want to do it?

  • Consider stopping. (I know I am so funny in my repetition here…)

 

  • Tests yourself to see if you are doing the exercises correctly, and not training your abs to pooch out even more.

 

  1. Prior to doing crunches or situps:  Do the curl up test in video #1. If you pass it, feel your abdomen when you do a crunch or a situp. If your belly forcefully pushes outwards and expands, your are training your abs to stick out.

 

  1. Prior to doing leg lifts: Do the leg lift test in video #2. If you pass it do single leg lifts as an exercise. If you really must do double leg lifts, or if you do Pilates – check out the video in the Pilates Hundred Modification blog I wrote.  If your belly forcefully pushes outwards and expands when you do an “ab exercise”….. yeah, you got it, choose an easier exercise and train your TA to keep your belly flat, like you want it to look.

What to do if you have hurt yourself or are concerned?

Go see your doctor and discuss seeing a Physical Therapist to help you learn the correct exercises for you specifically.

So there is my two cents worth.  I can only hope it helps you.  If you disagree and prove me wrong that you can do it at 6 weeks postpartum, then you are lucky.  But please don’t tell everyone that they should try too. It only perpetuates the myth that if you work hard you will beat all odds.  Too many women nowadays are trying to be superwoman, and we are seeing the wounded in our clinics.

A friend of mine said that we should set up our own 30 day challenge. We could give educated, reasonable, efficient exercises that actually work in the long run.

I know that we won’t get 2.7 million followers – it just won’t be that sexy.   But who cares! Because at least we will help you.

Now share this blog with your friends and help people get educated.

Leave me a comment and tell me if you agree or disagree with my thoughts.

You know, maybe we will do our own 30 Day Postpartum Ab Challenge.  I will talk to Meg and get back to you…… are you in?

[January 2017 edit: Meg and I did release our 15 Day Core Strength for Moms program, available on line here.]

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Jennifer

ps. oh, and please don’t do any sit ups. Am I repeating myself? xx Jen

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