Why Crunches Do More Harm Than Good For Hockey Players

For starters, in the article from a couple days ago, I hope you can appreciate how crunches do not strengthen your “core” in a functional way, the way you need your torso to perform on the ice.

Critical Reasoning #1 – it doesn’t help you

There are very few movements in sport where you need to flex your spine in isolation, nor is it a movement so frequently used that stamina in that are becomes an issue.

So why would you do 20-50-100- whatever crunches at a time?

I know why – because it burns and you love to feel the burn, because if it is burning, it must be working right?

Let me ask you a question – if the burn means it is working, then why don’t you do 20-50-100 squats? Or 20-50-100 chin ups? Wouldn’t that be better too?

Let me ask you another question (I know, I am full of questions today) – do your abs ever burn when you are playing hockey? Is that ever the limiting factor of your success, how much ab burn you can tolerate?

I am not an NHL player or even a AA player, in fact I would probably get cut from most house league teams, but I for one have never been on the ice and felt “oh no – – my abs are exhausted, I am going to let in lots of goals now” (I do say that about my legs quite frequently ).

Critical Reasoning #2 – smart people say we shouldn’t do it

I love following the research of actual scientists. Not a practitioner like myself who has some vested interest in the outcome of a study. Not someone who is trying to prove that what they do is correct. Just someone who is asking a question, “What happens when?”

Dr. Stuart McGill is a spine biomechanist from the University of Waterloo, here in Ontario, Canada. He studies the load tolerance of the spine in an effort to determine factors that contribute to injuries. I could be wrong, but I think he started out looking for ways to reduce strain on the spine for factory workers.

He had lots of interesting findings, but the one that relates directly to this discussion is his observation that disc injuries (herniated discs in the lower back) are cumulative trauma injuries as the result of repeated flexion.

What that means is that these injuries develop over time (cumulative trauma) because of repeatedly rounding the lower back – – and doing so under more load increases the trauma.

What this means is crunches contribute to disc herniation. And the scary part is that you don’t even realize you are doing trauma because your back feels just fine – – until the day you sneeze or pick up a t-shirt off the floor or some other mundane task and your back “goes out”.

Ever know someone who did that and you are like “Wow! That is crazy! All you did was pick up a shirt?”

Crunches are not the only contributing factor, your posture while standing and especially sitting can contribute. Is your lower back slightly rounded when you sit? – contributor. Your sport contributes, especially if you have not listened to me about getting low in your legs which not only makes you more powerful and agile, but also lets you keep your stick on the ice without rounding your back.

But crunches add a lot of wear and tear with little functional return. This is why we don’t do them – there are much better ways to strengthen your core the way you actually will use it on the ice with a lot less damage to your back.

I hope you understand how this works, because if I get one single email from someone who says, “I have done 400 crunches every day for the last 27 years and my back isn’t sore at all” – – I will SCREAM!

Your back will feel 100% fine – – until it doesn’t and when it doesn’t, it will likely be very bad for quite some time. Got it?

That is why we don’t crunch and neither should you.

I will catch you later when I will share the ONE crunch variation we do use AND some other great core exercises – that will help you on the ice (and even give you a burn in your abs).


PS – same goes for Russian Twist – your lower back is not designed for that much segmental rotation, then add resistance to it in the form of a med ball or weight plate and you have a ticking time bomb. PLUS the power from your shot does not come from trunk rotation, it comes from your hips – your torso just transfers that power.