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From The Desk of Clarence Bass

"The crunch belongs on the junk pile of history next to communism!" Pavel Tsatsouline

The Hardest Sit-up

Pavel Tsatsouline (see article No. 43, The Evil Russian) calls his Ab Pavelizer creation "the baddest abdominal training device ever invented," and I believe heís onto something. I had my doubts at first. Frankly, reading about the Janda sit-up and Pavelís device for doing it without the help of a training partner, in his book Beyond Crunches, left me somewhat dubious. I tried the Janda sit-up on my own and with the assistance of a training partner, and still didnít get it; I couldnít see what the big deal was. Even when my Ab Pavelizer arrived a few days ago and I tried it for the first time, I didnít feel anything special. I couldnít understand why two or three Janda situps are considered to be good. And then, I figured out how to do the movement properly. Wow! Now I get it.

 Pavel makes the "baddest" sit-up look easy.

But Iím getting way ahead of myself. Let me back up and explain the Janda sit-up, and what I was doing wrong.

To appreciate the Janda sit-up, named after its inventor Czechoslovakian exercise physiologist Vladimir Janda, MD, who Pavel identifies as the worldís foremost expert on back problems and a consultant on rehabilitation to the World Health Organization, you need to understand two basic principles: irradiation and reciprocal inhibition. The former explains why the crunch isnít all itís cracked up to be, and the latter illuminates the virtues of the Janda sit-up.

The Janda Sit-up

According to Dr. Janda (and Pavel), the crunch does not isolate the abs. In fact, Janda says itís impossible to completely eliminate hip flexor recruitment during the crunch. The crunch supposedly takes the hip flexors out of the movement by eliminating the top portion of the sit-up; the lower back stays down on the floor, while you curl up, pulling the rib cage towards the hips using the abs alone. Thatís only partially true, says Dr. Janda, because of a neurological phenomenon known as irradiation, which simply specifies that tension naturally spreads from a contracting muscle to its neighbors. In the case of the crunch, the hip flexors are necessarily activated (irradiated) to some degree, taking some of the stress off the abdominal muscles.

Janda solves the problem by calling on the principle of reciprocal inhibition, which says that the nervous system, as a matter of efficiency, relaxes the muscles opposite the ones contracting. "The alternative would be similar to stepping on the gas and the brake simultaneously," says Pavel.

The Janda sit-up ingeniously inactivates the hip flexors by contracting the hamstrings and glutes. Dr. Janda accomplished this by placing his hands under his patientís calves as they assumed the standard bent-knee sit-up position. He then asked the patient to pull against his hands as they attempted to sit-up. Presto, the hip flexors are inhibited by the contraction of the opposing knee-flexor hamstrings and the hip-extensor glutes. The result, according to Dr. Janda, is true isolation of the abdominal muscles.

Execution Is Tricky

It sounds good, but as I discovered the execution is tricky. First, the movement canít be done properly without the assistance of a training partner. As Pavel points out in his book, pressing into the wall with the toes or down on the floor doesnít work. Pressing against the wall engages the hip flexors and pushing down on the floor only provides enough leverage to do a crunch. Thatís why he invented the patented Ab Pavelizer.

When my ab Pavelizer arrived, I put it together and slipped the end piece under the door as provided in the instructions. I adjusted the roller pads so they rested behind my knees about a third of the way down on the calves, with my feet flat on the floor. Then I began the trial and error process. It took me several days of experimentation to learn the movement.

A Big Mistake

The device puts the toes so close to the door that the natural tendency is to let the feet come up a little and lightly touch the door. Thatís a big mistake. It makes the movement so easy that, as I said earlier, you wonder what all the fuss is about. I did rep after rep and all I had to show for it the next morning was a sore back.

Obviously, I was doing something wrong. So I re-read the instructions and tried again. This time I made it a point not to let my toes touch the door. That made all the difference in the world. I began to understand why the device comes with bungee cords.

 Clarence is shown here doing Pavelizer situps with an assist from the bungee cords. 
Note that his feet are flat on the floor and his toes do not touch the door.

Done properly, Pavelizer situps really are a lot more challenging than they look. Even one unassisted rep is a struggle. Without the aid of the bungee cords, I might never have learned the true value of the movement.

Bungee Cords Help

Using the bungee cords, I began doing negative reps. Thatís when I first experienced the super intense ab contraction the device promises. As Pavel suggests, I did the movement very slowly, taking three or four seconds to lower myself and, eventually, about the same time to get back up. Even with an assist from the bungee cords, it only takes a few reps to feel a tremendous tension in the abs. Doing the exercise slowly not only intensifies the exercise, it also encourages you to round the back and curl the torso, which takes the strain off the lumbar spine. It works best to lower yourself all the way to the floor and relax for a few seconds at the bottom; this lets you gather yourself and concentrate in preparation for the next rep.

 Clarence does the movement unassisted, with arms extended. Looks easy, but it's not.

Finally, to do the exercise properly or perhaps to do it at all without using the bungee cords, you must keep the feet on the floor, squeeze the glutes and pull your calves back against the roller pads with the hamstrings. Thatís the key to doing Pavelizer situps.

Not Complete Isolation

I should add that I donít believe the Janda sit-up or the Ab Pavelizer completely isolate the abdominal muscles. Simply put, it would be impossible to raise the back completely off the ground without some help from the hip flexors; thatís what the hip flexors do, they flex the hips. I donít believe the rectus abdominus is hooked up to perform that movement unassisted. Nevertheless, the Ab Pavelizer provides a fuller range of motion than the crunch Ė and a terrific contraction of the abdominal muscles. (I am ordering a second Ab Pavelizer for the weight gym at our office.)

 It's harder with hands clasped in front of the chest. Remember to squeeze the glutes
 and pull against the roller pads with the hamstrings.

Remember, too, that no exercise, including Pavelizer situps, will give you ripped abs unless you reduce your overall body fat level. No matter how good your abs, they wonít show to best advantage when covered with a thick layer of fat.

Note:  The second edition of Beyond Crunches is now available and has been renamed Bullet-Proof Abs.  (See our product section under Recommended Books)

New Companion Video

Pavel has just completed a new video companion to his book Bullet-Proof Abs, which demonstrates exactly how to do the Janda sit-up and the Pavelizer sit-up Ė and much more. Check our products page for full details and ordering information on the book and the companion video.  We carry the video which is  $29.95 + $5.00 shipping priority or $3.50 shipping third class.  If you want the video and have recently ordered from us, simply e-mail (below) your name and zip code and tell us what class postage to use.  We will have your cc number on hand. 

(We donít offer equipment, but you can order the Ab Pavelizer from Dragon Door Publications by calling 1Ė 800 Ė899Ė5111.)

Ripped Enterprises, 528 Chama, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87108, Phone (505) 266-5858, e-mail: cncbass@aol.com , FAX (505) 266-9123.  Office hours: Monday-Friday, 8-5, Mountain time.

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Copyright©2000 Clarence and Carol Bass. All rights reserved.