Crunches are a single-muscle exercise that works the upper abs, it is an exercise that can put excessive strain on your back, so it is imperative that they are executed correctly with good form and control. This post will help you understand the exercise, good form, the difference between a sit up and a crunch and alternatives.
How to do crunches
- Lie down on the floor on your back and bend your knees, placing your hands across your chest. It is generally advised not to put them behind your head as you can cause injury by straining and pushing your neck when it has reached its limit.
- Pull your belly button towards your spine, tensing your abdominal muscles, flattening your lower back against the floor.
- With your abs contracted, bring your shoulder blades a couple of inches off the floor
- If you are able to, come up further while exhaling keeping your neck straight and your chin up.
- Hold the position as high as you can safely manage without your lower back leaving the floor, keep breathing.
- Slowly lower your shoulders back down to the floor.
- Allow your ab muscles to relax before attempting the exercise again.
The difference between sit ups and crunches
The difference between sit ups and crunches is that crunches leave the lower back on the floor, where as sit ups don’t. By lifting your lower back with sit ups, you are risking damaging your lower back due to it being a weak point of the spine.
Should I use a crunch resistance machine?
Personally I’ve found I hurt my ab muscles by using the crunch machine at the gym due to the poor form it forces me to have, so I prefer to just do crunches normally on the floor. It is up to you whether you use a machine or not.
Alternatives to crunches
Due to the strenuous nature of the exercise, it is unsuitable for some people. There has been a fair amount of bad press in recent years suggesting crunches are not back-friendly, however there has not been substantial evidence to support arguments for/against crunches. I personally prefer to do planks, press ups and leg drops as they are compound exercises that work different muscles rather than just one.
We hear it all too often…
“I’ve been doing a lot of crunches every day and I can’t see a difference in my six pack, what gives?” What gives is that even if you have abs of steel, if you still have a layer of excess fat on your stomach in front of the stomach muscles, you will not notice a visible difference in your physical appearance. You can’t target difference areas for weight loss, contrary to what garbage magazines such as Cosmo will tell you, and the only way to lose weight so your efforts at the gym show through is to do cardio in between your weight lifting and resistance training. Running, swimming, cycling, working on the cross-fit and zumba are great ways to let off some steam and get a cardio work out. Once you’ve lost a little bit of the fat around your midsection, you’ll then be able to see the muscley fruits of your labour.
Quick do’s and don’t’s of crunches
- DO breathe throughout the exercise
- DON’T go faster to get more reps in, slow and controlled all the way
- DON’T pull yourself up with your hands behind your head
- DON’T strain your neck by pushing your head onto your chest, it does not mean you’re going further, you will simply be causing injury
- DON’T lift your lower back off the floor
- DO rest your abs between each rep and 1 minute between each set