We all have that friend who prides him or herself on being able to do hundreds of crunches. Impressive numbers, but do they work? Well sort of.
Crunches work the large muscle in your abs, the rectus abdominis. But that’s only when they’re done properly. Many people use already active hip flexors to pull themselves forward, instead of actually using their abs. Or worse, some strain their upper back by collapsing their chest and throwing their head forward. Add to this the temptation to perform them as quickly as possible, and momentum takes over. It’s easy to get injured with a bad crunch technique—especially if you are usually desk-bound with already strained muscles.
Your best bet may be to ditch the crunch and look to the plank. The plank forces you to hold your spine in a neutral position while your core is unsupported by the floor. The result—you work a serious number of muscles: upper/ lower abs, obliques, glutes and lats. These muscles squeeze together, creating a bracing effect to hold your body in position against gravity. It’s a fundamental exercise to really work your core.
Kneel onto all fours and place your forearms onto the floor with your elbows below your shoulders. Your hands should be separated with palms turned up (this stops your chest from collapsing). Now squeeze under your armpits to draw your shoulders away from your ears, securing your upper back. Next pull your stomach in and up as you walk your feet back until you are supporting your weight on your elbows and toes. Be careful not to drop your head or look up—you need to keep your neck long and push the crown of your head away from body. If you feel your lower back taking the strain, rest your knees down and reset.
by Adam Ridler
Chief Exercise Officer at Seven Stones, promoter of physical activity and fully addicted rower.