To crunch, or not to crunch: that is the question!
At Fit Armadillo Fridays are “Fit Fact or Fiction Fridays,” where we post a fitness related question and ask about its validity. Don’t worry, you weren’t supposed to go into work today, it’s Sunday
a day currently marred by football, but we digress. Today’s the day we answer our Friday quiz questions. Usually, we reveal the answer to be a simple “True” or “False” on our Facebook page. While we could have easily done this today, we knew many of you would want a break from football so we thought we’d help you out. OK, OK, we’ll stop knocking football, maybe…. The real reason we wanted to write a blog post on a Sunday is that we know our most recent post relates to a much-debated question and we want to make sure you are properly informed once and for all.
Didn’t visit our Facebook page this Friday? We forgive you. Here was our post: “Crunches are one of the best exercises to target your abs.” Fit Fact or Fiction? The statement as written is indeed Fiction. Confused? Let’s investigate why this is a myth, how it got stared, and if you should even bother with this exercise.
1. Crunches are NOT one of the most effective abdominal exercises.
Which abdominal exercises are the most effective? We’re so glad you asked! The American Council on Exercise completed a study to answer this very question. Ranking abdominal exercises by the percentage of the muscle that they engaged, they found the following to be the top three abdominal maneuvers:
1. The Bicycle
2. Captain’s Chair
3. Exercise Ball Crunch
Want to see how other abdominal exercises ranked or check out a visual of an exercise you haven’t heard of? Read more here >>>
2. Crunching (or ONLY completing any abdominal exercise) does not a six pack make.
You can’t spot-reduce body fat in any area just by performing exercises that target that area. This applies to your abdominal muscles as much as it does to your triceps. Why should you do any strength training then? While working your abs won’t automatically give you a six pack and completing dips won’t result in body fat vanishing from the underside of your arms, strength training does increase your metabolism (how many calories your body burns). Burn more calories than you consume and you’ll lose weight. If you are working out and fueling your body correctly (NOT trying the latest fad diet), you’ll lose fat. When you decrease your overall body fat percentage, you’ll increase the visibility of your body’s muscles. A low enough overall body fat percentage gets you that much closer to a six-pack. Moral of the story? Do strength train, do incorporate cardiovascular (heart-pumping) workouts, and do watch what you eat to get that six-pack. Don’t challenge your buddy to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for the number of crunches you can complete in 24 hrs. Need help with your nutrition? Click HERE or hit us up and we’ll connect you with an awesome registered dietician.
3. Crunches are not very efficient.
While proper crunch form can have a positive impact on the appearance of your abdominal muscles, it’s not the most effective way to achieve this goal. Instead, focus on exercises that are functional (imitate movements you would perform in daily life) and work multiple muscle groups. Ab crunches on the floor or, even worse, on a weight machine are not similar to movements required by daily life and the latter can be pretty dangerous (at least the way that we see most gym-goers perform it). Believe it or not, many exercises that focus on other muscles also require your abs. The push-up and lunge are two exercises that require the abdominal muscles for stability. More advanced push-up and lunge moves like the walking push-up, walking lunge, and lunge with rotation require additional abdominal muscle engagement. Plus, these moves strengthen large muscles that will in turn up your metabolic rate (and calorie burn) even more! It’s a win-win-win! We also love the plank for strengthening all layers of our abdominal muscles (the traditional crunch only focuses on the top layer) and for its many variations to help prevent boredom and challenge clients at any level.
4. Crunches done with proper form are not inherently dangerous to the general population.
While there may be better ways to work your abs or get a six-pack that isn’t made of beer or diet coke, a crunch is hardly the enemy of the general population. In fact, look at the top three most effective ab-focused exercises and you’ll see the cousin of the traditional crunch, the exercise ball crunch taking the bronze*! However, some recent studies have shown that completing thousands of crunches a day can cause harm to your spine. What gives? For one, the research was completed on pig cadavers, not on humans. While we can see how studying the spines of pig cadavers might be easier and, of course, far better than harming humans if crunches truly were dangerous, the studies themselves aren’t comparing apples to apples. Should we totally discredit these studies? We’d prefer you take them with a grain of salt (food related joke unintended, really…). Admittedly, many people do not perform crunches properly and there are some cases where you would not want to crunch even if you had all day. When might this be? After pregnancy where this exercise is an ineffective way to reverse diastasis recti (separation of the abs). Not a woman or haven’t been pregnant? This doesn’t prevent you from diastasis recti, but even without it you might want to skip the crunch. Even with proper form, crunches performed after waking up or after sitting for a long time aren’t great for the discs in your spine which will be less tolerant of the stress the bending motion of the crunch would cause. Have a herniated disc or other medically diagnosed spinal issue? Crunches won’t be part of your Ex(ercise) RX (prescription)!
5. *Traditional crunches, unlike exercise ball crunches, recruit your iliopsoas aka hip flexors as well as your abs.
Wouldn’t this make them more effective for your body in general? Not so fast! Your hip flexors get involved during a crunch because their job is to allow flexion at your hip (hence this common name of your iliopsoas). Know what else flexes or shortens your hips? Sitting. Why is this relevant? If you are sitting all day, keeping your hip flexors flexed, and then do a bunch of traditional crunches, which also cause hip flexion, you’ll make these muscles tighter. This can cause discomfort in your lower back and if you’ve been sitting all day it’s likely already not feeling so great. Whatever can you do? Try out the plank! This exercise and its variations recruit all of the layers of your abdominal muscles and help strengthen your lower back. All the more reason to ditch the crunch.
Well, there you have it. The crunch, while not inherently dangerous to the general public, can be dangerous to some, bother your back, and is just not all that effective. We know you and the traditional crunch have been through a lot together (sports seasons, prom, wedding planning…) so if you’re not ready to totally let it go, try the exercise ball crunch.
Did you think the crunch was more effective than it is? Outright dangerous? Have some other thoughts or feel the need to write an obituary? Share your comments in the space below: