Crunches. Everybody does them, but are they really worth your time?
As a Pilates and yoga instructor, I know of plenty of abdominal moves to strengthen your core. Since the dreaded muffin top is often an area people complain about, I try to incorporate plenty of ab work in my exercise routines. After all, looks aside, a strong core helps protect your back, improves your posture and makes other bodyweight moves easier. Crunches are one of the most common ab exercises people attempt in order to define their core and flatten their bellies. But do crunches actually work? Can they effectively strengthen your core and define your abs? Are crunches really worth your time?
I’ll admit, crunches have gotten a bit of a bad rap over the years, mainly because so many people perform them incorrectly. Not only that, but if you’re not eating a clean diet or fitting in any cardio, no amount of crunches can “spot reduce” belly fat by itself. You need to lose fat first and then sculpt muscle second.
Related: 5 Exercises You’re Doing Wrong
The truth is, however, when done correctly, abdominal crunches are still one of the BEST moves you can do to build core strength, which will ultimately help define your abs. So let’s take a look at what to consider when performing a crunch, and how you can do it properly to start seeing results.
- Don’t Get Too Comfortable. Ok, this may sound like a joke, but in reality, lying on your back super relaxed when you start a crunch is not ideal. Before you even “crunch” you need to draw in those ab muscles like you’re zipping up a tight pair of jeans. Simply by doing this, which engages your transverse abdominus (those low-ab muscles that we all want to be leaner) you’re already strengthening that core.
- Tilt Your Chin. This is one of the most common mistakes I see when people go to do crunches—they aren’t holding their head and chin in the correct position, which places undue strain on their neck. It’s essential to tilt your chin forward just slightly before you crunch to create what is called the “c-curve” position for your neck. You can check it by placing your balled fist between your chest and chin. If your fist fits, you have the right amount of tilt; this keeps the strain off your neck. Next, place your fingers behind your ears (but keep your palms open) to gently support your head.
- Don’t Tighten Your Leg Muscles. Avoid straining your legs during the move by keeping them relatively relaxed, feet on the floor with your knees bent. Remember: you should be tightening your tummy, not your legs!
- Breathe and Crunch. With your core engaged, chin tilted, and legs relaxed, take a deep breath in. As you exhale, lift your sternum toward your thigh with control. That’s one crunch! Release half-way back down as you inhale, and continue this pattern of exhaling to lift and inhaling to lower, never lowering completely to the floor each time.
If you perform about 20 reps of the abdominal crunch this way, you should experience muscle fatigue and feel like you’ve gotten a great ab workout. If you start to do your crunches every day, along with a workout routine that contains cardio and HIIT training (and clean eating!) you WILL be on your way to a flat, lean tummy and a strong body.
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