“Crunch” – the act or sound of crunching
Synonymous with words such as hurting, suffering, snap, crush and distress.
And yet, thousands of gym-goers, fitness enthusiasts and personal trainers do and prescribe ab crunches each and every day. In fact, as recent as two years ago, a study put out by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found that the abdominal crunch was THE most effective abdominal exercise on the market. Yet, when I hear the phrase ab crunch, I literally die a little inside!
An abdominal crunch is typically performed on the ground with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Arms can be placed behind the head, crossed over the chest or straight down by the sides. The participant is told to lift his head and shoulders off the mat and back down to complete the crunch. Without much more instruction than this, what follows can be an anatomical disaster!! Best case scenario, the spine flattens towards the ground, preventing us from hopefully doing any serious damage yet not really effectively doing anything to strengthen our core in any other position (therefore not functional). But often we see an over-engagement of our back extensors (low back muscles) and extra stress and strain on our psoas and vertebrae (spinal column). Those that “tuck” their butt underneath them to perform the crunch end up with disengaged abdominal muscles, tightened hip muscles and you guessed it, more low back pain. Then there’s the upper back that we need to worry about. The neck is often unnaturally extended; chin and eyes reaching up to the ceiling. Feeling strain, tension and pain is common.
But it doesn’t has to be.
First off, semantics are everything. Let’s just take the word CRUNCH out completely. Starting this very second, you no longer do ab crunches, bicycle crunches, or any kind of crunches that have to do with your body. Instead I want you to think about a similar movement but we’re going to call it an Ab Curl. Just that one simple word change, really can make all the difference. Let’s think about curling ribbon as an example. In order to get the ribbon to curl, you must first rub along the length of the ribbon, lengthening it as long as you can. Then when you release, the ribbon nicely curls up. Now try this same image with your ab curl: as you are lying on the floor, imagine your spine lengthening along the floor as much as possible – ie. your tailbone will pull one way while the crown of your head lengthens the other. You begin to draw your navel towards your spine, hollowing out your abdominals because from my previous post, you already know that abdominal engagement is key to starting any exercise (not sure what post I am talking about click here to view it). Because you have lengthened out your spine, the back of your neck is long and your chin draws slightly down towards your chest. Your shoulders begin to curl off the floor as you fold over the bottom of your rib cage, continuing to feel your abdominals hollowing out and drawing up under the ribs, therefore creating space for you to curl up. Eyes will fall to the thighs to keep the neck in the proper position and the pelvis remains neutral throughout with no tucking or collapsing in the low back.
Now we have ab curl perfection. There is engagement and support in the deep core muscles and a proper sequencing in muscle firing. Plus the effect will be much greater meaning you have to do LESS!! No more 100s of crunches a day :)
But I don’t believe in doing crunches for ab work.
Great me neither (see above, lol). But in all seriousness, that’s fine but I want you to ask yourself why.
They are not functional. I don’t really buy this one, our spine is actually designed to forward flex, just take a look at how it curves and how the vertebraes are placed on top of each other with no anterior processes (to make flexion easier).
There’s other ways to work the abs. Of course there is. This isn’t the be all end all. Nor is it the only ab exercise that you should do. A great fitness program is designed with variety and movement in all planes.
It’s 100% up to you if you want to do this (or any) exercise but my mission is to get as many people to go Crunch Free! Are you ready to join the Crunch Free Movement? Let me know below.
Special Bonus for Fitness Instructors and Trainers – Download a Copy of My Best Ab Curl Cues