There is an element of truth in this and we’ll explain a bit more. Simply, doing crunches on their own is not a great way to train the abdomen and certainly this will not be enough for core strengthening.
It’s also a myth that you’ll burn fat over your tummy doing abdominal exercises. This long held belief, called spot training, implies that fat will melt off the area you work rather than being the an the whole body. Most people now appreciate that burning up energy doing aerobic exercise eventually whittles down the fat deposits where ever they may lie.
Since crunches do have a role to play in achieving some abdominal tone, let’s start with how to do them properly and avoid injury to yourself. Then we can recommend other exercises to really hit your core and help overall stability.
How To Crunch
Lie on your back on the floor. Using a mat or carpeted surface is more comfortable, but make sure it doesn’t have too much cushioning. For more resistance, you can try these on a declined bench. Some people prefer to do crunches on a stability ball.
Bend your knees. Your feet can be flat on the floor, or you can keep them suspended in the air during your crunches for a little extra crunch.
Cross your arms in front of your chest. You can also place your hands behind your neck or head, but many people tend to pull their head or neck up during the exercise, which can place extra strain on the spine. Your head and neck should be resting on your hands. If you lightly touch your fingers to your neck, you will not be inclined to pull on it. For increased resistance, you hold a weight on your chest or behind your head.
Slowly lift your shoulders towards the ceiling, using your abdominal muscles. It is very important not to lift your entire back off the floor by only bringing your shoulder blades about one or two inches off the floor, as this can cause back strain.
- It can be tempting to move your head forward (tucking in your chin to your chest) because it makes you feel like you’re lifting further, but you’re not. It’s a bad habit that increases your chance of getting injured. One good way to prevent this is to always try to keep looking up at the ceiling.
- If you have your hands behind your head or neck, don’t let your elbows come together. Keep them level with your ears. Letting your arms close in around your head encourages your head to tilt forward.
- Exhale and contract your abs as you go up.
Pause at the peak. When your shoulders are off the ground, pause and hold that position for a full second (or more).
Ease back down slowly as you inhale. Don’t relax all the way and just fall back down. Your control on the way down works your abdominal muscles as well. Relax your abs before doing another crunch. Do 15-20 reps with good form.
For a variation, do a full body crunch bringing your knees in at the same time you lift your body. You can also add a degree of difficulty balancing on an exercise ball.
How to Reverse Crunch
Lie on your back on the floor. Put your hands on your stomach or palms down at your sides. Lift your feet off the floor. You can either have your knees bent at a 90 degree angle, or you can point your feet in the air with your legs as straight as you can get them.
Lift your hips off the ground, using your abs. Be careful not to push down with your hands, back, or head. If you can’t lift your hips using just your abs, you’ll need to build more strength with regular crunches. Otherwise, you’re just wasting energy while other parts of your body do the work.
How to Twist Crunch
Follow the steps for regular crunches, but instead of lifting both shoulders off the ground equally, lift one shoulder towards the opposite direction (left shoulder towards right, right shoulder towards left). Alternate shoulders. This targets the obliques (the muscles at your sides).
How to Side Crunch
Follow the steps for regular crunches, but lean both legs to one side (still bent, knees together, close to floor). Lift both shoulders off the ground simultaneously like in a regular crunch. Since your torso is twisted, you will feel it in your side. Do several crunches on one side, then move your legs over and repeat on the other side.
How to Cable Crunch
Pull the weight down by curling your back and engaging your abs. Ensure you use your abs and don’t just pull down with your arms.