If you want a strong core don’t waste your time on crunches and sit ups!
I do not enjoy sit ups, even with proper technique I find them uncomfortable. I’m not telling you this because I 100% hate them it’s because they really won’t help you get a stronger core.
Crunches and sit ups will work your abdominal muscles but these muscles are only part of the group contributing to our core strength. Strong abdominals does not necessarily mean you have a strong core.
Im not sure how crunches became so popular in women’s fitness, they seem to be a staple of so many group fitness classes and online programs you buy. Who else has finished a gym class with some crunches and a stretch? I cant understand why because a crunch works the obliques, and as you can see from the diagram these muscles are positioned along the side of your body and the result can be to actually thicken your waist. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t need any more thickening!
Now I’ve got your attention let me tell you exactly why I don’t ever include crunches or sit ups in training programs.
Crunches work the surface ab muscles and while these will help you get a ‘six pack’ you need to work the deeper muscles for real strength and core support that supports your body in motion. It’s tough as women to get a sick pack anyway, our bodies and hormones are designed to carry babies and to do this a higher percentage of body fat is needed. You can have a strong core and still have abdominal fat.
If you are reading this and are a horse rider, stop doing them right now. As riders we need fluid movement of our hips and pelvis area and crunches can lead to tension in the hips. If you tuck your butt under when you crunch (most of us do) this can overwork the surface muscles, disengages the core and tightens the hip flexors.
Now let’s think about your spine when you crunch.
You tuck your butt under – This flattens the spine to the floor and can reinforce conditioning that disrupts the natural curves of your spine, shoulders slump downward and the head forward. Certainly not what we want when riding horses.
You don’t tuck your butt under – This can risk over extending the curve of the lower back and putting more pressure on the facet joints which can restrict motion. Something we don’t want in our spine no matter our hobby.
I am really passionate about the pelvic floor and crunches can cause you to strain and hold your breathe. The action of sitting up also pushes everything in your abdominal area downwards creating pressure on the pelvic floor muscles. So instead of working the core and encouraging this hammock of muscle to lift your organs, crunches are in fact pushing them downwards against our bodies natural function.
If you have had a baby you may already have a weak pelvic floor and/or have separation of the rectus abdominis muscle. Crunches can worsen and aggravate this during a time when your body is strengthening and healing. Please don’t feel pressure to get your pre-baby body back. Rock the tummy and thank your body for the amazing job it has done in growing and birthing a baby.
Crunches don’t support strengthening our deeper core muscles that are critical for whole body functioning. So even if crunches weren’t ineffective there are so many other core exercises that are more fun, enjoyable and effective. If you don’t believe me lets take a look at the core and compare this to the earlier diagram of the abdominals above.
The core is the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex and there are 29 muscles within this area basically its your torso to your hips. When we talk about functional core conditioning exercises they include your abdominals that crunches target but also others such as our hip adductors and flexors, glutes and hamstrings.
So what is functional core training and why should you do this instead? More bang for your buck!
The plank is an excellent alternative.
Lets look at a diagram of a women doing a plank, see how there are so many more muscles including the abdominals being used!
unless you really enjoy crunches and sit ups, don’t do them. Swap out your sit ups for a couple of 30-60 second plank holds and feel the benefits!