When you think about getting a shredded set of six pack abs, what exercise first comes to mind? For most people, they'd probably think of the good old Abdominal crunch, right? I mean come on! It's THE go to ab exercise, right?
Well, I want you to think again about the crunch and it's usefulness in your goal to get a six pack.
The crunch is probably the most popular exercise when people try to get stronger, harder abs but is probably one of the exercises that experts will suggest is on the lower scale of the spectrum of useful exercises. Let's discuss why.
You may have read one of my previous articles on my site or have access to my insider's circle mailing list where I discussed your abdominals being comprised of 4 muscle groups. These groups, sometimes abbreviated to T.I.R.E. are the Transversus Abdominis, Internal Obliques, Rectus Abdominis and External Obliques (in order of the TIRE abbreviation)
The visible 6 pack that you see is the rectus abdominis muscle. It's a thin muscular wall on the front of the body and those are pretty much what ab crunches work out and isolate. They're the muscles involved in spinal flexion (i.e. when you bend your body forward and your spine flexes forward, it's your abs contracting that are causing that movement).
Sound good so far right? The problem is though, with these muscles being so thin, they can only grow so much compared to say a thicker muscle like your thicker back muscles.
Another problem with the crunch is that if done incorrectly, (which I think is a very common thing based on my own observations of people attempting them at gyms) they can place a strain on the spine and can cause problems with your back. If you suffer from a weak back or indeed a weak core, ab crunches are not a good exercise at all, I mean think about this, let's take a guy that's over weight and starting out to get fit. He sees the rocky movies and reads a few copies of men's health and wants to take some action. Can you picture this guy at home in his jogging suit doing crunches whilst listening to the Rocky 4 soundtrack? Okay, I’m being slightly flippant here but here's my point. Many people just starting out will have weak cores and carry more weight than they should. By doing ab crunches when you have an already weak core and back whilst carrying excess weight is a recipe for disaster for your spine and back… yeah, your abs are getting more stress but so is your back and let's face it, most people new to training don't know much about correct form.
So, you want to see abs right? Well what do you need to do? Since doing hundreds of crunches are not going to cause your abs to grow (for the previous reason as well as the fact that in order for muscles to grow, they must be worked out under stress in a hypertrophy rep range for example 10-12 reps rather than hundreds), you'll need to do a couple of things:
The first one is to get your diet in check. Yeah I know, you didn't want to hear that and you may have wanted to hear the more sexy, magic bullet answer right? Well the old saying, “Abs are made in the kitchen and not in the gym” is very true. Since your abs can only grow so much, the key to seeing them therefore is to have is lower body fat, particularly lower belly fat. This can be achieved through a good diet and overall exercise/training regimen.
The second thing is to workout and exercise to gain lean muscle and burn fat (Check out my eCourse, Becoming a fat burning machine)
So what about ab exercises, are they all useless if all you need to do is diet and just workout?
No, not at all. Remember, we spoke above about the abs being comprised of 4 different muscles. These muscles make up the bulk of your core. Whilst a lot of people are concerned with seeing their 6 pack, the actual real important muscle you need to focus on when your abs are concerned is your Transversus Abdominis. This is a deep muscle that you can't see visibly and makes up your “inner unit”. It is the muscle that stabilises your spine so when you do any activity such as heavy lifting or want to output power (such as throwing a punch or a kick), a strong core, which means a strong transversus abdominis muscle is going to help a lot! It's also a thicker muscle than the abs so if you want to tone up your mid section, this and the obliques is important if not more than just your rectus abdominis muscles.
Choosing exercises therefore that engage the whole core rather than just isolate the rectus abdominis muscles are far more beneficial therefore.
Ab exercises that are better for you than crunches engage the whole muscle group. Yes, isolation exercises are cool and have their place but for the reasons spoken above, isolation exercises alone will not get you that 6 pack. So, here are 5 exercises that are better for you than ab crunches.
We've all seen the plank challenges on social media and a plank is quite a simple yet deceptively difficult move. This exercise is a killer for your core and is an isometric exercise meaning you “hold” the muscle under tension thanks to the posture you adopt. Planks are done by keeping your forearms and toes on the floor, your body is elevated and your back, neck and bum in alignment. See how long you can hold this pose for.
2. Wood choppers
An awesome exercise for the core especially the obliques. This can be done using cables, resistance bands, medicine balls or with dumbbells. The key here is to adopt a stride stance and twist your torso under tension.
3. Ab Rolls
Another deceptive exercise. Whilst it may look easy, Ab rolls using an ab wheel are killer for the core! If you don't have access to an ab wheel, you can use a dumb bell where the weights are not fixed.
4. Hanging leg raises
A tough one! Grab a pull up bar or something similar and keep your arms extended. Slowly tuck your knees all the way up to your chest and down again – Did you just say ouch?
5. Medicine ball slams
Whilst not specifically an ab exercise, this staple amongst MMA fighters who want to build both cardiovascular endurance and punching/slamming power engages the core in ways that you will feel! In fact, there are many other exercises too that engage the core that aren't specifically core exercises. One of my favourites being the good old squat!
Remember, you don't need to do hundreds of these exercises. You wouldn't train your biceps every day and do 100's of reps a day and expect them to grow, the same applies to your abdominal muscles! Sure, if muscular endurance is important then doing high reps can be beneficial and I know a lot of fight clubs, boxing clubs and gyms do still do a lot of high rep ab exercises but most do so for muscular endurance and, let's face it, a lot of them practice old school methods that aren't exactly laced with scientific reasoning,
So, whilst ab crunches do work your rectus abdominis and if done properly with correct form, can be part of your ab training routine, they're not the best exercise for your abs! If you would like to get in touch about your fitness goals, please don't hesitate to contact me using the form in the contact me link above!