10 reasons why you should NOT do crunches.

10 reasons why you should NOT do crunches.

Whether a popular opinion or not, I rarely support the idea of doing crunches for ab training. And this is coming from a recovered crunches-junkie. Growing up I did my fair share of crunches. After all, all my dance teachers did them as part of our daily warm-up. In fact, I had one teacher (in college nonetheless), try to convince us to do 5,000 crunches a day like she did. For realz, peeps.

So why am I so anti-crunches? For a lot of reasons. And just in case you need some reasons why you should trust me… here’s the bullet-list of my credentials:

  • Certified Movement Analyst:I am trained to see the body and movement, and how to help others improve their functional and expressive capabilities.
  • Registered Somatic Movement Therapist: I have worked with individual clients for years, helping them through injuries or bad habits (many of those bad habits include too many crunches).
  • University professor who has worked with hundreds of trained dancers in both technique, conditioning, and Somatic classes.
  • Avid researcher and reader of all books movement related.

Okay, enough about me. Let’s move on to the important stuff:

10 reasons why you should NOT do crunches

1. They can be dangerous.

Sure, if you do them right crunches can be harmless. But having taught dance and conditioning for over a decade, most people are not doing them right. Doing crunches in both a safe and effective manner require a good deal of body awareness and anatomical knowledge. And even then, those types of people are usually the ones throwing legs in the air or adding twists while doing it. It’s far too easy to pull a muscle, slip some disc in your spine, or create more subtle (but unpleasant) problems that won’t show up immediately.

2. They wreak havoc on your spine.

Many instructors will tell you to “flatten” your spine to the floor when doing crunches. This makes sense to some degree because it protects you from major injury. But unfortunately, it also trains your body to stay in that flattened position. The spine has curves for a reason. Any real core training will take into account those curves and find ways to support the spine without having to compromise the natural integrity of its form.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who don’t flatten their spine, but also don’t understand the transverse abdominus and its role in maintaining a neutral spine. These people will often release the spine too much (over extending the curve of the lower back) which results in major issues (and points right back to reason #1).

3. They can create poor posture.

Crunches reinforce bad habits that result in poor posture. I’ve worked with numerous students and clients who were unconsciously “tucking their butt under” and “holding in their abs” as a result of too much bad ab training. Again, this reinforces conditioning that disrupts the natural curves of the spinal. The end result to all this “ab strengthened” a really STRONG bad posture.

And since the whole body is connected: Tucked bottoms result in flattened spinal curves which usually bring the shoulders slumped downward, the head forward, and starts to slowly work on that “old lady hump” in the back that nobody wants. I can always tell when someone does too many crunches almost immediately by their posture alone.

4. They over-focus on surface muscles instead of deep core muscles.

Crunches really zone your surface ab muscles. While it’s true that these are your “six pack” muscles, they are not the most important muscles for true core strength. I witnessed numerous dancers who had very “strong abs” and poor core support. If all you care about is how your stomach looks, by all means, keep crunching away. But if you want real strength that supports the body in motion (and is critical for living a pain-free life), go deeper.

(By the way, once I finally let go of my crunches addiction, I finally started seeing definition in my stomach.)

5. They often create tension and restriction in the hips.

Most individuals tuck their butt under as they do crunches. This again overworks surface muscles, disengages more core muscles, tightens hip flexors, and can create tension in the hips. The habit of tucking also produces unwanted results in the hip joint that can also manifest as lower back pain.

6. They can create tension and pain in the neck.

Ever watch someone do a lot of crunches? More often than not you’ve seen the strained look in their face and the taught tension in their neck. Another indication that crunches forget that the connection of the entire spine, doing more harm than good.

7. They do not consider the whole body.

As already mentioned, crunches neglect deeper core muscles, critical aspects of the spine, as well as the role our core plays in the whole body. True core training acknowledges that the whole body is connected. Working for a six pack at the neglect of everything else is dangerous and a waste of time.

8. They are boring.

‘Nuff said. Exercise should be engaging. If not we don’t stay with it. Working in a way that keeps our mind active is important. Enjoying what we do makes the difference between fit-for-life and fit-until-I-run-out-of-steam-and-possibly-at-the-cost-of-my-thyroid-and-adrenals.

9. For anyone who has diastic recti, they will only make things worse.

This is a very common condition for women who have given birth. It’s is a disorder defined as a separation of the rectus abdominis muscle into right and left halves. It often goes “undiagnosed” and most women who have it think they just need to lose weight or tone their tummy as the result is a protruding pooch. But doing crunches will only aggravate the situation more. For real results, check out this book.

10 reasons why you should NOT do crunches.

10. There are so many other options for better core training.

Even if crunches weren’t dangerous, restrictive, and ineffective there are so many other options that provide true core training. What sort of things? I’m glad you asked. Here is the follow up post on my favorite core training exercises.

In the meantime, check out my book Pain Free to learn about an integrated approach to fitness and movement training.

So… do you do crunches? Are you willing to consider some better alternatives?

 

 

 

“This post was part of Motivation Monday, Fat Tuesday, Allergy Free Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, Thank Your Body Thursday, and Fight Back Fridays. Hope on over to read more awesome articles. “

NOTE: Due to an never-ending cesspool of spam, I have made the tough decision to close comments 14 days after the original posting of all posts. Sorry to anyone left out of the conversation. I just needed to spend less time monitoring spam and more time with my kids. Best wishes, Robin!

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About the author

Hi! I'm and I’m passionate about healthy living: feeling nourished, having energy, getting good sleep, and feeling strong. I believe healthy living does not have to be complicated or stressful. I’m a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist (RSMT) and a Certified Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analyst (CLMA). I’m also an avid researcher and love to read about nutrition, the body, and toxic-free living. Learn more.

View all articles by Robin Konie

38 comments

  1. Katie

    I have suffered from back pain for over a year now and I have been trying to do lots of core strengthening to help. I will need to look into your book!

    Thanks,
    Katie


    1. Post author
      robin

      Be sure to check out next week’s posts. It’ll give some better alternatives to crunches that will hopefully help with back pain.

  2. Brittany Ardito

    Great article. I have often thought that doing crunches puts such a strain on the necka nd back that it couldn’t be healthy. So what do you think about standing abs? They don’t hurt my back and neck as much…


    1. Post author
      robin

      It honestly depends so much on how you are doing them… although I think they are generally a better solution compared to sitting crunches. I’ll have some of my favorite core training exercises on the blog next week. :)


    1. Post author
      robin

      I have mixed feelings about pilates, honestly. I did a lot of pilates as part of my dance training in school (especially grad school where I took semi-private lessons). I think the principles behind pilates is sound, and I think if done properly they can be really beneficially. I’m not a huge fan of flattening the spine for core work, although I know why it’s often done that way in certain pilate moves, only because it’s training the body for a flat spine. But many pilate moves are really great for core training… if done well. :)

  3. Audrey

    I knew I hated crunches for a GOOD reason!! :) my ab workouts just consist of me pulling in the ab muscles with each exhale while doing yoga, it seems to work just fine and is far less torturous!! :)

  4. Rita Wheeler

    Hi Robin, does doing crunches in a sitting position (on a crunch “machine” in a typical gym) make it any better for you?


    1. Post author
      robin

      Good question, Rita. I personally avoid machines because they don’t require you to consider the whole body most of the time. Overall, there are more effective ways to train your core. Next week I’ll talk about those. :)

  5. Pingback: Core strengthening exercises: How and why

  6. Elle

    Hi, I suffered from a recti and after my 4th child’s birth it was a 3finger width and now a 1 finger width. The result is a very lean body but a bigger belly as normal after my other births. I did not do my usual crunches etc after recovery of 4th csection and now I hate my stomach. Where do I start to loose all the belly fat????


    1. Post author
      robin

      Without knowing you and all your specifics it’s hard to say. I’d check out the book Mummy Tummy. Belly fat is a tricky one because it could be actual fatty deposits, or misaligned spine, or mommy “gut.” Be patient with yourself as you have birthed four children! That’s amazing. Give it time, look into proper strength training, and of course diet plays a huge issue.

    2. Rachel S.

      Also (and I commented on this below), there is a website called fit2b.com that is geared totally around core strengthening (still with total body workouts). I had a 9 finger diastasis when I started. I was in the first trimester of my current pregnancy, and my tummy shrank before it started really growing with baby. My diastasis also shrank down to a 5 in that first month or so of doing the workouts. The workouts I have used consistently are only about 10 minutes each and I didn’t always do them every day.

  7. Rachel S.

    There is an AWESOME alternative already available online! It is Fit2B.com. Bethany Learn, the owner, has been working diligently to spread the word about the dangers of crunches, especially if you have a diastasis!

    I have been doing the tummy safe workouts since late December; and even being pregnant, my tummy SHRANK in my first trimester! Her workout target you entire core, not just the six-pack like crunches do.

    I have had a much easier pregnancy so far because having a strong core has kept my sciatic nerve from hurting so much. I want to add that this is my 10th pregnancy, so this is no small thing for me!

  8. Danielle

    I’m glad you’ve mentioned diastasis recti. I’m recovering from diastasis recti repair surgery and it’s a rough one. It’s so common too! My dr. used to recommend crunches to help my saggy belly, lol. Thanks for spreading the word that crunches do NOT help.

  9. Pingback: Just say NO to crunches | one foot 2 foot

  10. Pingback: Postpartum Exercise for Healthy Weight Loss after Pregnancy

  11. Alesha Taylor

    To the author of this post, I wanted to know whether the stomach exercises in Callanetics are safe compared to crunches? I always found the tensing and relaxing of crunches to be hard on my back whereas Callanetics is a lot softer while still toning that region.


    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      Hmmmm… I’m honestly not very familiar with Callanetics, so I can’t say for sure. Sorry!

  12. Pingback: Top 10 Reasons To Cut Out The Crunches

  13. Amanda Evans

    Thanks! Excellent article at just the right time for me. Dealing with diastasis recti since having a baby and feeling so broken about exercise while “everybody else” just jumps right back into their workouts after a baby. Even though I know now that crunches aren’t the way to go, it makes me feel better when others are spreading the word and that it’s best to regain my strength a different way. Still not quite sure how to begin from here though…


    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      I’m right there with you, Amanda! Luckily there are lots of great videos online with exercises for D.R. Find some that really focus on strengthening the Transverse Abdominus.

  14. Stephanie

    Nice article and love that crunches aren’t necessary for the abs. I do a 10 minute ab workout twice a week. Was wondering if the ones that I do are not healthy either. I listed them below and would love your thoughts.
    1. I do legs ups on the apparatus where you put your arms on a padded rest and then let your legs hang and then bring them straight up.. Not sure what that is specifically called, but hope it makes sense.
    2. I also use a crunch machine where you add plates to it. It has a head rest.
    3. I do an oblique workout on some apparatus that I think is for your lower back. You rest your lower body on it and then you bend over. Sorry for the horrible descriptions, but I can’t remember their technical terms.
    4. Lying leg ups on a workout bench.
    5. Crunches on a decline bench specifically for decline crunches.

    I’d really love to know if I’m wasting my time on these.


    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      How long have you been doing them? Have you noticed improvement? It’s hard to say for sure about these exercises (and I’m having a hard time visioning a few of them)… the biggest question is what is your spine like throughout these exercises? I prefer ab work that allows me to maintain a neutral spine instead of a “flat” or “pressed against the floor” spine. Plank is one of my favorite ways to strengthen (unless you are recently postpartum.)

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