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. 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?