Longevity isn’t necessarily the best measuring stick for greatness. Just because lots of people continue to do something, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should too. Take one of the most common exercises in the weight room, for example: the crunch.
This universal core training staple has been passed from commercial gym to gym, as countless exercisers have pumped through millions of reps in the hopes of sculpting a defined six-pack. But all that effort will likely come up short. Crunches are just not a good exercise.
Now that we know better, no matter how many reps you think you can crunch, the path to a six-pack is not with this overrated exercise, according to Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., and Mathew Forzaglia, N.F.P.T., C.P.T., founder of Forzag Fitness.
“The ab crunch simply isn’t worth it,” Samuel says. “The truth is fitness moved away from the ab crunch a long time ago because it’s not really a great way to hit your abs at all.”
Why You Shouldn’t Do Crunches
Here are three reasons why you should stop wasting time and reps with ab crunches.
Crunches Can Strain Your Neck
No matter how disciplined you think you’re doing your crunches, most people lead the movement with the neck. This is causing more stress in the neck flexors than it is actually engaging your core, and forcing your neck to take most of the load isn’t ideal at all, especially when the goal is to engage your ab strength.
Crunches Aren’t Effective for Spinal Flexion
A strong core relies on excellent spinal flexion through the entire length of the spine — from the thoracic through the lumbar region. Getting your abs to drive into the spine in full flexion is essential for building ab strength. However, once again, all the work your neck takes on during your crunch session takes away from any real spinal flexion. So again, what’s the point of performing these religiously (or at all)?
Crunches Are Too Easy
You’ll never really challenge yourself with crunches until you start pumping out a ton of reps, and that’s just ineffective. An ideal target range should be in the 10 to 15 rep range, which should push your abs enough to begin building the strength you’ve been working toward.
“If you can lie there and do 1,000 crunches and you’re gonna tell me you did 1,000 crunches, I’m gonna tell you that you probably don’t have a six pack,” Samuel says.
3 Crunch Alternatives to Train Your Six-Pack
Instead of crunches, try these three proven ab workout alternatives.
●Hanging Leg Raise (or Knee Raise)
3 sets of 8 to 10 reps
Keep your focus on bringing your glutes forward during contraction phase of this hanging movement and you’ll almost always bring you solid abdominal compression rep after rep, no matter which option of the leg raise you prefer. The positioning of this move allows you to brace your core which can really allow you to work that full six pack.
3 sets of 30 second holds
Hollow holds shift the focus to isometric contractions, forcing you to hold down that desired spinal flexion without any neck engagement. Instead, the position reinforces tight core control. “Imagine taking the hardest part of a crunch done right and just holding that moment for 30 seconds or 45 seconds,” Samuel says. “That’s what you’re doing on the hold and that’s why it’s such a terrific option.”
If you really want to challenge your core in a way that crunches can’t, you want to try the V-up. Think hollow holds with even more spinal flexion and you’ve got the V-up. This exercise is about reaching up and creating a ton of spinal flexion as we drive our hands and feet at the top of the movement, then coming back down to that hollow hold starting position. “What I love about the V-up is, like the hanging leg lift, is we’re taking an aspect of that lower abdominal work and then [with] the hollow hold and we’re taking that spinal flexion of upper abdominal work and we’re making more of a dynamic movement bringing them together,” Forzaglia says.
Jeff Tomko is a freelance fitness writer who has written for Muscle and Fitness, Men’s Fitness, and Men’s Health.