I was having a few drinks with friends on Saturday night when Joe asked me why I don’t do more crunches in boot camp.

Some arguing and drunken finger pointing ensued. He didn’t believe me when I said that crunches were a waste of time for building ABZ and strengthening your core. So I decided to do my first ever…


Only, it’s not so much a Q&A as it is an I told you so, but you know. Semantics.

So, to answer Joe’s question in a more sober manner:

As I mentioned, I don’t do crunches in the boot camp class because I think they are a waste of time.

That’s because they mostly only work your rectus abdominis, aka abs/the six pack.

But, your core is made up of much more than just your abs. There are also the lower back muscles (back extensors and quadratus lumborum), the upper back muscles (latissumus dorsi) and a few others (check out the link below for more details.) Having a strong core is important because it keeps your spine stabilized as you move. Only training the abs with crunches is not going to reach those deep-down muscles that are responsible for protecting your spine.

All my inside trunk muscles are allowing me to do this without royally screwing up my back. HardCORE. Get it? Derp...

Also, you can do all the core and ab work you want, but that six pack is not going to show unless you drop the fat on top of it first. That, my friends, is pretty much dependent on your diet. And as you should all know by now, you can’t spot reduce. Meaning that doing a million crunches is NOT going to get rid of your pooch. Only a smart diet will.

Furthermore, crunches can possibly damage your back. When you do them, you are flexing your back in an unnatural position that can lead to disc herniation. Think about it: when do you ever need to do something in real life that mimics the movement you do when you crunch? Never. If anything, you’re supposed to keep your back straight as often as possible, not bend it.

So how do you strengthen your core?

By doing compound movements, like push-ups, chin-ups and squats. Planks and side planks are also good. Any exercise that requires you to keep your back straight is key.

The good thing about compound movements is that they work other body parts too, so you get more bang for your buck. Here is a really good (albiet technical and science-y) article about how much abdominal activity is generated by different exercises. The winner? Chin-ups for the “six pack muscles!”

Still can't aim for shit though.

So I know having a strong core doesn’t sound as sexy as FLAT, CHISELED ABZZZ. But you will get a nice set of visible abs if you train your core and get your body fat percentage low enough.

I care about making the boot campers stronger, not piddling about doing the latest fitness fad just because it’s popular. That’s why I focus on functional movements that work multiple muscle groups.

That’s not to say that you have to strictly avoid doing crunches. Go ahead and do them if you’d like. They’re certainly not the end of the world. I just think you can do better.

And if you are going to crunch, for goodness sake, do it right:
Lie down with one leg flat and the other leg bent at the knee with the sole of your foot on the floor. Place your hands under your lower back for support. And only lift your head and shoulders.

More food for thought:
Is Your Ab Workout Hurting Your Back?
Are Crunches Worth the Effort?

7 comments on “Reader Q&A: To Crunch or Not to Crunch?”

  1. From a neophyte’s prospective, I have to agree with you. I use to do AB crunches with my friends all the time in our previous work out routine. We all noticed similar lower back issues days afterwards. Soon our bitching was over heard by a Pro-Trainer at the Wellness center who introduced us to a different routine. Similar to what you described. We switch routines to one that focuses on core by doing squats with and without free-weights. It made a noticeable difference. Our back problems seized.

    Great scouring BTW; FTW.

  2. Hi Allie! I posted this reply to your comment on Sable’s post:

    I think there is a mental game in going from 95 pounds to 100. I suggest working on your psych up before going into the lift. I helped a woman at my gym instantly do a 100 pound bench press after years of 95 pound bench presses as her best. For her, it all involved the mental preparation I had her do before the lift.

    And, of course, do everything Sable said above. 😀

    🙂 Marion

    • Thanks for the advice! Isn’t just about everything in life a mental game? 😛 Next time I do chest I’ll be sure to be my own personal cheerleader.

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