I very rarely use crunches in my workouts. And when I do include an ab exercise, I find the most full-body move I can.
When I pick out moves for my workouts, I’m looking for moves that give me the most bang for my buck. I’m generally looking for moves that work numerous muscles at once in a functional way to make them stronger.
Therefore, crunches generally don’t make the cut since they don’t work a number of muscle groups all at once in a functional way.
HOWEVER, there are times I find crunches useful and FUN.
For instance, I’ve found crunches can be a fun active rest exercise. Like when I do sprint and crawling workouts. Both of those exercises are super intense, full body moves. So as an active rest piece, I add in a crunch.
It makes the circuit even more fun and allows my legs and arms to rest while I continue to move and work.
Same goes for other cardio workouts. I will choose an upper, lower and then core exercise and generally the core exercise is some crunch variation to give both my upper and lower body a little extra rest.
So as active, fun rest, I find crunches very useful.
Here are a few of my favorite crunch variations. They are a bit more full body and give the legs and upper body a chance to relax while not being “easy.”
1. Super Crunches – Lie on your back with your legs out straight. Crunch your upper body up as you draw your knees in. Come up so that you are sitting on your butt. Reach your hands to outside one knee. Then lie back down. Then crunch up and reach through your knees. Lie back down. Then crunch up and reach outside the other knee. Those 3 crunches equal one rep.
2. Cherry Bombs – Sit on your butt and draw your knees into your chest. Wrap your arms around your shins and lift your feet off the ground. Then open your arms and straighten your legs out wide and let your upper body go back toward the ground. You should almost look like a big X on the ground with arms and legs out and open. Then come back to seated and draw your knees back in. Your feet should stay off the ground the entire time.
3. Bicycles – Lie on your back with your legs out straight in front of you and your hands behind your head. Lift your legs up off the ground. Beginners may need to keep their feet up higher while more advanced exercisers will be able to keep their feet only an inch or two off the ground. Bring your right knee into your chest, keeping the left leg off the ground. As you bring the right knee in, crunch the upper body up and bring the left elbow up and across to touch your right knee. Then straighten you right knee out and bring your left knee in as you rotate your left elbow to the ground and your right elbow to your left knee. Keep rotating and alternating touches until all reps are complete.
4. Russian Twists – Balance on your butt with your knees bent and feet off the ground. Hinge back a little with your upper body, maintaining a nice tall posture. Hold a med ball in both hands. Rotate your upper body and arms from side to side, touching the ball to the ground by each hip. Keep your feet off the ground the entire time and move as quickly as possible.
5. Alternating Leg V-Up (or full v-up or oblique v-up…) – Lie flat on your back with your legs out straight in front of you. Beginners will rest the leg not being raised up on the ground while advanced exercisers will keep both feet off the ground at all times. Lift one leg up toward the ceiling. Crunch the upper body up and reach the opposite arm up toward the toes of the raised leg. Then lower that leg and lower your upper body down. Raise the other leg and the opposite arm to touch it as you crunch up. Keep alternating sides.
Here are two great workouts using crunches as active rest:
Also, I think that lower body crunches can be useful especially as progressions of the pelvic tilt.
Most people jump right into double straight leg lowers and just accept the fact that they have low back pain when doing the move. Or maybe they put their hands behind their low back to help.
But they never really regress the move and focus on strengthening their abs so that they can truly do the move without pain.
The pelvic tilt isn’t really a crunch but many of the lower ab crunches that we do require that you can do the pelvic tilt. (The pelvic tilt is a must-do move for EVERYONE. It strengthens your abs to alleviate low back pain and make you stronger so you can lift more!)
To do the Pelvic Tilt, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. You should almost be able to reach your hands down by your sides and touch your heels with your finger tips. Feel the space between your low back and the ground as you lie there. Then draw your belly button in toward your spine and press that space away. You should feel your low back against the ground. Hold there, making sure to not hold your breath.
Once the basic hold becomes easy, you will want to do a bent knee march then a bent knee two leg lift and then finally straight leg lifts. Advance the pelvic tilt slowly. Make sure that as you progress, your low back stays firmly connected with the ground. If you can’t keep your low back against the ground, you aren’t ready for the progression. (These progressions of the pelvic tilt are all lower ab crunch variations!)
These lower ab crunches as a progression of the pelvic tilt are super useful to strengthen your core and learn how to engage your abs. I mainly use them as activation moves before a workout or on a recovery day.
So those are the times I find crunches useful – as active rest and ab activation progressions.
When do you like to use crunches in your workouts? Do you use them as active rest or ab activation exercises?
99% of the people you see in the gym at some point do crunches, planks…any sort of ab exercise during their workout.
But only about half of those people ever do some of the BEST exercises for their abs and for that matter their entire bodies (and these exercises AREN’T crunches!)
They are four awesome exercises called the pull up, push up, back squat and deadlift. And to be honest, they are really all you need to have great arms, chest, back, abs, butt, quads, hamstrings and even calves!
So why are you wasting time on crunches? Actually, why are wasting time on a lot of those silly single muscle group movements!?! I mean seriously…those exercises only help the top 1% not the average Jane/Joe.
If you think you don’t have enough time to workout, you should stop wasting it by doing crunches and single muscle group movements and start doing these four exercises!!!
Let’s face it…we know these are a great exercise because no one ever wants to do them! When no one wants to do an exercise, it generally means it is hard.
Just look at all the muscles used:
- Lower sternal fibers of the pec major
- Posterior deltoid
- Teres major muscles
- Lower traps
- Pec minor
- Levator scapulae
- Serratus anterior
- Rectus abdominis
- Erector spinae
- Transverse abdominis
All of these muscles are used some more or less depending on which pull up variation you perform. (And if you need to make all of those muscles work harder just hang some weight around your waist or perform repetitions till failure!)
Grip can effect which muscles are used more during the movement. Chin ups and narrow grip pull ups are usually the easiest and engage the most bicep while wider grip pull ups isolate the lats more. For example, with a chin up the biceps brachii are used the most but with a prone or pull up grip the brachialis and brachioradialis (muscles that are part of the bicep) are used more than the biceps brachii.
Even the positioning of your lower half can alter which core muscles are doing more work. Ideally you want a straight position though so you are fully engaging every muscle in your core!
And there are no excuses for not doing pull ups. There is always a pull up assist machine around OR a band you can use to help pull you up. Heck even start with jumping pull ups! There is no excuse to skip these! There is a variation for all fitness levels!
Again, rarely are women doing push ups in the gym and neither are men actually…Men usually prefer the more illustrious bench press…But push ups are AMAZING! AND there are a bazillion variations of push ups so they will never ever be too easy!
If you need proof of how amazing, here is a list of all the muscles worked:
- Deltoids (anterior, posterior and medial)
- Pecs (both major and minor)
- Erector spinae
- Rotator cuff
- Serratus anterior
- Rectus abdominus (ABS!!!)
- Transverse abdominus (Oh and abs again!?!)
- Gluteus maximus
You may be thinking, “What?! Push ups work your legs too!?!” YES THEY DO!!!
Your glutes and quads aren’t primary muscle groups in the movement, but they do assist if you do push ups from your toes. They keep your body in a nice straight line!
And like the pull up there are variations that work the muscle groups listed in different ways. There is the narrow push up, which engages more tricep and shoulder (also known as the chaturanga or even the diamond push up) and there is the wide grip push up, which isolates the chest more. There is also the decline push up where you elevate your feet, which not only makes the push up harder but also works your pec major more. AND if you put your hands on unbalanced or uneven surfaces you can work your core more!
I mean there are just a bazillion push up varieties so you will never get bored. AND beginners can’t claim push ups are too advanced! Push ups from the knees are a great modification as well as incline push ups. You can even start by doing push ups by leaning against a wall! There is no excuse why anyone can’t do an incline push up against the wall! 😉
Ok I love legs so I really love this move. And not only does this move work the biggest muscle group in your body but it also really works your core! (And if you want a great butt….SQUAT!)
A quote from “Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training” stating just my point!
Squats are considered a vital exercise for increasing the strength and sizeof the legs and buttocks, as well as developing core strength. Isometrically, the lower back, the upper back, the abdominals, the trunk muscles, the costal muscles, and the shoulders and arms are all essential to the exercise and thus are trained when squatting with proper form.
So the muscles worked:
- Transverse Abdominus (abs!!!)
- Erector Spinae
- Soleus (calves)
- Gastrocnemius (calves)
So one thing I haven’t mentioned with the two previous exercises (which is also true for them), but all of these strengthen your lower back, which so many people neglect while doing all of their crunches! And trust me, your back is as much a part of your core as your abs are even if it isn’t something you notice while wearing a bikini.
And there are also a bazillion variations of the squat. I personally have picked the back squat here to highlight because it is the most basic and you can add a ton of weight to it to make it challenging (I like heavy weights!).
MY FAVORITE EXERCISE EVER!!!
Maybe I love it because it works like everything!! It works everything from your fingers (grip strength!!) to your toes!
It works (and I copied this list because well…the deadlift works everything).
- Rectus abdominis (under aponeurosis)
- Abdominal external oblique muscle
- Abdominal internal oblique muscle
- Intertransversarii laterales lumborum
- Latissimus dorsi
- Levator scapulae
- Quadratus lumborum
- Rhomboideus major
- Serratus posterior superior
- Serratus posterior inferior
- Splenius cervicis
- Teres Major
- Trapezius muscle
- Rectus femoris
- Vastus lateralis
- Vastus intermedius
- Vastus medialis
- Biceps femoris muscle
- long head
- short head
- Biceps femoris muscle
- Gluteal muscles
- Gluteus maximus
- Gluteus minimus
- Superior gemellus
- Gluteal muscles
- Flexor digitorum profundus
Enough said? haha