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?