Fitness challenges are a great way to motivate yourself to work out, especially during those times of the year when our desire to work up a sweat begins to wane. But can doing crunches every day really improve your core fitness enough to make a difference? Research says no.
If overall core fitness is your goal, basic crunches are actually one of the worst exercises you can do! They’re hard on the back, putting excessive strain on your spinal cord from the repetitive motion of bending and extending your spine. Because the motion of crunching often leads people to clench their butt, doing crunches every day can also create tension in the hips that can even result in lower back pain.
Crunches are a common exercise in part because they work the surface abdominal muscles, which, when worked effectively, can result in the appearance of the elusive six-pack. But we all know that core strength is more than skin deep, and that having a strong core actually has little to do with how toned your stomach looks.
Still not convinced? Jenn Sinrich from Women’s Health challenged herself to do 50 crunches a day for a month, and saw no real change in the definition of her abs. She also noted feeling pretty bored by the exercise throughout her challenge.
If you can’t bear to break up with crunches, stick to more dynamic versions of the exercise like the bicycle crunches favored by Hayden Panettiere and Julianne Hough. Bicycle crunches work both your upper and lower abs, and, when done consistently and with proper form, can result in more overall definition of the abdominals. Hough also likes standing ab crunches, a great way to work the oblique muscles without putting excess pressure on the back and neck.
Working them into a circuit like Gigi Hadid’s that includes cardio as well exercises like planks and leg raises that target the whole core can also help improve your overall core fitness while blasting fat, which helps you see more definition in your stomach and keeps you feeling strong.
Looking for some exercises that aren't crunches? Check out these 9 effective ab moves to get results!
1. Plank Up-Downs
Step 1: Begin in high plank. Your body should be a straight, diagonal line from your head to your heels.
Step 2: With control, place your right forearm down onto the mat.
Step 3: Now place your left forearm down onto the mat, you are now in forearm plank position. Reverse the sequence, pressing back up into a high plank, one hand at a time.
Modification: (Beginner): Perform this move on your knees.
2. Stability Ball Roll Out
Step 1: Kneel behind a stability ball with your knees hip-width apart. Rest your forearms on the ball with your hands clasped.
Step 2: Keeping your back flat and core in tight, slowly roll forward as far as possible, straightening your arms as far as you can without allowing your hips to drop.
Step 3: Hold this position, then bend your elbows and roll the ball back in toward start position. That is one rep.
3. Kneeling Hinge
Step 1: Begin kneeling with your legs about hip-width apart, your toes pointed behind you and your arms extended straight out, holding a dumbbell in front of your chest. Brace the abs and maintain a straight line from your knees to your head.
Step 2: Hinge back as far as possible. Pause for a second. Squeeze the inner thighs, abs and glutes to lift you back to your starting position. Don't break at the hips to try to get back up — instead, decrease your range of motion or try it without the dumbbell. That is one rep.
4. Crab Twists
Step 1: Sit on floor with knees bent in front of you, feet hip-width apart on the floor. Place hands shoulder-width apart on floor behind you. Lift your butt so that your body is in reverse tabletop position. Extend your right leg and place your left hand behind your head, elbow out.
Step 2: Crunch diagonally, bringing your right knee to your left elbow. That’s one rep. Repeat for allotted amount of reps, then switch to the other side.
Modification (Beginner): When in reverse tabletop position, keep both hands on the floor behind you and raise your knee to your chest.
5. Russian Twist with Kettlebell
Step 1: Begin in a seated position on the floor with knees bent. Hold kettlebell above chest as you lower your upper body down to about a 45-degree angle. Lift your legs and engage your core for balance.
Step 2: Keeping core tight and shoulders back, rotate to the right as far as you can. See if you can tap the kettlebell on the floor.
Step 3: Pause, then reverse your movement, twisting through the center and to the left as far as you can, tapping kettlebell on the floor.
Modification (Beginner): Leave your feet on the floor, knees still bent.
6. Stability Ball V-Pass
Step 2: In one fluid movement, use your entire core to lift your arms and legs off the ground, keeping legs and arms straight the entire time.
Step 3: Transfer the ball from your hands to your feet and allow yourself to lower back down to the floor. That is one rep.
Modification (Beginner): Bend knees while performing move or ditch stability ball altogether.
7. Ab Cyclone
Step 1: Lie flat on your back with your hands down at your sides, palms down. For extra comfort, you can place them underneath you, between your butt and lower back.
Step 2: Keeping your legs straight, raise them up until they form a 90-degree angle with your upper body.
Step 3: Drop them down and to your left, keeping your legs straight the entire time.
Step 4: Now rotate them to the center, straight in front of you about 6 inches off the floor.
Step 5: Swoop them to your right side, keeping the same hovering distance from the floor. Pull them back to that 90-degree angle. That’s one rep.
Note: If your lower back starts to arch and is no longer touching the ground, bend your knees and do not drop your legs as low.
8. Straight Leg Reverse Crunch
Step 1: Lie on your back with your arms at your side, palms down and lift your legs straight up over the hips, feet together.
Step 2: Using the lower core muscles and your lats (the muscles running against the rib cage), squeeze and lift your tailbone off the mat. The goal is to have your feet move straight up instead of up and over your chest. Sometimes flexing you feet to "stamp" the ceiling will help guide this movement. As you release, try to control it so your hips don't slam against the ground.
9. Tabletop Reverse Pike
Step 1: Sit on the floor knees bent, feet on the floor, hands on the floor behind you with your fingers pointing toward your body. Lift your hips off the floor and are even with your knees.
Step 2: Swing your hips down while straightening your legs. Your hips should end between your arms. Hold and return to the starting position.
Article by Emily Keyes. Follow her here.