These are perennial questions in the world of fitness: Which abdominal exercises should I do? Are crunches or sit-ups better?
Although many people are interested in obtaining a toned, flat stomach for aesthetic reasons, it’s likely that those of you who are curious about which ab exercises are the “best” are interested in the health benefits of developing and maintaining strong core muscles. Furthermore, many of you may also be looking to avoid engaging in exercises that could adversely affect your physical well-being.
So, let’s take a look at the old “Sit-up and Curl-up,” the modified “Abdominal Crunch,” and even throw in another option that can help you develop both the aesthetic and health benefits of strengthening your abs.
The Sit-up/Curl-up VS. The Ab Crunch
The Sit-up was once a staple of fitness programs and tests, utilized by organizations ranging from the military to the Presidential Physical Fitness Test in public schools. However, the Sit-up has come under its fair share of scrutiny over the past several years.
The traditional Sit-up/Curl-up has been shown to create unnecessary and even excessive strain on muscle groups such as the hip flexors, neck muscles and lower spine. Additionally, as an individual’s abdominal muscles become more fatigued, additional strain may be put on one’s back and spine. Of course, this is counterproductive to the concept of exercising and conditioning a muscle group. After all, the ability to fatigue a muscle group is the foundation of progressing your strength and fitness.
In response, the Canadian Armed Forces have eliminated the Sit-up/Curl-up from their calisthenic and fitness programs, and the Unites States Navy is looking to follow suit as they explore over-hauling their physical-readiness assessment test that sailors take twice annually. Both the United States’ and Canada’s military branches seem to agree that the Sit-up/Curl-up is an antiquated exercise that has to many injury risks outweighing the benefits.[i]
So, why do people keep doing Sit-ups/ Curl-ups?
It’s long-time and widespread usage is likely the reason that some people still consider the Sit-up to be the best exercise for developing ab muscles. Unfortunately for the Sit-up, it looks like its days are numbered, and you should consider a modified version of the Sit-up (like the abdominal crunch) or a different exercise like the plank.
Additional benefits can be gained by doing both the abdominal crunch and the plank, or switching between the plank, crunches and other safe and effective abdominal and core exercises.
However, you have to begin somewhere, so let’s make sure you are equipped with examples and descriptions of both the basic Ab Crunch and the Plank exercises to get your abs tighter, stronger and more defined.
The Ab Crunch
Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the ground and your fingers lightly placed behind your ears. Curl your body up and in toward your knees, until your shoulder blades are as high off the ground as you can get them. Only your shoulder blades should be off of the ground–not your entire back. As you reach the highest point of the crunch, tighten and flex your ab muscles briefly, then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
Position your elbows below your shoulders and elevate your body off of the ground, maintaining your balance on your elbows, forearms and toes. Tighten your ab muscles, flatten your back and shoulder blades and be careful not to let your hips drop toward the ground or let your lower back arch toward the ground. Hold this position for up to two minutes.
[i] Information obtained from http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-you-can-stop-doing-sit-ups-1450722637