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Why Crunches Don't Work Your Abs

4 Reasons to Ditch Crunches

We are pumped to share one of our fave stories from Self here on FitSugar!

Although most of the country is in a deep freeze, it's getting to be that time of year when we all freak out about getting in shape for summer. Always first to mind: our bloated-from-holiday-fun belly. We're constantly receiving mixed intel about how to workout our abs. So, we were psyched to pick up a copy of a new book The New Rules of Lifting for Abs by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove, two of the most-respected fitness minds out there.

side plank Based on the latest research and science, they share the ultimate plan for not only finding those flat abs, but also for ensuring that your abdominals succeed at their primary objective: To protect your spine.

Rule #1: Forget crunches — for good this time! "Crunches work if your goal is to add muscle mass to your midsection, and if you're will to work with enough weight, at a high enough intensity," says Schuler. "But who has the goal of a bigger waistline?" Umm . . . not us! According to Schuler the other problem with crunches is that they exacerbate problems with posture. "Most of us sit for long hours, day after day, week after week, year after year, hunching over communication devices that get smaller but demand a bigger slice of our time," he says. "The natural curve in our lower back starts to flatten out, and our shoulders round forward. If we were horizontal instead of vertical we'd look like we were doing one long crunch for eight to ten hours a day."
The bottom line: The best way to work you abdominal muscles — for bikini and health purposes — is to make them stabilize your spine in increasing challenging positions.

Here are three of Schuler's go-to moves to get you started:
Basic Plank: Get into a modified push-up position with your weight resting on your forearms and toes. Your elbows should be positioned directly below your shoulders. Hold for 60 to 90 seconds. Relax for 20 to 30 seconds, then repeat. To make it harder, try it with one foot lifted or one arm extended. Then, when you're feeling really strong, try lifting one arm and the opposite leg at the same time.
Author tip: "Don't consciously flex any particular muscles. Let your body figure out how to keep your spine and pelvis in a neutral position."

Side Plank: Lie on your left side with your right leg stacked on top of your left, and your upper body propped up with your left forearm. Your elbow should be directly below your shoulder and your upper arm should be perpendicular to the floor. Place your right hand on your hip. Hold for 30 to 45 seconds. Relax, switch sides and repeat. That's one set, do two. To make it progressively more difficult, lift your free hand overhead or raise your non-weight-bearing leg. Feeling crazy strong? Lift both at the same time so your body roughly creates and "X."
Author tip:You want to keep your shoulders square and on a plane that's perpendicular to the floor. Imagine that they're pressed up against a wall behind you."

Anti-Rotation Static Hold: Attach the D-shaped handle to the cable pulley machine and set it so it's at shoulder level if you're kneeling. Grab the handle with both hands and kneel with your left side facing the cable machine (about 1 to 2 feet from the machine so there's slight tension in the cable). Your body should form a straight line from your knee through your neck. Hold the handle with arms extended in front of your chest. Keep your shoulders square and hold for 30 seconds. Relax, switch sides, and repeat. That's one set, do two.
Author tip: Don't have access to a cable machine? No prob. Attach an exercise band to a sturdy object about 24 to 36 inches high. As you do the move, think "tall" and "tight." Keep your torso upright and eyes focused straight ahead.

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