You either love them or you hate them, but either way, if you've ever done a workout in your life or attended a high school gym class, you've done a crunch or two in your day. And there's no doubt there are benefits to the tried-and-true exercise.
"Most people tend to forget about this, but your core is the main stabilizer for your entire body," said Kaitlyn Gannon, masters in exercise science, NSCA-CSCS, USAW-L1 and owner of Dallas Iron Fitness. "A strong core can also prevent back pain while also assisting with hip adjustments needed for common lifts, like squats and deadlifts." What's more, she explained that training the core builds more muscle mass, which may ultimately replace visceral fat that can potentially lead to chronic diseases.
Sure, the crunch is the standard fair for ab work, but it may not actually be the best option, said Gannon.
"The crunch known as everyone's go-to, but on the downside, it can easily be performed in the wrong way — and when performed correctly, it really only engages your abdominal muscles," she explained. "If you think about it, a crunch just improves a crunch, while a plank or hollow body exercise movement can improve further lifts and exercises such as a pull-up or an overhead press." So while it's a good exercise, it may not actually be the most effective for your muscles and time spent working out, said Gannon.
Instead, she recommends this series of four core-targeting exercises that are just as effective and efficient. Incorporate these exercises three times a week with a healthier diet, cardio, and muscle engagement exercises, and you're on your way to strong and sculpted core that's ready to rock your favorite sports bra like the UA Infinity Low Heather Sports Bra ($35) or cropped tank!
Move #1: Plank
- Start in a high plank position (push-up position on your hands or elbows) with your bodyweight centered from your shoulders and through your hands.
- Maintain a flat back while keeping your core tight.
- Don't let your hips rise or fall, and maintain your feet at hip-width distance apart.
- Hold for 40 seconds, rest 20 seconds for five sets.
Move #2: Plank Knee Tucks
- Start on your hands in a plank position (push-up position on your hands or elbows).
- Jump your knees to your hands as you raise your hips, landing your feet back out to starting position.
- Keep your core tight through the jump and landing — don't let your back sway down as you land, as the force would run through your back versus your core.
- Perform three sets of 20.
Move #3: Hollow Body Holds
- Lie on your back with your arms over the head, so that your hands are touching the ground.
- With your feet straight out, begin to raise your feet off the ground about six inches.
- As you raise, crunch up looking at your feet with your arms following.
- Keep your arms against your ears.
- Perform the move for 40 seconds, then rest 20 seconds for a total of five sets.
Move #4: Hanging Leg Raise
- Holding onto a pull-up bar, engage your latissimus dorsi, aka your lats.
- Engage your core by thinking about bringing your front rib cage together.
- Continue by raising both knees up to a 90-degree angle from your hips and then lowering, all while never losing the contraction in your core and back.
- Perform three sets of 15.