When it is spoken about stomach muscles – it is mostly meant abs. And when it comes to abs exercises – first of all the crunches are mentioned. Who among us, at least for once, (especially before beach season) did not started to do this exercise. Laying on the floor, legs bent in knees, hands by the head. You start to crunch (actually pull yourself by the head to your knees). You do one, you do two. Your neck hurts the next morning (in excessive zeal you spraint the neck muscles), your back hurts (mauled your spine with the floor), even stomach muscles hurt. But you still can’t see your desired six-pack. When you “raped” yourself in that way a couple of days, you lose all the motivation. Also different papers, magazines and shows meet your eye: saying that those crunches are ineffective to get you six-pack, and they bring more harm, than benefit, so you’d better buy our new slimming belt, or order our new diet, or sign in to our gym. There is a part of truth in this, but only in the first part. Yes, crunches (especially with technique, which is mostly used) will not help you to get clear conspicuous abs. All the more they will not help you to slim, if you carry some excessive kilos of fat.
But to say that crunches are ineffective – is a lie. As any other kind of physical load, crunches deserve attention. At least for keeping your muscle tone. This will keep your internal organs safe from injuries and hernias, increase your posture, help doing routine and training programs. With time, when excessive kilos disappear (crunches are really not the best for this purpose – try squats or other basic exercises), your desired abs will rise shining. That’s why I propose to attack crunches once more, but for this time – with correct technique.
What muscles work: rectus and oblique abdominals.
Performing the exercise: lay on your back, bend your legs in knees and put them on the floor or on a stable 40-50 cm pillar. Cross your hands on chest, put your palms on shoulders or under arms (photo 1). Start the exercise by getting your upper back off the floor with a crunch move (photo 2). Hold in upper position for a few seconds and go back slowly to the starting position.
Notice: though the exercise is for stomach muscles, the main movement phase is on chest section of spine (because the main function of abdominals is to pull ribs to pelvis). Do not tear the lateral spine section from the floor, your body goes up for approximately 30 degrees. Do not band your neck too much (in upper point your look should be pointing at the knees), all the more don’t pull yourself by the head, with your arms behind it (if you are used to this hands position – better put them palm-side on your forehead). The best effect you will get by performing the exercise slowly and smooth, making accent on the upper point, breathe synchronously with movement: exhale when curl, on exhale hold at the top point, when going down – inhale. Do not try to increase number of reps (20 would be enough), better grab some weights (like a bottle with water or a small dumbbell), putting it parallel to your shoulders. When performing this exercise on hard floor, make sure to put something soft by your lower back (like bent towel) or do this on a gymnastic carpet.
To switch on the oblique abdominals in upper point of the exercise you should turn a little, pointing with your elbow to the opposite leg’s knee (left elbow to right knee and all the way round) (photo 3, photo 4). Do not try to touch your knee – this will lead to tearing the lateral spine section from the floor, and the exercise for stomach will turn into the exercise for legs. You can switch different variations of the exercise in one set: one front crunch, one left, one right and front again.
Having mastered previous exercise, you can try harder variation – “bicycle”. In the starting position lay straight, get the leg pillar off. Put your palms on ears (do not put them on the back of your head, all the more, do not pull your head during the exercise) (photo 5). When doing side crunches, at the same time rise your leg above the floor (do not put it back on the floor), with the knee of the other one, touch the elbow of the opposite hand (photo 6). Make one second pause, switch the position by straightening the bent leg, and bending the straightened one.
Also you can differ you training program by switching front and reverse crunches.
Good books to read:
Bret Contreras. Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy – Human Kinetics, 2013 – 224 p.
Kavadlo Al. Pushing the Limits: Total Body Strenght with No Equipment – Dragon Door Publications, 2013 – 224 p.
BJ Gaddour. Your Body Is Your Barbell: No Gym. Just Gravity. Build a Leaner, Stronger, More Muscular You in 28 Days – Rodale, 2014 – 288 p.
Other articles about exercises for abdominals:
Sitting leg raises: the exercise for beginners, giving the ability to work on all the front body.
Sequential leg raises: increasing the load on rectus and oblique abdominals, and also on hip and lower back muscles.
Laying leg rises: three variations of raises from laying position to effectively work on all the stomach muscles.