The mere mention of a fit body brings to mind the image of toned abs. The foremost exercise recommended by professionals and fitness freaks is crunches. Well, we all know that crunches are body weight exercises that help tone your core but is that the only benefit involved? Health Shots asked fitness expert and author Bhavna Harchandrai about the benefits of crunches and how to do it properly.
What are the benefits of crunches?
Your core muscles are kind of like the link connecting your upper and lower body. Whether you are working out or doing household chores, you need a strong core to comfortably do your daily work. Not having a strong core will make you susceptible to lower back pain, poor posture, and of course, an unsightly bulge of your belly rolling over your jeans, says the fitness expert.
Also Read: 5 reasons why you need core strengthening exercises in your life
“Ab crunches are a good exercise to tone and strengthen the rectus abdominal muscles. Of course, you can’t only do crunches, you have to incorporate internal, and external obliques, transverse abdominus, and the lower back to build a strong core. I feel crunches and exercises such as vacuuming are far more effective and safer than sit-ups. Sit-ups add load and stress to the lower back and we use more hip flexors than abdominal muscles to perform sit-ups.”
How to do crunches properly?
Here’s a breakdown of how to do crunches properly to benefit from it and avoid injuries:
Lie down with your back flat on the mat (supine position), feet flat, and knees pointing up the ceiling. Imagine you are lifting your head, neck, and shoulders off the floor while looking up at an angle of 45 degrees. Your chin should be away from your chest.
Harchandrai explains that there are 4 progressions to abdominal crunches, including:
- Level 1: Arms straight ahead of you. This puts maximum strain on the neck.
- Level 2: This includes keeping your arms crossed over the shoulders and it is a more intermediate fitness level.
- Level 3: At this level, you need to put your arms behind the head in a shooting position. Your elbows should be at the back with your fingers supporting the neck.
- Level 4: Keep your arms straight, behind the head, by the ears. It is a more advanced form of the crunches.
While you perform a crunch, ensure that you are lifting your head, neck shoulders, and upper back off the floor. Inhale as you return on the floor. The fitness expert further explains that it does not matter how high you lift off, the most important thing to keep in mind is how you draw your navel, belly button to the spine, and pull your abs in towards the floor.
Who should avoid doing crunches?
Crunches are a great exercise for anybody looking for ways to get toned abs, but it is not recommended for pregnant women. The fitness expert says that apart from pregnant women, anyone susceptible to neck pain, and osteoporosis should avoid ab crunches.
You can modify the crunches by lifting your legs off 90 degrees. You can use a piano position (lie on your back, legs up at a 90-degree angle) for those with lower back issues this position, supports your back and is safe for people with lower back pain to perform.
As for the pregnant women, she explains that it depends on the stage of pregnancy and several other factors. You should avoid ab crunches during the first trimester as they may lead to diastasis recti (when the abdomen stretches and creates a gap in abdominal muscles). She recommends doing pelvic tilts, kegel exercises, cat-cow pose, and bird dog instead of doing crunches to keep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles strong.
Also Read: Sit ups vs crunches: Which is a better exercise to achieve your ab goals?
Ab crunches are no magic pill! Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
Yes, ab crunches are great for toning your abdominal muscles but they are no magic pill! If you continue doing these exercises while eating junk and sitting all day, it will not benefit you. You have to watch what you eat and how much exercise you are doing in a day. Since the abs are covered by a layer of fat, you will not see any definition in your abdominal muscles unless you watch your diet and burn fat doing cardio. Also, ab crunches alone won’t help either, you have to incorporate a full-body workout in your routine to see the difference.