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The crunch has long been synonymous with strong, attractive abs. Now researchers have found that not only is the crunch not the best way to train your core, crunches may even damage your back.
“We stopped teaching people to do crunches a long time ago,” says Dr. Richard Guyer, president of the Texas Back Institute. That’s because the “full flex” movement – the actual “crunch” part of the exercise – puts an unhealthy strain on your back at its weakest point. The section with the most nerves (and most potential for nerve damage) is in the back of the spine, which is the very part that bends and strains during a sit-up.
“There are only so many bends or a ‘fatigue life’ in your spinal disks,” says Dr. Stuart M. McGill, a professor of spinal biomechanics at the University of Waterloo. Inside each disk is a mucus-like nucleus. “If you keep flexing your spine and bending the disk over and over again, that nucleus slowly breaches the layers and causes a disk bulge, or a disk herniation,” says Dr. McGill. A herniated disk can cause persistent back and leg pain, weakness and tingling.
Strong Abs without Crunches
To strengthen and condition your abs you need to work the transverse abdominius, the large muscle that holds in the rectus abdominis (and is mainly unchallenged by traditional abdominal work like crunches).
The best exercises for back health and a firmer stomach are ones that work your abdominals while holding your spine straight, like variations of the plank and leg drop (see description below)
Circuit training is another excellent way to work your entire core and build stronger abs while burning calories too. Add a healthy diet and you will have a strong, flat stomach and feel fit and healthy with no more lower backaches.