The mere mention of a fit body brings to mind the image of toned abdominal muscles. The main exercise recommended by professionals and fitness freaks are crunches. We all know crunches are bodyweight exercises that strengthen your core, but is that the only benefit? Health Shots asked fitness expert and author Bhavna Harchandrai about the benefits of crunches and how to do them properly.
What are the benefits of crunches?
Your core muscles are a kind of connection between your upper and lower body. Whether you’re exercising or doing household chores, you need a strong core to do your daily work comfortably. Not having a strong core makes you more susceptible to lower back pain, poor posture and, of course, an unsightly belly bulge 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 strengthen and strengthen the rectus abdominal muscles. Of course, you can’t just do crunches, you also need to integrate internal and external obliques, the transverse abdominis, and the lower back to build a strong core. I feel like crunches and exercises like vacuuming are much 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 can you perform crunches correctly?
Here’s an overview of how to properly perform crunches to benefit from them and prevent injuries:
Lie with your back flat on the mat (supine position), your feet flat and your knees pointed toward the ceiling. Imagine lifting your head, neck and shoulders off the floor while looking up at a 45-degree angle. Your chin should be away from your chest.
Harchandrai explains that there are four progressions for abdominal crunches, including:
- Level 1: Arms straight out in front of you. This places maximum strain on the neck.
- Level 2: This involves keeping your arms crossed over your shoulders and is a more intermediate fitness level.
- Level 3: At this level you must place your arms behind your head in a shooting position. Your elbows should be at the back and your fingers should support the neck.
- Level 4: Keep your arms extended, behind the head, near the ears. It is a more advanced form of crunches.
While performing a crunch, make sure to lift your head, neck, shoulders and upper back off the floor. Inhale as you return to the floor. The fitness expert goes on to explain that no matter how high you ascend, the most important thing to keep in mind is how you pull your belly button and navel toward the spine and pull your abs toward the ground.
Who should avoid doing crunches?
Crunches are a great exercise for anyone looking for ways to tone abs, but they are not recommended for pregnant women. The fitness expert says that, except pregnant women, anyone prone to neck pain and osteoporosis should avoid ab crunches.
You can modify the crunches by lifting your legs 90 degrees. For people with lower back problems, you can use a piano position (lie on your back, legs raised at a 90-degree angle). This position supports your back and is safe for people with lower back pain.
As for pregnant women, she explains that it depends on the stage of pregnancy and several other factors. During the first trimester, you should avoid ab crunches as they can lead to diastasis recti (when the abdomen stretches and creates a gap in the abdominal muscles). She recommends doing pelvic tilts, Kegel exercises, cat-cow pose and bird dog instead of crunches to keep the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles strong.
Also read: Sit-ups vs. Crunches: Which is a Better Exercise to Reach Your Ab Goals?
Ab crunches are not a magic pill! Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
Yes, ab crunches are great for strengthening your abs, but they are not magic pills! If you continue to do these exercises while eating junk food and sitting all day, you will not benefit from them. You have to pay attention to what you eat and how much exercise you do in a day. Since the abs are covered with a layer of fat, you won’t see any definition in your abs unless you watch your diet and burn fat by doing cardio. Also, abdominal exercises alone will not help; you need to incorporate a full-body workout into your routine to see the difference.