You have my permission to never do another crunch again. For the rest of your life. Hooray!
Before you start celebrating though, notice that I didn't say 'any abs.' I know, Boo! Core work is still vitally important to your body's function, and it's the type of core work you do that is of utmost importance.
Straight crunches are one of the least effective exercises for strengthening the core, yet we see everyone doing them. All. The. Time.
Why are they ineffective? A little anatomy lesson:
There are four muscles that make up our 'core' - the deepest being the transverse abdominals (think of them as a corset wrapping from your spine to your navel), the internal and external obliques (which rotate), and the rectus abdominus (the six-pack abs; or eight-pack if you're Tatum Channing.)
Unfortunately, crunches only work one muscle out of the four; the rectus abdominus. I have a feeling crunches became so popular because they only work the muscle we can see (or want to) - the six-pack.
The problem is, working this one muscle is not helpful for creating a strong core. In fact, it can weaken your overall stability by pulling the muscles in the front of your core too tightly, leaving your back very vulnerable and unstable. The last thing we want from our core workouts is to cause back issues, but that's often what happens!
What to do?
Forget crunches. Seriously.
All you need is this one ab exercise, which I call the ‘corset pull.’ From this one exercise, you can access your deep core muscles to support your spine, and then slowly integrate more movements on top of this one technique to create a solid, healthy core.
How to do it:
‘Corset’ ab work – (also perfect for both pre- and post-natal core health):
o Lean against a wall with your feet about a foot away from the baseboard. Your upper body and hips should be against the wall. Alternatively, sit on a stability ball.
o Put your hands on your stomach and take a deep breath, filling your stomach out as you breathe.
o As you exhale, make a ‘SSSS’ sound through your mouth and draw your navel back toward your spine at the same time. Keep exhaling to the end of your breath until you feel all the muscles of your core pulling in – in the front, on the sides and around the back.
o Repeat 20 times, puffing out your stomach on the inhale, and drawing the navel back strongly during the exhale.
o For more of a challenge, do this exercise on all 4’s.
Here is an image to help you visualize what muscles you are working – the transverse abdominals - the most important ab muscles you will ever use! (Excuse the sideways picture. Imagine laying on the ground!)
Wrapping around your torso like a corset, they support your spine, back muscles, posture and aid in proper breathing.
Once you can properly engage your corset muscles, try incorporating the deep corset contraction into planks, side planks, one leg lowers, double leg lowers, side chops, squats, lunges, walking, running, yoga...basically any exercise you can think of!
The best part of all of this? This one exercise can help whittle inches off your midsection. How's that for motivation?
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