When I was a kid we did sit-ups all of the time. Someone would sit on my feet or I would tuck them under something so that I could sit all of the way up. I knew I was strong when I could do them while keeping my feet on the ground without any assistance. These days I don’t see anyone doing sit-ups, nor do I use them in programs for clients. The crunch replaced the sit-up, and now the plank has replaced the crunch as the “go to” exercise for safely strengthening abdominal muscles.
Essentially, the difference between sit-ups and crunches is how far you pull yourself up from the floor. When doing a sit-up you start by lying on the floor with your knees bent, and then pull yourself all the way up so that your chest is touching your knees/legs. The crunch is also done by lying on the floor with bent knees but it is done by only lifting the head and shoulders (upper back region) while the lower back remains on the floor. This reduction in movement was thought to have greater benefits and less risk than the sit-up but both of these exercises can put strain on your neck and spine. So, along came the plank.
The plank is an isometric exercise done by lying belly down on the floor. The idea is raise yourself up onto your forearms, elbows and toes; and hold that position for a period of time that works for you. That is the only movement required. There’s no bending or twisting. Your body stays in a straight line. All the muscles required to keep it in the straight line are being worked to keep it there. That’s the beauty of the plank. It’s amazing for maintaining or improving our posture.
While planks are the best of the bunch I find that everyone, including me, feels more satisfied with having crunches in their workout. There is something about contracting those abs. It feels like I may just be on my way to a 6 pack. Not that that will EVER happen. Still, there’s no harm in dreaming for a few seconds. The important point is that crunches have to be part of a well-rounded exercise program. I discourage the idea of doing a few crunches daily in hopes of reducing that part of your body. It doesn’t work.
Make the plank exercise your first choice. It’s the safest, and provides the greatest benefits. Go ahead and throw in a couple of crunches from time-to-time but know they will be more for your mind than your body.
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