To crunch or not to crunch…..THAT is the question.
by Samantha Montpetit-Huynh
When I hear the word “crunch” my eyes squint and my head hurts and when I am in the gym watching countless people pull on their necks, wince in pain as they crunch over and over and over again, I have to admit, I shake my head.
I am known as the one who not only dislikes but HATES crunches with a passion. I have seen many, many women over the years take all of their good intentions and set a goal of 100 or 200 crunches a day in an effort to get flat abs. And what’ya know, it ain’t working.
However, there is a shift. A shift in that because women (primarily moms) have been told time and time again how bad crunches and sit ups are, they have gone the other extreme and stopped moving all together. They don’t do anything to rehab or try to strengthen their core during pregnancy or after birth because they are afraid they will do something wrong
Pregnant women but more specifically, new moms are at a vulnerable time in their lives and when they are being bombarded with all of the ‘truths” about what can happen as a result of pregnancy and birth, instead of them feeling educated, they are fearful.
Fear about their abdominals separating, fear about tearing, fear about leaking and fear about their organs falling out and I will admit that I have been one of the culprits over the years. I have been the one who has been shaking my head and pointing my finger with the other hand on my hip saying “uh-uh do you KNOW what you are doing?”
Please believe me that I have always had good intentions but part of my personality is that I am straight up and to the point. There are risks (pretty much with everything we do) but doing nothing puts you at a higher risk all together.
I might have forgotten to mention that.
So herein lies the debate about crunches and sit ups; are they THAT bad? I say yes but many (and these are researchers) say no. They believe that if this is something that you truly want to go back to (really? Who really WANTS to go back to crunches?) you can do it safely.
My question is, who on EARTH would want to do something that has been shown to recruit less than 20% of the rectus abdominis and wreak havoc on the spine? (insert Prof. Stu McGill research here)
I mean it sounds like that is a lot of effort for very little gain and too much risk on the spine doesn’t it?
BUT….flexion is a very normal part of our life, right? We know that we should roll onto our side to get up and down (it only takes another 1-2 seconds to do this) but shit does happen and you might lift up your head (who’s at my bedroom door?) or jackknife out of bed to attend a screaming babe and we shouldn’t have to worry about “ruining” ourselves in the process.
Hence why the shift is happening and we go back to mimicking the movement to get better at it. If you want to be able to get in and out of a chair, then squat. If you want to be able to carry, then practice lifting. So then it only makes sense that if you want to be able to go through “life” then we should practice that movement too?
Not sure on this one. Not sure if repeatedly crunching and/or doing sit ups is the way to go to ensure that you can occasionally lift your head without causing damage.
The main reason to do a crunch is to train the external abdominal muscles; the rectus abdominis. These are superficial muscles that do play a large role in flexion of the spine but do very little for supporting the deep core muscles that create stability. In addition, there are a TON of other exercises that train the rectus abdominals and you get much more than 20%.
At the end of the day I guess it comes down to what your goal is. Do you need to crunch as part of your job? Maybe you need to know how to roll back and up as part of your yoga or pilates certification or maybe you are training in a specific sport that requires a crunch-type movement. Regardless of what the reason is, IF it is something you desire to do, do me a favour and do it right. See a pelvic health physiotherapist that can guide you and ensure that you are doing it correctly.
Otherwise, until someone can convince me of the benefits, I am happy to leave crunches out of my exercise regime because I only have about an hour a day to work out and want to be as efficient as possible.