Traditional Crunch Best Exercise for Your Abs?

Most of us are concerned about what is going on around our midsection. It seems that everywhere you look, people are trying to tell you that flat abs is the way to go, and many of those same people are giving you their best solution for it. In this arena, the main topic is the muscle that is worked very well with the traditional crunch. That would be the muscle that covers the front of your torso in the midsection – the rectus abdominus.

Some of the solutions can cost you as much as $300, and these basically help you bring your trunk towards your legs or vice versa. Some are designed to help support your neck if you have issues there, and some are designed to keep you aligned to make sure you are crunching correctly.

What are we to make of all this equipment and claims? And, seriously, is there a “best way” to get a six-pack?

Every once in awhile, the American Council on Exercise, a respected national fitness organization, sponsors research comparing different ways to work the muscle in your midsection. The last time they did this was in 2014, when they compared results from 8 different ab crunch equipment/products and 7 exercises that use little or no equipment. They tested muscle activity in the rectus abdominus. They also tested two other muscles that can be involved. One was the ab muscle that runs along our sides (oblique abdominal muscle), and the other was a muscle that brings the leg towards the trunk that runs down front of the thigh (hip flexor).

What they found was that, while some exercises were similar in effectiveness, nothing was better than the traditional crunch for activating the rectus abdominus. So there you have it. The bottom line.

But wait! With abs, as with so many things, it’s not that simple. There are some other take-home messages that come along with this research that may help you understand the battle for flat abs a bit better. Here they are:

  1. Many of the products do work that muscle very well, and some can be helpful for people with neck issues or who have trouble getting down on the floor.
  2. If you do not have issues that require support, the traditional crunch will save you the money and space that it takes to purchase something.
  3. Either way, just using a gizmo or just doing traditional crunches can get boring. Besides that, see #4 and #5 (and #7 and #8).
  4. Since there are more ab muscles than the one running down the front, it takes more than one exercise to really work your midsection.
  5. When twisting comes in to the picture (as it does during many activities), working your obliques is key. This research showed that the traditional crunch did not work the oblique muscles as well as some other exercises tested.
  6. When doing an exercise that brings the legs toward the trunk, the move is assisted by your hip flexor. In this study, exercises such as the hanging crunch, the yoga boat pose, or the bicycle crunch, all were assisted by the hip flexors. The ab muscles were working as well, not as much as in the other exercises.
  7. There are some spectacularly great exercises for creating stability for your trunk and spine that were tested here but did not make a good showing. The side plank and front plank did not show much activation of the midsection, but are still key players in the quest for great abs. (See my blog, “Should You Stop Doing Sit-Ups?”)
  8. As always, form is so important. Researchers in this study concluded that part of the reason the traditional crunch came out so well was that they made optimal form the standard to make sure everyone was doing it correctly.

So, what are the REALLY BIG take-home messages here?



This one wasn’t in the research, but it’s a REALLY BIG one too: ITS NOT JUST ABOUT THE EXERCISE. YOU NEED TO EAT MODERATELY.

Best, Kristen

PS. You can check out my blogs, “One Quick Move That’s Guaranteed to Get Your Fired Up”, and How Can You Prevent a Sore Low Back?” for more about abs.

© 2016-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.

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