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Can Crunches Make Your Abs Look Worse?

Everybody wants abs right? You just don’t know how to get them. Well first let me clear something up – you do have abs! Everybody does. Why can’t you see them? The reason is most likely due to how much fat you are carrying in the stomach area.

When most people think of abs, the first thing that comes to mind is crunches, lots and lots of crunches, the more the better, but focusing on crunches isn’t always the best idea, in fact it can actually make you midsection look worse.

That Might Sound Crazy, But Let Me Explain

Like I said, everybody has abs, and being able to see them is due to the amount of fat on the stomach, you see you have your abdominal muscles, and whatever amount of fat in the midsection lies on top of the muscle and is covered by skin, effectively hiding the abdominal muscles from sight. Now traditional crunches and sit ups are designed to target the rectus abdominis, which when developed gives the six (or eight) pack look. Take a look at the image below, it gives a good clear picture of the the rectus abdominis.

Ok, so you are probably thinking, “What’s the problem? This is the exact area I want to target”. I think this is where a lot of confusion comes in, the rectus abdominis is important and has it’s purpose, but what people generally don’t realise is that it is only ONE of the muscles that makes up your core structure. It is also the most superficial of the abdominal muscles, I don’t mean superficial as in vanity, I mean superficial as in it lies closest to the surface or outside of the musculature.

This is where the problem comes in. If you have a layer of fat sitting on top of the rectus abdominis, and you start doing a lot of crunches and various other common exercises designed to target this muscle specifically, as it builds up it will push out slightly, pushing the fat that rests on top, forward. So while you are working your “six pack”, you might end up looking worse initially. This is especially true is you don’t change your eating habits or do correct cardio.

Tighten Up Your Girdle

So rather than spending your time working the rectus abdominis muscle, focus on the deep stabilizing muscles of your core, your transverse abdominis (TA) in particular. I know, this is turning into a biology lesson, but hang in just a little longer.

Why target the TA? Good question, the TA is a deep stabilizing muscle, it’s job is to hold in and protect the vital organs, when the TA is contracted it tightens and pulls in the stomach. If you have a strong or well conditioned TA, it will act kind of like an organic girdle, that might sound funny, but think about it, do you want your stomach to stick out further or pull inwards?

I think it’s best to initially work on strengthening your TA when you are starting a new workout routine or getting in shape, if you think of core stabilization as building a foundation for a house, and crunches as putting in windows. Having a solid foundation to build from will help reduce chances of injury and help you improve the appearance of your midsection, while you are working on losing fat through exercise and nutrition. This way, when you have gotten your body fat down you will have a toned, flat stomach to display, at which point you could devote some time developing the rectus abdominis directly.

Enter The Plank

The plank is an excellent exercise for directly targeting the TA. It looks easy, but don’t be fooled, when done correctly, it is hard work.

Be sure to exhale and pull your belly button in, as if trying to touch it to your spine, holding this contraction, continue to breath normally, this will stabilize your core.

In the video, the instructor advises you to hold for a count of 10, when you get a little stronger and have perfected your form, you could aim to hold for a count of 15, then 20, extending the time each workout. If you can only hold for a count of ten, that’s fine, maybe take a brief rest, by touching your knees to the ground for a couple of seconds, and then repeat for another set or two of holding for 10.

Another way you can do it is by aiming to hold the plank position for 60 seconds, using a clock or stop watch, and trying to improve your time each workout, whichever works best for you.

I like to do planks at the end of an abdominal workout to really knacker my abs. When your abs are already tired, planks are really challenging. There are endless variations of planks that you can build up to, like side planks, rolling planks, plank push ups, so you can continue to challenge and condition your abs without doing a single crunch! Just remember, build a strong foundation by learning how to do the basic plank first, and then get really good at them, before focusing on crunches. You will be surprised at how effective planks really are.

So ditch the crunches for now, and Plank It Up!

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