To Crunch or Not to Crunch?

What’s your workout routine? Is it written down and do you track what you do so you can measure your progress? What about your abs? Do you do them before or after your ‘workout’? And do you have an abdominal routines?

If you watch TV, most likely you’ve been brainwashed by one too many ad-device infomercials to believe that 5-minutes a day of the ‘Ab-Crunchamatic’ will give you the 6-pack that the ‘oh-so hot model’ has chiseled. And using only the machine of course! Here’s some expert advice: nice toys, but a waste of your money. The greatest benefit of these machines is not to you, rather to the manufacturers laughing all the way to the bank, pot-bellies and all!

So what do you need to do to perform your abs correctly? You, the floor, a mat, and some basic anatomy knowledge.

There is more to exercising you abs than the traditional crunch or sit-up. These two exercises are important in the overall healthy development of your abdominal muscles but they need to be prioritized and sequenced like any other body part to build your muscles from a balanced perspective.

A complete abdominal workout includes six different movements. Depending on your training plan, you could do all six, or prioritize the movements over two or three training sessions. Although the goal is to target one of the muscles, in reality you will be using two or more muscles in any abdominal movement. The goal is to specifically target a major muscle in the abdominal group.

If you’re familiar with Coach Ian King’s methods (, you will know that the abdominal muscles act on the hip. Try following this order of priority in your workout plan:

1. Hip flexion

The hip flexors run from the front of the pelvis and attach to the top of the femur. Hip flexion works inconjunction with the rectus abdominis. Referred to as the ‘lower’ abdominals, this movement involves rotating the pelvis upwards, while bringing your thighs up toward your chest. This is a controlled movement and you should minimize ‘swinging’. Exercise example: hanging or bench leg raise with bent or straight knees.

2. Trunk flexion

This classic ‘crunch’ exercise and its variations that work the ‘upper’ abdominals. This movement targets the rectus abdominis, better known as the six-pack.

3. Trunk/Hip rotation

You can perform trunk rotations to target the trunk or hip. Russian twists target the trunk. To perform, sit up and lean back with your torso so that your back remains straight. Hold your hands out straight in front of you and rotate at the waist keeping your shoulders from twisting. For hip rotations perform straight leg lateral leg lowers. Lie on your back with your legs straight up towards the ceiling. Keeping the legs straight, lower them off to one side (your body will look like a ‘L’), raise them back up, pause and lower to the other side. Focus on your abdominals doing all the work. Minimize pushing off the ground with your hands or bending your knees.

4. Trunk Lateral flexion

Commonly called the side bend, or side crunch, this exercise targets the obliques on the lowering side. Froma standing position, with a dumbbell in one hand, bend at the waist to lower the dumbbell towards the ground. Slowly return to starting position.

5. Co-contraction

This exercise uses both the gluteals and the deep abdominal wall, the transverse abdominis. You can perform this exercise as you’re reading while sitting in your chair: Sit up straight, chest up, shoulders back, pull your stomach in, then tighten your abs and squeeze your butt cheeks simultaneously attempting to ‘float’ off the chair. Hold for a 5-second contraction.

6. Integrated trunk movements

These movements requires a great degree of balance and coordination and involve all the muscles described above as well as the lower and upper back, gluteals, and hamstrings. In a pushup position (on hands or forearms), flatten your back and lift one arm or one leg straight out. To add a degree of difficulty, lift one arm and the opposite-side leg at the same time. Hold for 5-seconds.

Learn more about Ian King’s training methods in ‘The Book of Muscle’ (Rodale 2003), by Ian King and Lou Schuler.

© 2011 Darren Stehle & Integrated Fitness. All Rights Reserved.