Crunches vs. Planks: The Best Exercise for Core Strength
- 23 August 2016 23 August 2016
With the ongoing surge for the illusive flat abs and toned tum, Elier Castillo, Fitness Expert at Longevity in Portugal, shares with us the best exercise for strengthening your core.
Are crunches the best exercise for toning your core?
First of all, what is core? Core is the midsection of your body or the muscles that comprise the torso and their corresponding ligaments and tendons. It is in this section that all support and functional movement originates and how you have control over your centre of gravity, which has a direct impact on your balance. For this reason, core exercises are very important for a healthy body.
Everyone desires a six-pack and everyone wants a ripped midsection, so the exercise that everyone performs to accomplish that goal is crunches. Crunches are very popular (or were they?) but are they really the best solution to give you a thin and toned waistline?
Before continuing with crunches, let’s take a look at some important facts. For you to have a flat belly as a woman will need to have a fat mass between 17-20%, whilst men will need a fat mass percentage between 12-15%. Of course a flat tummy will not always be enough, most fitness fanatics will also want a toned core with “six pack” abdominals! This can be a problem if you are overweight because killing yourself working out your abs (crunches included) will not solve the fact that they will be hidden under layers of fat, so you might never see them. You will need to reduce your overall fat mass percentage and the solution for this is a combination of a good diet (to help you lose weight), cardio workouts (to help you lose fat mass) and core training (to help tone your midsection).
Longevity's Fitness Expert Elier Castillo shares his thoughts about the best exercise for core strength
Now after all of this you might still want to do crunches, so let’s take a look at the disadvantages it carries along, because we all know the advantages already - the famous “six-pack”.
Crunches work mainly the rectus abdominis muscle. This movement however places far from ideal pressure on your back, for it focuses on its weakest point with more nerves, creating a higher risk of nerve damage. The shape of your back in a crunch position is also exactly the opposite shape that your spine is intended for, with its natural curves or “neutral” stance.
Crunches enthusiasts will focus on the front abdominals and forget to work the back muscles with equal volume. Over time, it creates strength imbalance and your abs can pull your posture forward into a permanent “half-crunch” position (like the hunchback of Notre Dame).
Crunches do build strong abs and this is good if you want a “six-pack,” but too much crunching can make your midsection look bulky and blocky, especially if you do not have a low fat mass percentage.
Now, if you are not doing crunches (at this point you might not want to), you might want to ask what you should be doing instead?
Hone your core strength with advanced planks and more at Longevity
My choice for healthy body and core are definitely “planks”!
The plank is all about neutral spine and is an isometric exercise (the angle of the joint the muscle length doesn´t change during contraction) and is the polar opposite of the flexing action of the crunch, and yes, it works more muscles than regular crunches as well.
The main focus of the plank is to draw your abs towards your spine, and by doing this you will strengthen the deeper muscles that support your spine, leading directly to a more muscular (and healthier) midsection.
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Here are some tips that will help you performing the plank correctly:
- Keep your shoulders directly above your elbows when in the plank position.
- Hold your hips at the same height as your shoulders.
- Contract your glutes and quadriceps.
- Keep your hips high during the side plank to work the external obliques.
- For more challenge perform the plank on a Swiss Ball to activate more muscles.