Beware of the Crunch: Ab Exercise Alternatives

There have long been common misunderstandings with regards to training the abdominal region. The abdominal region consists of various muscles including the transverse abdominal, internal obliques, external obliques and the rectus abdominis.

The common misunderstanding is that the only way to develop those “ripped” abs people rave about is by adopting various forms of crunches. The basic crunch is accomplished by laying supine while hyper-flexing the spine to contract the muscles of this region. While there is significant muscular contraction that results from this movement, there is a red flag that must be discussed.

The hyper-flexion of the crunch motion results in flexion of the lumbar spine, which compresses the lower back region. The structure of the lumbar vertebra are designed to enable sufficient stability in the lumbar spine and therefore, not designed to flex the amount seen in abdominal crunches. This hyper-flexion of the lumbar spine places significant stress on the vertebral discs and can result in significant injuries.

Replace traditional crunches with these other abdominal exercises to develop and strengthen the abdominal region in a safe and healthy way. Click the following links for a video demonstration of each abdominal exercise.

Front Plank with Reach out

Position feet shoulder width apart and the forearms on the floor. While keeping the core tight and preventing rotation of the hip, reach a single arm straight out and hold for 2-3 seconds. Place the arm back down and repeat with the other arm.

Click for a video demonstration.


Side Plank

Lie on your side with your forearm on the ground directly below your shoulder.  Stack the feet so they are directly on top of each other and then by activating your core, lift the hips off the ground to straighten the body. Be sure to keep all muscles of the core and gluteus region tight to keep good stability.

Click for a video demonstration.

Single Leg Lowering

Lay supine on your back and lift both legs to extend them straight up. Lower one leg until the foot is 2-3 inches above the ground. Return the leg back to starting position and repeat with the other leg. Keep your feet dorsiflexed (flexed towards you) during the entire movement.

Click for a video demonstration.


Stability Ball Knee Tuck

Elevate feet on top of the ball while you stay in a pushup position with hands planted on the ground. Keep the core tight and slowly tuck your knees towards your chest until your toes are on top of the ball. Extend the legs back to the starting position and then repeat.

Click for a video demonstration.


Half Kneeling Cable Chop

Position inside leg in front with other knee planted on the ground. Grab a high rope set up on a cable machine. Keeping good tall position pull the cable to your chest and then turn and rotate pressing the cable down and to the side while keeping the abdominal muscles tight the during the entire movement.

Click for a video demonstration.


Glute-Bridge March

Start by lying supine on your back with knees bent and heels planted into the ground. Push through your heels while tightening your glutes to elevate your hips. Then bring a knee toward your chest. Reverse the move and then repeat using the other leg. Be sure to keep kips elevated the entire time keeping glutes tight.

Click for a video demonstration.


TRX Mt. Climbers

Place feet in TRX loop holes and then elevate into a pushup position with hands shoulder width apart planted on the floor. Be sure to squeeze the abdominal muscles during the entire movement. Flex one knee and bring it towards the chest while keeping the other leg completely extended. Reverse movement and then switch legs.

Click for a video demonstration.


Stability Ball Roll-outs

Start tall kneeling with both knees on the ground and keep the body straight. Extended out arms onto the ball and then slowly roll down the ball keeping the core muscles tight and also making sure you stay straight the entire time. As you reach your maximum distance onto the ball, exhale and roll back to your starting position.

Click for a video demonstration.

A version of this article first appeared on Stateoffitnessblog.com in June, 2012.

About the author

Devin Mongrain
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Devin graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in kinesiology and health promotion specialization. His passion is helping other lead healthier lives. He's a personal trainer at the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center in Dallas.

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Beware of the Crunch: Ab Exercise Alternatives