Fit Tip of the Day: Ditch the Crunch

PlankI’m full of useless knowledge. Ask me to play six degrees of Kevin Bacon and I’ll smoke you. I’m not proud of this fact, it’s gotten me no farther in life having this “knowledge”, just like my accounting degree, but I can easily infuriate people by connecting Kevin Bacon to Charles Bronson in four moves without battin’ an eye.

Today, however, we’ll tap into a whole different set of brain waves where the knowledge is useful and can be implemented into real life; not that six degrees of Bacon isn’t a crowd pleaser and can easily liven up a party, but there’s a time and a place.

Today we’re talking fitness and here’s a question for you:

Fact or Fiction: Are crunches the best exercise to target your abs?

If you said Fact I’m gonna have to ask you to hand over your gym membership and ask you not to mention to your friends anymore that you can do 100 crunches a day without breaking a sweat. That’s so not cool. (Kevin Bacon would not be impressed either.)

Crunches are not the most effective exercise you can do, and here are some reasons why:

•  The move is quite easily performed incorrectly, causing some people to feel it in their necks or low backs subjecting them to possible injury.

•  There is too much activation in your hip flexors, thus limiting the work done in your abs. Most people have short and tight hip flexors already, especially if they’re one of the many corporate office dwellers who find themselves sitting at a desk all day.

•  The move is limited in regards to its range of motion. You’re only going up a few inches and coming back down to flat back. There is not much activation to strengthen the core to do its primary job, which is to stabilize the spine and torso while the body performs everyday activities.

A better move and time better spent is working on perfecting your plank pose and/or side plank. These two moves engage all your core muscles and will most certainly have your abs barking in no time. Really.

Here’s how to properly perform the plank:

• Get in the push-up position, either with your forearms on the ground or on your hands. Your elbows should line up directly underneath your shoulders. Toes on the ground.

• Squeeze your glutes and tighten your abdominals and lift your torso up off the ground.

• Very important: Keep a neutral neck and spine. (Keeping the natural curve in the small of your back.)

• Create a straight, strong line from head to toes.

• Hold that position for 5 seconds, working your way up to 1 minute. (This will take time but it will do wonders for your core… more than 100 crunches can do.)

The side plank is similar in that you want to build up the time in which you’re holding the position, but you’re doing it on your side.

• Lie on your side with ankles, knees, hips and shoulders all aligned, elbow on the ground (for beginners) or hand on the ground (more advanced), directly below your shoulder.

• Pull in your abdominal muscles and lift your torso up off the ground and hold.

• Work from 5 seconds up to a minute.

Planks are awesome, they really work your core and there are so many variations that I’m pretty sure I can connect one of them to Kevin Bacon.

Anne Marie Costanzo is a nationally certified personal trainer and owner of Little Black Dress Personal Training. She can be reached at am@littleblackdresspt.com or (914) 841-1121.

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About the Author: Anne Marie Constanzo