Planks or crunches? Which are the best?
If you look into any fitness magazine or any social media, you’ll see that planks have become a kind of a cure exercise, i.e. the most popular exercise for abs, and people are starting to forget the amazing results the traditional crunch provides.
But, like with everything else, fitness trends come and go. The biggest issue is that these trends aren’t often based on evidence, which is the reason why a lot the amazing classic exercises are forgotten.
To be honest, crunches aren’t the most exciting exercise. But how they’ve been denigrated in the last couple of years isn’t an objective evaluation based on research. It seems that the newest trend says that planks are better, which isn’t true.
The truth is that some versions of the crunch work your abs in a very effective way and need to be included into your ab program.
And if you are still looking for the best ab exercises, then keep on reading to find out which are the ones that provide the best results!
THE WINNER – THE CLASSIC CRUNCH
Really, it is. If performed in the proper way, crunches activate almost all of the abdominal muscles. Exercise scientists and physiologists say that if do the full range of motion and engage the abdomen for lifting the shoulders off the floor while performing crunches, you are reaping more gains from this exercise than from other popular ab exercises.
A research conducted by The American Council on Exercise, was measuring the muscle activity during different ab exercises, using electrodes for measuring the muscle contractions. And all that for 16 exercises, including the classic crunch.
The results were clear, showing that the crunch allowed the biggest muscle activation. If you’re still focused on the negative sides, let us tell you something.
The most important part of the ACE research was that the subjects performed the exercise with the perfect form and very deliberately, which is not the case for most people.
The proper way to perform crunches
Start by lying down and put your feet against a wall and bend your hips and knees at 90 degree angle. You should cross your arms on your chest to avoid cheating.
You should be engaging your abdominal muscles and lift your head and shoulder off the ground. Pause for a moment, and then lower your body back to the floor and repeat.
The tempo can variate, but the most important thing is to perform the lowering part slowly and in a controlled manner.
Don’t forget about the Bicycle Crunches
The classic crunch consists of a forward and back motion, which works great for the rectus abdominus (the front part of your abs). But when trying to target the external obliques, the side muscles of your waist, studies has shown that the classic crunch is not the best option, and that’s when you need to do bicycle crunches.
To perform the bicycle crunches in a proper way, you need to get into a classic crunch position, and start lifting your right shoulder towards your left knee while simultaneously extending the right leg, and repeat with the opposite sides without any breaks. You need to make sure to perform the movement in a slow and controlled manner and emphasize muscle contraction in order to get the best results.
Enter the Captain’s Chair
The captain’s chair is a machine which looks like seatless chair with a back rest and arm holds, and it develops your abs more than you think. It activates some of the same muscle which are used during hanging leg raises, but it’s also offering support for your back.
To perform it, you start by climbing into the chair and pressing your lower back into the back rest while gripping the arm holds with your hands. You should allow your legs to hang straight down and engage your ab muscles to slowly pull the knees towards your chest. Lower your legs to the original position and repeat.
Planks are amazing, too!
The previously mentioned ACE research also studied the effects of the front forearm planks regarding the muscle activation of the external obliques and the rectus abdominus. Even though the results weren’t as good as expected, planks shouldn’t be excluded from your ab routine.
But to obtain the best results, researchers advise to replace the static plank with more challenging versions. If you have mastered the classic 60 second static plank, you should add more intensity with rocking planks, side planks, forearm planks or knee planks.
These versions of the plank force the ab muscles to work harder which of course means better results.