Crunches and traditional sit-ups are bad. Everyone knows that. They will turn you into a hunchback.
Combined with texting and sitting all day at computers we naturally incline forwards at the waist and roll our shoulders forward, creating this hunched position. Sit-ups reinforce this position and put a massive load of pressure on the lumbar spine.
So why do people and institutions insist on doing them? Lack of education? Old habits die hard? Put up or shut up? Almost every BJJ & MMA club i have ever been to do does them as part of the warm up.
Plus I still see those have-a-go-heroes at the gym performing them all the time with beads of sweat and a Ramboesque one-last-rep look on their hardened faces.
Say what you want about science and some of it's dubious claims no one can argue about sit-ups. It just plain makes sense. Look at the picture above of the guy on the laptop. That's the position your spine takes each time you crunch.
You need something else in your routine arsenal that will fire up the abs and tone your obliques. You need a crunchless core.
6 Pack Myths
You cannot get a 6 pack or 8 pack even by doing a ridiculous amount of crunches, sit ups, or some other exercise. Being able to see your abs is a result of exercise selection, and being in a caloric deficit phase.
That's why bodybuilders don't mind ballooning up off-season as they know when they are putting in the calories to gain mass, once they come out of their heavy overload phase and restrict calories coming up to competition time, their abs will start to show.
Don't believe me? See this famous pic of Lee Priest off season and then competition prepped.
The key is a reduction in bodyfat. If you work your abs 60 mins a day every day for a month your abs will not noticeably pop until you have got your bodyfat down to 10-12% for males and 16-19% for females. Naturally the lower it goes the more defined your abdominals will be.
You of course have to develop the muscles before the abs will show. Diet and nutrition is then key for how defined they will appear. I like to think of my abs as a work in progress. Currently I am not looking to put much more muscle mass.
I like my current weight as it keeps me nimble for bjj/mma training and I feel "fit" at my current weight of 77k. Previously I was 83k and I really had to work to maintain this weight.
Before I started training I was 57K. Steroid free gaining natural muscle has been a great accomplishment to me.
When I am not watching my diet as strictly my abs will slide a bit. But I'm fine with this, not obsessive. As I know once i reign in the calories and junk food my abs will become more defined. I have naturally big transverse abdominals (front and side abs) due to genetics and working them smartly.
The Abs Are Not Just One Muscle Group
Another reason crunch movements are not great ab developers is that the abs are not just one muscle group. You do not have just the front wall that everyone sees in a classic 6 pack photo. You also have obliques running down the side of your body, from just below the rib cage to your hip.
Train Your Abs For Stability & Not Just Appearance
The abs act just like a girdle worn in times of old, and even today as many women like to wear them to retain shape, or postpartum, and even men with a little too much in the midsection (remember Riggs & company giving Murtagh dogs abuse about wearing one in Lethal Weapon?).
They stabilize the pelvis & keep you taut protecting you from the g-forces of physical activity and everyday bending and twisting movements. No wonder you are taught to brace your abs when squatting. Strong abs are like a protective belt that can prevent injury.
Your exercise selection should addresses the entire abdominal range to not only get those abs, but to protect you from injuries. Many people with really good visual abs have the misconception that their core is strong.
Unless you have trained all sections of the abdominal muscles there can be imbalances which can find you out some day on a heavy squat, or even something as mundane as a spontaneous twist.
Then there is a really cool muscle called the serratus, that bodybuilder look amazing when it shows.
Arnold is miles ahead of me on this one
Exerise Alone Is Not The Answer
Do these crunch free exercises all day long and you still will not see your abs popping. The answer is in your diet and athletic performance. You need to burn off the layer of subcutaneous fat that surrounds your tummy.
This is what your abs are hidden under. The only thing that will shift this is cutting out the junky processed food and sugary content from your diet. Sugary foods and drinks are linked to diabetes and the slowing down of your metabolism.
Dieting is also not the answer, the answer is cardio and calorie restriction. It will burn the fat off your midsection.
Gaining and maintaining muscle is a fine balance between building and cutting. I prefer a clean bulk, many like Lee Priest in the above photos like to bulk up offseason and then cut back for competition time. Bodybuilders have to maintain serious mass and this is one way to do it.
Another bodybuilding technique is to keep close to contest shape all year round and tighten up with carb restriction close to contest time. But this is a gradual process which can take up to 12 weeks. There is a lesson here for non bodybuilders, cutting back on calories, especially carbs too soon is bad.
Bad for your mood, bad for your health, and just not sustainable. Cutting carbs fast will short-change your results. Some people lose weight quickly, but they bounce it back on twice as fast once they "crack" from their extreme diets.
Not only are low carbs responsible for poor mood but they have been linked to loads of diseases and ill health.
Starvation diets will also slow down your metabolism. Your body will think your throat has been cut and it will slow down all fat burning activities to circumnavigate the threat.
Several studies like this published government paper show that lowering your daily calorie intake has the opposite effects of losing weight. Here's more evidence showing the harmful effects of severe dieting.
Food For Thought
Carbs have gotten a bad rap over the years, but they are essential for building muscle. Excessive carbs will make you fat, but you need the right amount to build muscle. Without the right amount of carbs you will also look flat.
You need carbs for your upper body development to pop. You won't build huge legs without healthy calories neither.
Eating smaller regular meals if you are training adequately will provide the fuel your body needs, and prevent you from getting so hungry you overeat when you do sit down to eat.
Your relationship with food, and the type of foods you eat is so important. Regular small meals, not infrequent starvation diets are key to health and maintaining muscle, and burning fat.
No one can eat clean all the time, but habitual eating on quick fix high calorific processed foods is going to manifest in your appearance.
$33 Billion in Quick Fix Solutions Just Doesn't Cut It
In this day and age it is crazy to comprehend that the US population spends $33 Billion a year trying to shift it's bulk by buying weight loss pills and products. The solution is already here and it is based upon self-discipline-diet and exercise.
So much money is wasted on meal replacements (sugary rubbish) - millions are wasted on diet books that propose starving techniques - all fads, none proven to be as effective as calorie restriction and exercise selection. But a lot of these fads are dangerous.
Keto diets (Atkins, South Beach, Paleo) have serious associated medical risks and first came about to lower epileptic seizures in children. Is is not shameful that we look to starvation diets to put right our overeating in the western world where food is of the abundance?
Foods high in healthy fats don't translate to adding more fat on your body. Foods high in fat have been blamed by fitness industry professionals- ie the marketing wing of Big Commerce fitness brands. Our post here will show you what healthy fats to eat.
Everyone overeats, now and then. It becomes a problem if it's more common than not. As a stressed people we eat a lot of our feelings. When we feel bad we eat. This leads immediately to that guilt feeling which makes it worse than before. And what's a brother or sister gonna do, but eat some more?
But with a little resolution and a starting small ethos, the situation can be turned around. All it needs is a little dedication and direction. The first place to start at is with yourself. To aid this throw out all the junk in your cupboard. Don't buy anymore until you shift the bulk.
Go to the gym or go out walking if the stress of the gym doesn't suit your esteem levels right now. Check out this free exercise program you can do at home.
Lose the weight and build that muscle slowly. Exercise and results take time. Taking short cuts has consequences. Starvation diets are too hard to maintain, and you will always bounce back to where you were at the beginning.
Research Confirms Metabolic Boost With Resistance Training
A faster metabolism allows you to utilize the food you consume more efficiently, the main bonus is that it burns it up much faster. Several research studies have confirmed that strength training can speed up your metabolism. See here for example.
A sedentary lifestyle is one of the reasons people accumulate fat. It's no secret, no one needs research to confirm this.
The short answer to your burning question, is... resistance training along with your diet promotes health, and effects your body composition. You can't shortcut hard work with starvation diets and fat burning pills. This is unsafe, unwise and unproductive.
The point has well and truly been hammered home- want those abs to pop sort out this lot,
- your diet
- your weight training program
- your cardio routine