2.04.2011

No More Crunches? Abs-olutely!



f you’ve ever stepped into a commercial gym or attempted to “get in shape” in the discomfort of your own home, then you’ve almost certainly done a crunch. It’s a movement that’s as ingrained in our fitness culture as bench presses and biceps curls.

But what if you learned that crunches are far from the most effective and efficient way to work your abdominal muscles?

“People think the crunch is the equivalent of a biceps curl,” says Lou Schuler, co-author of the book "The New Rules of Lifting For Abs." “You’re making the muscles bigger and stronger.”

Your abdominal muscles are unlike your biceps and triceps in both structure and function. Their main job is to protect your spine by helping the other core muscles –- those in your back and hips –- keep your lower back and pelvis in a safe, neutral position.

What matters is how well they can keep your spine in a stable position during increasingly difficult movements.

There isn’t a single crunch or sit-up in The New Rules of Lifting for Abs, the third book in The New Rules of Lifting Series. Instead, Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove base their workout around planks and side planks. (A basic plank is just holding a pushup position on your forearms. For a side plank, just rotate 90 degrees onto one arm and the sides of your feet.)

Schuler and Cosgrove argue that the planks and side planks -- and the many variations they show and describe in their book -- are the best entry-level exercises for your core muscles.

If you’ve never tried them before, you’ll be surprised at how hard they can be.

“It’s not hard to get into a plank position and hold it for a few seconds,” Schuler said. It’s hard, but so what?

If you can’t -- if your core muscles can’t keep your spine in its natural, slightly arched position when you’re lifting weights or playing sports -- you risk serious injury to the discs in your lower back. Believe it or not, the humble ab wheel offers one of the best examples of how your abdominal muscles function. The wheel changes your center of gravity. The farther it goes, the harder your core muscles have to work to keep your back from buckling. It’s the hardest thing you can ask your abdominal muscles to do.

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