Looking the best at the beach, making sure all the plumbing works, reduced risk of developing certain types of cancers: what do these three things have in common? They are all benefits of having a flat, toned and strong core and abdomen. Today we'll look at the five best kinds of crunches or crunch variations you should be adding to your fitness regimen. Use these to build better core strength to help with athletic performance, balance and movement in the gym, on the field and in everyday life.
Best Basic Crunch: Bicycle Crunch
The bicycle crunch is a great two-fold attack to a stronger core and better abs. Working lower and upper abs, including the transverse abdominus and the obliques, you will lie down in a supine position, knees bent and feet off the floor. "Pedal" your knee to your opposite elbow and repeat. I suggest performing 2-4 sets of 12-25 repetitions, building up your resistance as you go.
For People with Back Problems: Swiss Ball Crunches
Often times, crunches on a hard surface can either cause or exacerbate existing lower back pain problems. In order to avoid putting added stress on your lower lumbar regions, I strongly recommend adding Swiss Ball Crunches to your routine. Rest your back arched over a medium to large size Swiss ball, bracing your legs and core for balance and stabilization. Keep your arms across your chest (less stress on your neck) and perform the standard crunch motion, contracting your upper torso towards your hips. Again, follow the 2-4 sets of 12-25 reps directions as above.
To Get Shredded AND Build a Killer Core: Planks
The plank is, in my opinion and the opinion of many other fitness professionals, the best exercise you should be doing if you are not already. There are two basic planks, the front plank and the side plank. Begin the front plank by laying prone, your arms under your torso, palms flat to the floor and toes pressed firmly into the ground. Next, lift your upper and lower body off the ground, "planking" on your toes and forearms. Hold for as long as you can, working up to 60 seconds. Repeat 2-3 additional holds. For the side plank, you will be using one forearm to support your weight, beginning by lying on your side. Again, work on holding these up to 60 seconds, repeating 2-3 additional holds.
To Work Parts of Your Core You Didn't Know You Had: V Sit Ups
V-sit ups are exactly like they sound. Working the rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques, and a myriad of other core muscles, the V sit up begins with you laying in a supine position, arms and legs extended. Contract your core at the middle, bringing your arms and legs up into a "V" position. Lower your arms and legs towards the floor, making sure not to touch. Follow the same repetition and set guidelines as the other "non-plank" exercises.
That You Can Do Everyday: Cardiovascular Exercise
Hershel Walker, one of the world's greatest all-time athletic and physical specimens, built his physique on three principles: push ups, sit ups, and cardiovascular exercise (in his case, running sprints). The one thing you can do daily to help the appearance of lean muscle in your abdomen is at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense cardiovascular exercise. This will help you shed body fat, which will increase appearance of lean muscle. That's the key factor in having that six pack. You can do a number of cardio exercises, so don't get discouraged if running just isn't your thing.
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Ryan Barnhart, MS, PES, is a certified Performance Enhancement
and Injury Prevention Specialist through the National Academy of Sports
Medicine (NASM). He also holds a master's degree in exercise science, as
well as a bachelor of sport management, both from California University
of Pennsylvania. Ryan has worked with numerous collegiate and amateur
athletes across many different fields. Ryan also has had the opportunity
to work with several professional athletes. Recently he has worked with
amateur and professional athletes within the emerging sport of Mixed
Ryan is currently the director of fitness at a 700+ member gym near Pittsburgh, PA. He enjoys working with weekend warriors, athletes, and everyone in between. You can contact Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.