The Hard Truth about Crunches and Sit-Ups

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

Crunches and sit-ups are two of the most popular abdominal workout. While there are subtle differences between the two, the base principle is the same: they engage the abdominal muscles. But do they?

Ever wonder why you can do 1,000 crunches per day and still not get washboard abs? What could you be doing wrong? As it turns out, several studies found that neither workout is effective in sculpting and toning the midsection. There are several factors that come to play that affect the efficacy of sit-ups and crunches. Your body proportions, the form, are just two of these factors.

For instance, people with long torso and short legs will have a hard time performing these exercises compared to those with a short torso and long legs. This might explain why sit-ups and crunches are effective to some, but not to others. A growing number of fitness experts are also advising against these abdominal workouts because of their many disadvantages:

May Lead to Back Pain

Studies show a strong link between sit-ups/crunches and back pain. When you do a sit-up or a crunch, the psoas, a hip flexor muscle, contracts. As it contract, pain shoots up from the pelvis and back. As the pressure mounts on the psoas, the spinal discs compresses. This could lead to herniated disc or chronic back pain.

May Cause Bulging Disk

One of the most painful long-term effects of sit-ups and crunches is a herniated disk. This occurs when the compressed spinal disks are misaligned, causing a painful bulge. As this happen, the spine becomes weaker. Symptoms of herniated disk include a weak back and chronic pain. Eventually, a herniated disk could lead to disk injury.

Neck Injury

A classic sit-up involved laying down flat on your back with your hands behind your head. The knees are bent then you lift the torso all the way up until the chest is near the knees. Then, you bring yourself all the way down, back to the starting position.

This motion causes extreme stress on the neck and spine. When you pull yourself up, you tend to use your hands rather than your abdominal muscles. This puts the neck in an unusual angle, stressing the muscles underneath. The motion also affects the degree of flexion in the spine. All these could lead to neck pain, neck injury and yes, spine injury.

Alternatives to Sit-Ups and Crunches

Next time you work out the abdominal muscles, do yourself a favor and try better alternatives to crunches and sit-ups. To strengthen the core, choose exercises that will stabilize the abdominal muscles. These exercises include:


Get down on all fours. Place your hands in front of you, shoulder-width apart. Now, extend the right arm in the air in your front. It should be level with your shoulder. As you do this, lift the left hip by extending your left leg behind you. Hold this position for one second then switch to the other side. That’s one rep, do three sets of 10 three times per week.


Get down on all fours on the mat. Bend the elbows then extend the legs, keep the feet together. Lift your body off the mat. You should form a straight line neck to heel, with your weight spread from the bent elbows to the toes. Hold this position for as long as you can. Do at least two sets of 5 two to three times per week.

Side Plank

The position is similar to a plank but done sideways. Lie down on your side by propping your bent elbow, extending the legs. Raise the hips then extend the left arm upwards. Hold the position for 30 seconds then switch to the other side. Do one or two sets of 5 two to three times per week.

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