Crunches are as misunderstood as they are popular. One common misconception is that doing loads of them will burn off the fat surrounding your abs and give you the six-pack of your dreams. Unfortunately, that's not the case. A crunch workout burns only 50 to 90 calories, depending on the research you look at. And the science on spot reduction of fat is inconclusive.
Another myth is that you should avoid crunches because they are harmful to your spine. That is only true if you perform the exercise with poor form. To properly perform crunches, keep your back flat instead of arching it. Imagine crunching up to the ceiling instead of curling your upper body to your knees. An arched back can place more pressure on the lower back, leading to lower back pain and, or, in serious cases, fractures of the vertebrae.
To work the full range of your abdominal muscles, combine crunches with other exercises. Here is a workout plan for you to try.
Crunches: 3 sets of 15 reps. Work the rectus abdominis. Keep a flat back.
Bicycle Crunches: 3 sets of 15 reps. Bring your right elbow to your left knee, then your left elbow to your right knee. Works the obliques more intensely than standard crunches.
High-Pulley Crunches: 3 sets of 10 reps. Perform with heavy weights and concentrate on feeling the muscles contract. Mainly works the rectus abdominis.
Hanging Leg Raises: 3 sets of 10 reps. Hanging from a pull-up bar, inhale and raise your knees as high as possible. Roll up your spine to bring your pubic bone toward your sternum. Hanging leg raises work the iliopsoas, rectus femoris and tenso fasciae latae. They also hit the obliques, but to a lesser extent.
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