Six Pack Abs – Without Turning Into a Hunchback

December 8, 2008

Do yourself a favor and drop crunches, reverse crunches, situps, machine crunches and other spine-crushing movements out of your routine. Not only will these movements weaken your spinal column, you very well may wind up with poor posture. There may be some benefit to doing crunches for 3-6 months, but after that it is time to move on and never look back.

six pack abs woman

[Here is an example of a woman with nice flat abs. I don’t think women should aim for a ripped six pack…sleek abs with slight definition is the way to go!]

Crunches Are Like Tequila Shots!

Both crunches and Tequila get the job done, until you have a few bad experiences. Seriously…crunches will give you decent looking abs, but there is a safer and superior approach to getting toned abs. If you must do crunches, then limit it to maybe your first 3-6 months of training and then eliminate them from your workout (I’ll explain). If you must do Tequila shots…then go to Cancun, Ibiza, Vegas, Bondi Beach, Leicester Square or wherever the party spot is in your country and get it out of your system as well…then switch over to beer and wine like a sensible adult.

Ab Isolation Movements Have A Short Life Span

According to Olympic Strength and Conditioning Coach, Charles Poliquin…if an athlete isolates their abs with crunches they will not see any improvements in their ab strength after 6-8 weeks…“Some of these guys can claim all these poundages used in ab training, but it’s actually the psoas doing the work. If you truly isolate the abs, after six to eight weeks an athlete will plateau the rest of his life.” So Ab Isolation movements aren’t where it is at!

The Two Main Functions of the Abdominal Muscles

I’ll keep this simple…

  •  Rectus Abdominus – flexes the spinal column forward 30 degrees. Any additional movement beyond 30 degrees is caused by the muscles that flex your hips
  • Transversus Abdominus stabilize the upper body and helps keep your posture

Almost Everything You Do Works the Stabilizing Muscles

When you run these muscles engage to keep your shoulders above your hips. Without these muscles your upper body would tip over at some point. Same with doing an exercise like a standing shoulder press, which is a good indirect ab movement. Your abs have to work hard to insure that your body doesn’t fall forward or backward when you are raising and lowering the weight.

Do Crunches for a Short Period of Time Then Maintain…

It won’t take long to reach the maximum benefit from crunches. I would say six months tops. The great thing is once you build your ab density and mind-to-muscle link with crunches, it takes very little to maintain dense abs. I haven’t done a crunch or any other “spine flexation” movement of any type for over 10 years and my abs look better than ever.

How Do You Maintain Six Pack Abs Without Crunches?

It is simple to maintain muscle density in any muscle by performing isometrics. This is basically flexing the muscle without any movement involved. The nice thing about isometrics is that you will build muscle density without increasing the size of the muscle…this is exactly what you are aiming for if you want amazing looking abs. Have you ever seen a person with ripped six pack abs, but their mid-section sticks out past their chest…this is what you want to avoid. Here are my two favorite Isometric Ab exercises.

There Are Other Ab Exercises That Use the Same Principles

There are many exercises that force the body to contract the abs hard without flexing the spine forward. Here is a creative one!

[This looks like an amazing ab exercise, but the video makes me laugh. It has some seriously jacked up disco music playing in the background (would be good in a house club, but kind of inappropriate in a gym setting). I admit it…the whole thing has an odd vibe and you can’t look cool doing this, but it would work the abs well.]

[This would completely obliterate my back, but would be a great exercise for the younger guys and girls looking to tighten up their mid-section. I apologize for the Death Metal playing in the background…”The 80’s called and wants their music back!”…lol! Okay…so a few of you guys commented that this is Metallica – Master of Puppets…”the 80’s called and STILL wants their music back”! Just kidding…it’s cool, we all have different tastes.]

One Final Reminder About Ab Definition

You won’t see your abs if your body fat is too high. Do what it takes to lower your body fat if you want a nice defined mid-section. Your diet needs to be on point and your workouts should include a either HIIT or circuits of some sort after your brief resistance training workouts.

The Day I Decided to Drop Crunches For Good

I don’t talk about this much on this site, but I experienced a really bad back injury about 18 years ago. I did a 3 part post that goes into great detail why I believe crunches will weaken your back over time. I also discussed the strategy that has helped me remain pain-free for the past 4 years. I posted this a long time ago, so I thought I would link to it in this post.

Conquering Low Back Pain While Getting Fit…Part I

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Randy - Daily Fitness Tips February 5, 2012 at 10:32 am

Yes, diet is probably the biggest factor in being able to SEE your abs but you do have to exercise them to develop them. But certain exercises do target the lower abs better then others. Crunches with bodyweight is still relatively safe unless you already have a weak or injured spine. Anything where you lift your legs up will target the lower abs and exercises like crunches will tend to develop the upper abs.

Holly April 12, 2012 at 4:43 am

I can definitely see how crunches would be bad, but does this apply to sit-ups as well? I’ve seen that everyone on here thinks planks are best, and I don’t disagree with that, planks are amazing, but I’m in the military and we really don’t have much of a choice in opting out of situps. Even if it’s not in the workout routine, we still need to do it at least twice a year for our PRT tests and when it comes down to it, the best way to get ready for the tests is to have your body used to the exercise.. And I know when I do situps, I keep my back straight, so that shouldn’t be as bad as crunches, right?

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