Crunches are exercises that require you to lie on your back, tighten your abdominal muscles and lift your head and shoulders upward. When you perform them properly, they can improve the strength of your abdominals and provide a variety of other benefits. However, when performed improperly, they can trigger pain and/or injury in your lower back.
Strengthening Your Abs
Crunches are an exercise that target your abdominal muscles. When you perform crunches and exercises such as pushups, side planks and glute bridges, you teach the muscles in this region to work in a coordinated manner. Since most athletic activities require core movements, this coordination can significantly improve your balance during organized sports or exercise, as well as in everyday life.
Regular performance of crunches can help you tone and strengthen the muscles in your abdomen. Since you don’t need any equipment to perform them, crunches are available to you at any time, whether you’re at home, in the gym or on the road. Proper performance of crunches also makes you slow down and pay attention to your exercise technique. In addition, crunches and other core exercises provide an often-overlooked component of a full-fitness program and fit well into your existing aerobic, strength-training and flexibility routines.
In addition to the muscles at the front and sides of your abdomen, crunches and situps engage muscles called hip flexors, which run from your thighs to the front of your lumbar spine in your lower back. When you repeatedly perform the motions required for a crunch or situp, or perform them with improper form, you can overwork and tighten your hip flexors and produce significant symptoms of lower-back pain. If you develop pain while performing a crunch or situp, you can use side planks, front planks, glute bridges and other core exercises called standing lifts to relieve your symptoms and make crunches unnecessary.
Modified Crunches and Considerations
While traditional crunches and situps help you tone your abdomen and stabilize your core, other exercises typically do a better job of helping you achieve this objective. They include exercise ball crunches, reverse crunches, vertical leg crunches, the captain’s chair and the bicycle maneuver, as well as abdominal hollowing, pelvic lifts and pelvic tilts. Consult a certified fitness instructor to learn how to perform these exercises properly. You can also ask your doctor or a fitness trainer for more information on the benefits of crunches and other core exercises.