Attention Six-Pack Seekers: All Those Crunches May Not Be Working

By Deborah Dunham for

Brace yourselves, but you know all those crunches you’ve been faithfully logging at the gym each week? They may not be doing a bit of good. According to The New York Times, the most iconic of all core exercises could indeed be helping to shape our six-pack-wannabe abs, but they may not be aiding in our overall fitness strength and performance. At best, research studies about the benefit of crunches has been mixed.

Gretchen Reynolds writes:

A representative study of collegiate rowers, for instance, found that after eight weeks of an arduous core-exercise regimen — added to their normal workout routines — the rowers had great-looking abs but weren’t better rowers; their performance was unchanged in a rowing-machine time trial, compared with measurements before they’d undertaken the extensive core routines.

But in another study, this time of novice adult runners who displayed weak core strength in preliminary testing, those who completed six weeks of core training drills lowered their five-kilometer run times significantly more than a control group of beginning runners who did not focus on their midsections.

So should we nix this move from our workout routine? One expert says, at the very least, we can cut back on them:

Brad Schoenfeld, a professor of exercise science at Lehman College and an author of To Crunch or Not to Crunch said, “No one needs to perform hundreds or even dozens of crunches…six or eight crunches would be plenty and only a few times a week.”

As excited as I am to hear this (because I’d rather run a mile -- or 10 -- than do crunches), there is no way that doing half a dozen of them will get us great-looking abs, a strong core or improved athletic performances. All of this only comes with eating right and doing a variety of strengthening exercises. Crunches may not be the best way to get there, but don’t let this article mislead you into thinking that core work is not important. Personally, I’ve found that swimming, kettlebell swings and planks are the best way to tone my abs -- without the boredom and neck soreness that comes with crunches.

How about you? What’s your most effective ab exercise?

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