The Top Ten Mistakes Made When Doing CRUNCHES!
Ah, Crunches, the 101 of abdominal-toning exercises. However basic this exercise may seem, I see a ton of common mistakes when people perform them at the gym. Here is a summary of the top ten things people do wrong when doing crunches:
1) Doing sit-ups: We just don’t do sit-ups anymore. You can do them if you want, but you are doing two detrimental things when you perform a sit-up: one, slamming your back against the ground, and two, using momentum to bring you to the upright position and not your abdominal muscles.
2) Doing only crunches when you want to get flat abs: Crunches are great but they only work one group of muscles: the rectus abdominis (aka, the muscle that can look like a six-pack!). It’s good to work this muscle but there are three other lovely muscles in your abdominal area that need to be worked on as well.
3) Doing crunches every day: This is a big mistake even I made in my early years to help my back. If you want a good everyday ab-toning regime try Yoga or Pilates. They are both excellent for abs and core and are designed to be done every day. Regular strength training is not meant to be done every day; if you do strength training on a daily basis you must follow specific techniques, such as working different muscle groups on different days.
4) Using your neck muscles and not your abdominal muscles: Crunches mistake 101, your neck should always remain in the same position throughout the crunch; it should not bend at all, really. A cue I use is imagining that there is a baseball under your chin— lift your shoulders off the floor and support your neck with your hands and contract your abs. And yes—when you first start to do crunches they can be painful in the neck area. As your neck gets stronger the pain will subside over time when performing this exercise. Then you will have an nice strong neck from doing crunches. Fewer headaches and less shoulder pain are a great result of a strong neck. Plus you might have a super-strong, sexy-looking neck like a certain actress on “House of Cards” if you stick with it!
5) Arms in the wrong position: I see this all of the time, when a person starts to do crunches and the elbows go up at the same time and surround the head. When you move your elbows up around your face you are doing two things: pulling on your neck and making the crunch easier. Your arms should be out to the sides of your head in line with your ears throughout the exercise. This makes the abs work harder there by yielding better results from the exercise.
6) The myth of lower abs: No, there is no such thing as “lower abs”— this is a commonly believed exercise myth. There are four sets of muscles in your abdominal area: rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, internal obliques, and external obliques. People spend all of this time trying to work these mythical lower abs when they should really be worried about the transversus abdominis and the obliques. Working all four of these muscles is the real secret to perfect abs.
7) Going too fast: “I’m doing 6o squats in 30 seconds, I’m so fast, I am burning so many calories” is what many exercisers think when they do exercises other than cardio quickly. When you perform strength training at a high speed you are doing three things: not keeping your proper form, opening yourself up to injury, and using gravity and momentum to complete the exercise and not your muscles. When I cue a client to slow down an exercise, what I often get is a dirty look, but I have just made the exercise twice as hard.
8) Doing only one type of crunch: Mix it up! Changing your workout every six weeks improves your fitness level. Try crunches with your legs up in the air at a 90-degree angle. Try crunches with our arms out or up in the air, do some crunches on the Swiss Ball or Versa Disc.
9) Not concentrating: When exercising, use the most valuable tool in your health and fitness: your brain. Concentrate on what you are doing when you work out. I often tell clients when they are having trouble with a crunch to imagine a rubber band going from under their ribs to their pelvis and contact that rubber band and lift their shoulders off the floor. Concentration helps you get more benefits out of all your exercises.
10) Exercising sore abs: Just don’t work out when you are sore from the previous workout session, OK? I often hear “I am in the gym every day, why don’t I change? How come I don’t look the way I want to? How come I haven’t lost the weight?” Why? because you have not given your body a chance to rest and build muscle. One of the best recovery methods is resting the exercised area for 48 hours; this is how long it takes for the average person to repair muscle cells and build new ones. Another is eating one cup of healthy carbs (whole grains, sweet potato, etc.) and a serving of protein (eggs, lean meat, fish, nut butters, etc.) within two hours after your workout.
When you overdo it with exercise and work out sore muscles you do two things: hurt yourself, destroying muscle rather than building it; and release stress hormones that can keep excess fat on your body.
The secret to flat abs is just the same as the rest of your workout regime: proper form, sufficient recovery time, proper nutrition, and paying attention to what you are doing.