How many crunches are enough?
BY: Kim Schworm Acosta
There’s no magic number, says exercise physiologist Jerry Mayo, Ph.D., chair of kinesiology at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. But “if you can do 20 crunches correctly, you’re not going to get much more benefit out of doing another 30,” he says. Instead of striving for mega-repetitions, you’d be better off modifying your crunch to work different muscles. For example, work your side (oblique) muscles by turning your torso as you rise off the floor or by angling your knees to one side and lifting straight up. You can also hold a 5-pound dumbbell in your hands to increase resistance, or perform your crunches on a stability ball to engage multiple core muscles.
However, no matter how many crunches you do, you won’t get the most benefit unless you’re using proper form: Lie face up with your feet on the ground and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Your hands can be clasped loosely behind your head, held across your chest or at your sides. Contract your abs, bringing your ribs toward your hips, and flatten your spine. Then lift your head, neck and shoulder blades off the floor in one unit. Most important, be sure to avoid these classic mistakes:
Pulling on your neck Your neck should be neutral, as it is when you’re sitting or standing.
Holding your breath Breathe out as you flex your muscles, in as you lower yourself back to the floor.
Giving up because you don’t see results “You should feel the muscles getting stronger after three to four weeks of exercises,” says Mayo. However, you won’t see definition if you have excess body weight. For burning fat, cardiovascular exercise such as walking, bicycling or aerobics works best.
Kim Schworm Acosta is the former health editor of Shape magazine and the health director of VIV. She has also written for Family Circle, Brides, Living Fit and Looking Good Now. Kim is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.