Achieving 6-pack abs is pretty much the holy grail of physical fitness and strength, even though much of your abdominal appearance is decided by genetics, not effort. But whether you have 7% body fat or a layer of “insulation” over your abdominal muscles it’s extremely important to keep those muscles strong. Working the muscles that make up your core strong (the abdominals, obliques, and mid- to lower-back) will make your entire body feel stronger, give you better posture, and improve your balance. However, the question remains—what’s the best technique to building and managing core strength?
We’ve been presented with so many different options for strengthening the abdominal muscles that it’s hard to know what works best. Should we be lying on our backs, balancing on our hands and toes, standing up, squatting, or using a contraption like the ab flyer or ab rocket?
Luckily, a group of fitness experts commissioned by the American Council on Exercise recently conducted the research to answer that very question. ACE reached out to experts at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse to conduct research determining the effectiveness of the most popular equipment and exercises compared to the traditional crunch. The team incorporated several different varieties of popular equipment including the Ab Circle Pro, Ab Roller, and others, as well as exercises including yoga’s boat pose, the stability ball crunch, decline bench curl-ups, the captain’s chair crunch, the bicycle crunch, the side plank, and a standard plank.
The study tested eight females and eight males, ages 18 to 24. Electrodes were placed around the participants’ midsections which measured the subjects’ maximum voluntary contraction as they used each piece of equipment and performed each bodyweight exercise. The results concluded that, out of all the contraptions and exercises tested, the traditional crunch elicited the most muscle activation. As in, all of those headlines that say the crunch is outdated and ineffective are false.
Regardless of the results, ACE Chief Science Officer Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., said, “It’s important to keep in mind that there is no single abdominal exercise that challenges all the abdominal muscles in the safest and most effective way. For example, some exercises like the planks help to promote the development of core stability despite their relatively modest levels of muscle activation in the muscles examined in this study.”
Moral to the story: Challenge your core muscle in multiple ways to keep them strong but definitely keep the crunch!