Crunches Vs Planks: The Best Exercise For Ripped Abs

setupEveryone wants a six-pack. I mean six-pack abs of course. I guess if you aren’t interested in six-pack abs then chances are you’re more interested in a six-pack of beer but I’m wandering off topic already and I just got started. My point is that the abdominal area, when developed and with body fat levels low enough to show the muscles that are part of this region, is the measuring stick that everyone in fitness or otherwise uses to determine how fit a person is. As such, everyone wants a ripped mid section (phew, managed to get this thing back on track). The exercises that everyone performs to get the abs that will stop people dead in their tracks when they see them are crunch variations. Crunches, side crunches, weighted crunches, reverse crunches, crunches wearing gravity boots, crunches in a chair, on the floor, on a bench…I think you get my point, but is this the best way to build a strong and ripped midsection? Is the plank the simple answer to the non-stop crunching madness? Let’s take a closer look and see what we can determine to come to some sort of conclusion as to which is the better exercise: crunches vs planks.

When people talk about the core we instantly think of ripped abs. The kind you can do your laundry on. ripped-women-absThe core is made up of many more muscles than just that six-pack, however, and is quite a complicated ‘link’ between the upper and lower body’s muscles. The major core muscles are the pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, and erector spinae. The minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi (lats), gluteus maximus, and trapezius. Basically everything you do at the gym involves the majority of the muscles listed above in one way or another, but the two exercises most used to directly train these muscles are crunches and planks. Which one of these two exercises will strengthen your core most effectively and therefore provide you with the strong midsection you seek that will impress everyone in the summer time?

The crunch, and its many variations (as mentioned above), is what everyone associates with ripped abs. Crunches work the rectus abdominis (the long, flat muscle that extends vertically from the pubis to the 5th, 6th, and 7th rib and is responsible for flexion of the lumbar spine). The movement, however, places far from ideal pressure on your back at its weakest point – the back of the spine which has the most nerves (with the highest risk of nerve damage) and this is the part that bends and strains during a crunch. The shape of your back in a crunch is exactly the opposite shape that your spine is supposed to be – straight. This means that performing a crunch is literally reversing the correct form of your spine and as a result your vertebrae and disks are being compressed in the process which can potentially lead to nerve damage further leading to changes in the mechanism of your spine and the muscles that support it. Your spine is always meant to remain neutral and never flexed, which means if you do choose to include crunches as part of your regimen, they should be done with a neutral spine and not a flexed spine. This may not be a crunch as you know it, but it sure beats never being able to squat or deadlift again due to a lower back that has become so destabilized due to the excessive spinal 935107_442810005805817_1789029230_nflexing it has been asked to do.

The plank, however, is all about a neutral spine. It looks extremely easy – until you try it that is. The plank is an isometric exercise, which means the angle of the joint a muscle length does not change during contraction. This is the polar opposite of the flexing action of the crunch. The primary muscles worked in planks are the rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis and erector spinae. Secondary muscles worked are deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids), glutes and quadriceps. Hmmm, is that more muscles than the crunch uses?

The main focus of the plank is to draw your abdomen towards your spine (by contracting the primary muscles of the core). By doing this the deeper muscles such as the transverse abdominis that supports your spine become stronger also. This means you’ll be able to use more weight on your squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, bench presses – basically anything that involves lifting a weight. This indirectly leads to a more muscular mid section as all of the above involve the muscles of the core, not to mention all of the above will build an all around impressive physique which will frame those abs that much better.

Do I even need to say which exercise is the clear and obvious winner of this vs battle? The plank of course. It will build your core much more effectively than will crunches and strengthen your entire body in qimmah russo abs exercisethe process. The crunch does effectively build the six-pack muscles, but often at the expense of your spines stability and this translates into weakness in your lower back and in your other lifts. You certainly don’t need to crunch to build a great set of abs, but by performing planks you will increase the poundage of your other lifts which will translate into great abs without even directly working them. See what I’m getting at? Sometimes the direct route is not in fact the best way to the destination. Building a great foundation and allowing your entire body’s strength to enhance the other lifts you perform to build your abs may in fact be the ideal template to follow.

Plank tips for the beginner and advanced ‘planker’ alike:

– keep your shoulders directly above your elbows when in the plank position

– hold your hips at the same height as your shoulders

– contract your glutes and quadriceps

The Plank– when moving in the plank position focus on rolling forward and back on your toes and bringing your shoulders in front and behind the elbows

– when in the side plank try placing your feet one in front of the other instead of stacking them and engage the same side leg as the arm that is planted

– keep your hips high during the side plank to work the external obliques

Until next time,

Happy Lifting!

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This article was researched and written by Matt Taylor

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13 comments for “Crunches Vs Planks: The Best Exercise For Ripped Abs

  1. surfside
    January 21, 2017 at 7:49 am

    Great article. This has saved me a lot of time doing leg lifts, scissor kicks, crunches, sit ups and bicycles.

    • Matt Taylor
      January 21, 2017 at 11:03 am

      I’m always happy to help.

  2. Marcus Bärneskär
    January 12, 2017 at 11:35 am

    Is Matt still write here?

    I want to know, his diet with whey. Seems very interesting to know how he does the liquid diet!

    So much thanks in advance

    • Matt Taylor
      January 13, 2017 at 9:05 am

      Yes, I’m still here.

      Basically I have 3 protein shakes a day and at the end of the day I have one food meal. I still do this most of the year. I can stay lean and build muscle this way.

      • Marcus Bärneskär
        January 13, 2017 at 10:07 am

        Cool. How about carbs and fat, do you have vegetables in your diet as well?

        Do you have any pictures of The Matt Taylor?

        • Matt Taylor
          January 14, 2017 at 1:49 pm

          My food meal is mixed. Carbs, fats, protein. My 3 shakes are usually water, unflavored whey isolate, blueberries and oatmeal. I don’t know if I can post pics to this thread. I’ll mail you one from a couple of days after Christmas this year. Maybe you can post it in this thread.

  3. Greg Marlow
    April 19, 2016 at 4:58 am

    I came up with a similar exercise to the plank pose that I found very effective. I stand straight and press my hands against my thighs then slide the hands down the thighs while maintaining force against the thighs. I’m using the muscles of a push up against the muscles of a sit up. I’m getting a little bit of an abdominal curl that the plank doesn’t provide and I’m not injuring my spine.

  4. October 8, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Good stuff, Matt! Up for a challenge? My favourite ab exercises are hanging leg raises and hanging knee raises – any idea how they stack up against the plank?

    • Matt Taylor
      October 9, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      Leg raises are basically reverse crunches so the same applies to them as in the above comparison. Great exercises but neither are even close to as effective as the plank.

  5. June 25, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    This is a WONDERFUL article. Thank you!
    I only recently started Pilates, and was introduced to the plank. Though I grew up active and athletic (there wasn’t internet back then) I recently went though a bad bout of health which put me in a hospital bed for 18 months.
    During that time my body was shutting down, and since it couldn’t process fluids it stored them in my legs and belly.
    I fought like hell just to live, but did what I vowed to myself – I danced out of the hospice door, to the surprise & delight of all who thought I was going to die.

    After leaving, I was still very weak, so tried what I had been taught as a child – crunches, sit-ups, etc. – just trying to get that once flat belly back. It didn’t work.

    In the two months I have been doing Pilates, I have seen a visible and *remarkable* flattening of my protruding belly, something that all the crunches didn’t even touch.

    My trainer makes certain that I’m doing all the exercises she abuses me with correctly, and it’s actually amazing – I have found that I’ve been doing everything WRONG all my life! Incredible what an adjustment of an inch here or there in your training will accomplish.

    Again, thank you for the article and the incredibly useful information – AND for making it fun to read!

    • Matt Taylor
      September 26, 2015 at 5:23 pm

      Thanks for your feedback, I appreciate your compliments as well.

  6. December 15, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    I have enjoyed reading this post! I suggest that people who also love to have six- pack abs must read this post. I believe that the crunch, and its many variations, is what everyone associates with ripped abs. Crunches work the rectus abdominis.

    • Matt Taylor
      September 26, 2015 at 5:25 pm

      Yes, crunches definitely don’t work the entire core at all.

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