Today I'll cover a fairly common question - are sit-ups better than crunches, or vice versa - and why. This one may ruffle a few feathers, especially if you've been fed on the "crunches isolate the abs the best" philosophy by the "experts". So be it. . .
Long time readers of this blog (and those that have read my book) will know that I've always spoken out against crunches. The crunch, if you didn't know it already, is an exercise that requires you to lie down on the floor, "focus" on your upper abs (the six pack muscles) and lift your upper back ever so slightly off the floor - your mid/lower back does NOT move while performing the exercise. That's one crunch. The "experts" advocate doing this for high repetitions, 50-100 being a bare minimum.
A sit-up on the other hand is an exercise where you lie down on your back, and then use your core muscles to pull yourself up to a sitting position. You then repeat for as many reps as you can handle.
Now, which one sounds simpler? You got it - the sit-up - but does that make it less effective than the crunch? Not a chance in purgatory, my friend, and I'll tell you why.
First, the crunch is an abnormal movement which focuses on isolating certain small muscles to the exclusion of the other core muscles (in other words, to the exclusion of the "larger picture"). And I've always spoken out AGAINST isolationist movements. Your body works as a WHOLE, not as seperate muscles; so training it that way is always more effective. Additionally, isolate smaller muscles too much, and you've got an injury waiting to happen. It's really quite simple - ALWAYS choose exercises that work your body as a whole, rather than in bits and pieces.
Second, remember that you need to work exercises that are HARD and make you actually WORK to complete the movement as opposed to easy exercises that barely make you break a sweat. I hate to say it, but the simple sit-up is a FAR tougher movement than the so-called "modern" crunch. The situp works your ENTIRE midsection and makes you WORK to have to sit up as opposed to a crunch where you simply lift yourself two inches or so off the floor using your upper abs, and then do that for reps. If you don't believe me, do traditional sit-ups in proper form for reps, and tell me how they compare to crunches when it comes to making you puff and pant.
Third and this ties into #2: You use way more muscles in a situp than you do in a crunch. Sit-ups strengthen everything in the core - the lower back, front and lower abdominals, hip flexors, and even the obliques. Crunches on the other hand work a bit of the upper abs - and that's it. Now, think about this - what good does it do you to have two strong muscles in the core region, while your lower back and hips are weak? That sort of training is like inviting injury to your doorstep - so avoid it. Train your core as a whole - not seperate bits and pieces.
Last, and by no means least, the situp has been a preferred choice for training the midsection for ages. All strength athletes (boxers, wrestlers, sprinters etc) do plenty of sit-ups as a part of their regular routine. Mike Tyson did 500 pushups and 1000 situps as part of his daily routine, but we never heard of him doing crunches, do we? The great Herschel Walker did around 3500 situps as part of HIS routine - but nowhere do I read about him doing crunches. And the list goes on and on.
So, those are but a few reasons why I avoid the crunch like the plague - and it's why I suggest YOU do the same as well. Leave the crunches for the "toners" and "gym bunnies" - if your seriously considering strengthening your core, the sit-up is what you need to be doing - as opposed to "pumping" out high rep crunches.
And yes, sit-ups are by no means the only - or the best- way to train your core. There are many exercises that do an even better job at core training, but some of these may be too advanced for the beginner. Heck, sit-ups can prove to be a great workout even for the experienced athlete - and I've given you two examples of the same.
The simplest and most uncomplicated things usually work the best - and the humble sit-up is no exception to the rule!
PS: Along with sit-ups, there are other very useful exercises that you need to be doing to train your core to the fullest. Grab a copy of Fast and Furious Fitness ASAP to learn what these are!