We’re going to write up a 5-part series debunking some common muscle-building/fitness industry myths, starting with the most scam-ridden body part of all—your abs. You already know that you need to lose fat to see your abs, so I’m not going to beat a dead horse. This myth is far more insidious, and besides, this blog is for ectomorphs, so typically the reason we don’t have kickass abs is that they just aren’t big enough. Most ectomorphs thus try to solve the problem by doing crunches (or sit-ups). Jared and I sure did. We did crunches, reverse crunches, sit-ups, ab circuits, myotatic crunches, weighted crunches, side crunches, that bicycle thing, rope crunches. We did a hell of a lot of shitty ab exercises. The problem is that we were training spinal flexion instead of stability. That’s the opposite of what you want in a powerful body. Not only that, we were damaging our thoracic spine with every rep.
What the hell are you talking about?! Let me explain.
A powerful and well functioning body is built in a very particular way, and a lot of the power it produces comes from transferring force from your lower body to your upper body. In order to do this you need flexible hips, strong glutes, a rigid and rock hard core, and a properly aligned spine. This will allow you to lift like a beast, remain healthy and injury free in your day to day life, and pack on muscle like a monster.
In this regard crunches are the triple threat of #$^ing @#% up.
1. You’re going to train your abs to stretch and contract like an accordion. Your core should be trained to remain rigid, but it’s going to get used to rounding and flopping around, which as you probably know, is a nightmare when it comes to deadlifting and squatting (and, for that matter, shoulder pressing and bench pressing).
2. Crunches tighten your abs and yank your ribs down, giving you a rounded back. Many ectomorphs have upper and lower crossed syndrome, and tight abs is a good way to get rid of ecto-booty and ecto-belly. Crunches are a horribly damaging way of attempting to solve the problem though. You’re fixing one postural issue and creating another. You’d be much better off developing a strong core and great posture another way.
3. If you aren’t properly developing a strong rigid core chances are you’re getting your flexibility there, instead of from your hips. This will cause a whole chain reaction of problems when it comes to running, lifting, and any sort of activity you do.
If they’re so bad for you, why do people do crunches at all?
Well it seems like the most logical way to train your abs. How many people out there are experts when it comes to spinal alignment? Not very many. How many people out there know that to strengthen a muscle you need to contract it? A hell of a lot. So the result is that everyone and their grandfather trains their abs by contracting and relaxing them … but forget to consider the implications to their spine, posture, athletic performance, aesthetics, and longterm wellbeing. Whoops.
Does this mean you’re doomed to have gimpy abs forever?
Hell no. In fact, crunches aren’t even that good at stimulating your abs! That’s why people waste their time doing 600 of them in a row and wind up with inferior abs and a busted back.
The Bony to Beastly solution?
Ditch the endless accordion ab routines and switch to anti-movement ab exercises—exercises like short and intense plank variations (6-pack), one-armed carries and presses (obliques), swiss ball rollouts (6-pack), and, our personal favourite—the Pallof Press.
Check out the other Muscle-Building Myths.