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Planks and Crunches: Everything You Need to Know

We all just love a great set of abs, donít we? Well, it may or may not be your destiny to be the proud owner of your very own chiselled washboard, but if youíre interested in getting a gym pass and becoming fit again, what surely is written in your near future is plenty of crunches. Or planks. Or both.

If youíre not used to them, donít expect to like them at first. But once youíre underway, ab-focused exercises can be very rewarding. You can get a good all-round workout that is beneficial to not just the target muscle group, but also your back strength and general condition Ė and you get to do some serious calorie burning along the way.

The question remains, however, should you be developing that six-pack with crunches or planks? Whatís the difference between them? And how best to put them into practice?

Planks: the positives

Itís been shown that stomach and lower back muscles get a better workout when your routine incorporates other areas of the body, namely the deltoids (around the shoulder) and glutes (the bum).

Now, because forearm planks require effort from all those regions in the body, as well as all the various abdominal muscles, planks can activate the abs twice as much as your typical crunch, and develop your core at a faster rate, too. How about that?

Planks: the negatives

Activation of targeted muscle groups does not equate to definition. While planks are fantastic at developing your core and fortifying the abdominals, theyíre strength is not in the toning and defining of muscle. Also, planks require exactly the right posture, or they will be ineffective, potentially even causing joint and spine strain.

Crunches: the positives

If you want to turn your body into a toning machine, crunches are what you need. The concentric contraction motions demanded by all that crunching are simply the very best way to get abdominal definition. Now all you need to do is get rid of the fat thatís in the way, obscuring all your hard work.

Crunches: the negatives

Back problems are commonly aggravated with crunches, which put an awful lot of strain on your lumbar muscles, without offering them any of the benefits of planks. Crunches are great at targeting and defining your abs, but donít expect to profit from them elsewhere around the body.

Walk the plank

Enough of all that talking, itís time to walk the walk. Get yourself locked into the classic press-up position and.... thatís it. Yep, thereís really nothing more to a plank than holding that press-up pose Ė but if youíve never done it before, itís much harder than you imagine. Hold your press-up position for a minute, being highly conscious of retaining exactly that position throughout. Rest. Do it again. Then start adding some time until you can do it for 2-3 minutes. Youíll tremble, sweat and curse Ė and your core will love you for it.

Crunching numbers

If youíre not good at counting in your head, you soon will be. Get yourself onto a yoga mat, or pretty much any soft-yet-supportive surface will do. Get into the classic, knees-up sit-up position, only with your back flat down. With your hands at your side, use your stomach to lift yourself up, crunching your knees into your torso as you do so, and go back down again. For variation, stretch out your legs and lift your feet off the ground. Now perform the exercise with reps of 15, building up to 30. Do these in sets of 4. Now just see how fast you develop those stomach muscles.

If your back hurts, stop the exercise immediately and find an alternative Ė like, I dunno, planks!

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