Are Crunches Bad For Your Back? Fitness Experts Say You're Better Off Without Them
Ugh, crunches. Next to burpees, I'd say crunches are probably the exercise that most make me want to take a nap whenever an instructor suggests we do them in a workout class. And on top of being physically challenging and uncomfortable, I've always wondered if crunches are bad for your back, especially if your stomach isn't already strong enough to withstand, say, 100 of them during a really intense fitness class. Crunches are one of the most basic workouts you can do, but are they secretly doing more harm than good for your body? And if so, are there other, equally effective exercises that can keep your core safe and strong?
Well, according to Ife Obi, a fitness trainer at The Fit In Bed Stuy, crunches really aren't all that good for your back, so you might want to start looking for other exercises you can fit into your routine. "Crunches are bad on your back due to the strain it places on your lumbar spine to lift and lower the torso repeatedly," Obi tells Elite Daily over email.
Over time, she says, crunches can wear on the discs in your back, which essentially just weren’t made for this type of movement.
Crunches can also exacerbate "rounding of the upper spine," Obi says, and given how hunched-over most of us are at any given point in the day ("text neck" is a real thing, y'all), a rounded spine isn't exactly something we need more of, you know?
BTW, Obi isn't the only fitness expert who says you're better off avoiding crunches in your workout routine. In fact, Robert Herbst, a trainer, weightlifter, and powerlifting champion, says crunches are straight-up "horrible" for your back. As an example for what these exercises can do to your spine, Herbst cites studies that have been done on the cadavers of pigs, which have shown that the repeated flexing of the spine can result in serious damage to the discs in the lower back. Yes, that's sort of gross to think about, but apparently, that kind of spinal flexing isn't great for humans' backs, either.
What's more, Herbst tells Elite Daily, a lot of people perform crunches incorrectly, "and they wind up using too much of their hip flexors," he says, which isn't great for your back either, because the movement pulls against your lower spine.
So, if crunches shouldn't make an appearance in your workout routine, then what ab exercises should you be doing?
Obi recommends starting with some good ol' planks.
"Planks are great for the abs," Obi tells Elite Daily. "You maintain a neutral spine with a slightly tucked pelvis, and your abdominals work hard to keep you from sinking."
What's also cool about planks, Obi says, is that there are so many variations to the workout: You can do a plank on your knees, toes, on your side, or you can even do a plank with your bent knees slightly lifted, as your core then has to work to both lift your knees and protect your neutral spine, the trainer explains.
Obi also recommends using pilates workouts to strengthen your abs, because the movements will definitely challenge your core, but they won't compromise your spine in the process. "The movements of the legs and arms further work your ab muscles by forcing them to stabilize the body," she tells Elite Daily.
As for Herbst's suggestions, he tells Elite Daily that static workouts — such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, and yes, planks — are a great alternative to crunches, because they still require the strength of your abs to support your body, but are overall much better for your back in the long run.
I don't know about you guys, but personally, I'm kind of relieved to hear that crunches aren't really that great for you. Now I just have to make my peace with planks, I guess.