When it comes to exercises to work the abdominals and develop that six pack, it doesn't get any better than the crunch. This simple movement follows the natural anatomical motion of the rectus abdominis to provide isolated, direct stimulation to the abdominal wall. But there are crunches and then there are crunches. In other words, not all versions are equally good.
One of the best is the Swiss ball crunch.
Let's find out how to do it right and why it's so good.
How to Do the Swiss Ball Crunch
- 1Lie on top of a Swiss ball with your butt, hips and lower back resting on the 'meaty' part of the ball.
- 2Firmly plant your feet on the floor shoulder width apart. Your hands should be either by your ears, directly in front of the torso or holding an extended weight plate above you (depending on the level you are doing).
- 3From this starting position, contract the abs and curl up to lift your shoulders off the ball.
- 4Reverse the action and repeat.
Ideal Ab Movement
Training the abs effectively is probably the most misunderstood area of gym workouts. That's pretty ironic considering that the rectus abdominis is the simplest of all the major muscle groups that bodybuilders train. This is a flat muscle that originates on the pubic bone of the pelvis and inserts onto the front of the ribs. When the muscle contracts, or shortens, it draws the origin and insertion points toward each other. This results in spinal flexion, seen by a curving upward of the spine. The abs are also activated when the spine is extended backward.
This very simple movement of curling the body up and then extending it back down is all that the abdominals do.
It should also be noted that the rectus abdominis is one muscle. That may seem obvious as it has only one origin and one insertion point. But it doesn't stop so-called 'experts' from claiming that you can work the upper and the lower abs separately. You cannot. When it comes to working the single muscle that is the rectus abdominis, all the muscle fibers are activated when you do a movement that follows the natural function of the muscle. It's pretty simple when you think about it!
Assessing the Swiss Ball Crunch
What makes the Swiss Ball Crunch such a good exercise?
Firstly the Swiss Ball Crunch follows the natural anatomical movement of the rectus abdominis. Of course, the floor crunch does also but the benefit of doing the exercise on a Swiss Ball is that you are higher than the floor and the curvature of the ball allows you to extend the spine back beyond the point where you would be otherwise forced to stop by the floor. This allows you to achieve a greater range of motion on the eccentric part of the exercise.
Another benefit of doing the crunch on a Swiss Ball is that it provides you with the extra element of instability that you do not get when you are doing the move on the floor. The constant movement of the ball forces all of the core muscles - the abs, intercostals, obliques, and erector spinae of the lower back- to work as stabilizers to balance your body during the movement.
Three Progressions of the Swiss Ball Crunch
When you first do the Swiss Ball Crunch, it will take some time to adjust to the instability of the ball. At this stage, the focus should be on feeling the intense contraction in the abs and adjusting to that instability. Perform the exercise with your hands above your ears. Don't make the mistake of clasping them behind your head or you'll be likely to strain your upper spine and neck.
After a couple of weeks of performing the beginner version of the Swiss Ball Crunch, you can add resistance naturally by extending your arms in the air above your head. Keep them straight as you crunch up.
The advanced version of the Swiss Ball Crunch involves holding a weight plate in your arms at full extension. Keep the weight over your mid-chest throughout the movement.
Sets & Reps
To effectively work the abs - and get a satisfying burn - you need to perform relatively high reps. I recommend going as high as 25 reps per set for 5 sets on the Swiss Ball Crunch.
Like any other muscle group, the abs need rest and recovery between workouts. Training them 4-5 days seems to be about ideal for maximum activation and recovery.