Plank vs Crunch: Which Exercise Is More Effective?

Plank vs crunch
plank or crunch exercise

Plank and crunches are undoubtedly two of the most popular exercises for the abs and core.

But have you ever wondered which ab exercise is more effective or better for you?

We’ll take a look at both crunches and planks to see what muscles they work and what benefits each exercise brings to your abs training.

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Plank Vs Crunch

The plank has been growing in popularity in the last few years. The “30-day plank challenge and ” 30-day crunch challenge” have become the thing to do and garnered many devoted fans.

The current trend seems to favor the planks slightly more than crunches. But before that, crunches and sit-ups were the exercises du jour.

So are planks merely another trend in fitness? Let’s find out.

Whilst the plank and crunch both work the abs, they engage the midsection differently in many ways.

The plank requires an isometric contraction or static holding of the spine for the duration of the exercise. All while, the crunch requires spinal flexion.

It’s the comparison between an isometric move versus a dynamic one.

As for the target muscles, they do have some similarities with clear differences in the primary and secondary focus.

Crunch primarily targets rectus abdominis, the frontal six-pack ab muscles, and obliques, the two sides of your torso. Put simply, it effectively tones your front abs and shreds the waistline. It’s also the very reason crunch is the front liner for any six-pack abs workouts.

Plank too engages the rectus abdominals and obliques, but it also activates the shoulders, glutes, and hamstrings. There is an engagement of muscles throughout the erector spine with a static hold.

Simply put, plank exercise engages all your core muscles and more.

A study by Penn State shows exercises that stimulate the deltoids (shoulders) and glutes activate the abdominal and lumbar muscles in greater intensity. It’s equivalent to a scientific testament on how well planks work the abs and core.

Why is Plank Better than Crunch?

Does it all mean the plank is the winner? Is it really a better ab workout than the crunches?

While planks are not without cons and crunches have many pros too, planks do come on top in many areas.

To start, research indicates that forearm planks trigger twice the average muscle activation in the rectus abdominus and external obliques than a traditional crunch.

This also explains why more core training workouts nowadays include exercises that work the hips and shoulders.

Another reason plank trumps crunch is that planks are gentler on your back than crunches. For those with back pain and weak back, flexing of the back in crunch movements tends to be hazardous. It’s simply too easy to strain and pull the back when the exercise is not performed correctly.

This alone makes many personal trainers to steer away from the crunch exercises for clients’ abs training.

Lastly, unlike dynamic moves, plank’s isometric hold requires constant muscle activation during the exercise. Whether it’s for 30 seconds or a minute, the muscles in your abs and core need to stay engaged throughout. And that’s a unique advantage of performing the planks.

Planks win! but here is the word of caution

The top exercises all include activation in the glutes and deltoids.

Also apparent is that the hover (plank) comes out above the traditional crunch in both categories.

As with all exercises there are progressions of each exercise that need to be compared in further research, but holding a plank for longer is not the best option for a progression according to Dr Wayne Westcott PhD of Quincy College, Quincy, MA.

He states that to build muscle strength, muscle fatigue is needed within the anaerobic energy system, which takes around 60-90 seconds. 

The key is how you progress your planks

This means holding a plank for longer is not the solution for core strength!

Good news, this means you can ditch that “6 minute plank plan” and instead work on single-leg progressions to challenge the core dynamically.

Workout smarter, not longer!

The real benefit of planks

The benefit of doing planks however goes far beyond the aesthetic “six-pack abs”.

Traditional crunches may be unsuitable for some to perform due to low back pain, trunk instability or injury, so planks may be a better alternative.

Like all exercises though it’s the attention to detail in the technique that makes plank a challenging core workout.

Plank exercise, when done correctly can really tax the core, but done incorrectly planks can easily send the bulk of the work into the lower back.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is, are you looking for a flat tummy or just for a stronger core?

Whilst doing any ab exercise will help get you stronger core, research shows that plank exercise will get you a stronger core faster.

However the facts are that ab exercises alone will not get you a flat tummy, diet and exercise go hand in hand in creating flat tummy. 

The Perfect plank

Plank Exercise Proven by numerous studies that plank exercise tones your abs better than crunches.

Perform up to 90 seconds to build a stronger core.

How to do it:

  1. Lie facedown with your feet shoulder-width apart and legs fully extended. Bend your elbows and support your weight on your forearms. 
  2. Lift up your hips and balance yourself on forearms and toes. Tighten abs. Your body should be making a straight line from head to heels. Hold for 30-90 seconds.

Plank Take Away

Keep your planks under 90 seconds at most. Instead, progress through plank variations from easy to hard.

Crunch

This number one ab exercise works your rectus abdominus, the six pack muscles and oblique’s. 

  1. Lie on the floor facing up with your knees bent. Put your hand behind your head.
  2. Tighten abs. Lift your chest up by pulling from your abs.
  3. Your shoulders should be off the floor after crunching up. Return to the original position and repeat 8 to 10 reps to complete the set. 

Works Cited:

  1. “Core Exercises That Incorporate Distal Trunk Muscles Maximiz… : Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.” LWW. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 July 2015.
  2. “Reality Check: Are Planks Really the Best Core Exercise?” ACE Fitness. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 July 2015.
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