Abs! Abs! Abs! That’s the lead line in a recent report in the May 2014 IDEA Fitness Journal under research/ACEinsight highlighting a new study commissioned by ACE to evaluate the effectiveness of 16 popular ab exercises (or, moves, as they stated it) by comparing them with the traditional crunch. Read along to learn about ab exercises with surprising results.

The Study: They recruited eight healthy men and eight healthy women between the ages of 18-24. Researchers chose 15 exercises and a variety of popular equipment, including the following: Ab Circle Pro, Ab Roller, Ab Lounge, Perfect Situp, Ab Coaster, Ab Rocket, Ab Wheel and Ab Straps. (I’ve included links in case you are curious. I am not affiliated with any of them.) Yoga boat pose, stability ball crunch, decline bench curl-up, captain’s chair crunch, bicycle crunch, side plank and front plank were also included. Baseline ab strength was identified using electromyography to measure maximum voluntary contraction (MVC). The volunteers were monitored while performing five reps of eight different exercises with two minutes of rest between them. On the following day, the volunteers again performed an MVC along with five reps of the remaining seven exercises.

The Results: None of the exercises elicited greater muscle activation than the traditional crunch. Whaat?! The Ab Wheel, Ab Circle Pro, side plank and front plank all had significantly lower muscle activation in the upper rectus abdominis compared with the traditional crunch. Whaat?! And, there’s more. For the lower rectus abdominis, the Ab Circle Pro, side plank and front plank also had significantly lower muscle activation than the traditional crunch. However, for the external obliques, there were six exercises that had significantly higher muscle activation than the traditional crunch: the decline bench curl-up, Ab Lounge, Ab Wheel, captain’s chair crunch, Ab Straps and Ab Coaster.

The Bottom Line: Obviously, lying on the ground doing the traditional crunch is not appropriate for everyone-so says the research study co-leader Edward Stenger, MS. It’s common knowledge for those of us in the fitness industry but I still see individuals training abs with a crunch and straining their necks instead. Stenger adds that the traditional crunch is definitely to be avoided for anyone with low-back pain.

In my opinion, since I’m pretty much not a big “traditional crunch” fan, I will admit that I may have judged them too harshly but I still believe that unless you have some decent abdominal strength and endurance, you are better off leaving tradition behind until you can perform the crunch with focus and control – not allowing your abs to protrude or pop during exertion and definitely minus any pain or discomfort in your neck and back. My choices are typically stability ball work, the captain’s chair, opposite arm/leg extensions or what I like to call bird dogs (with variations), and bicycles (with legs somewhat diagonal to ceiling to protect the lower back area) as well as all the funky plank/push-up variations like spidermans and diagonal taps, etc. I might bring back the decline but not with any of my clients in their mid-30’s+ or with back issues. Dangerous territory in my opinion. I use tons of different exercises and tools, by the way, but I have found the most success with the above as well as with using roll-out’s and gliders. How do you feel about this study? What are your fav ab exercises and/or equipment?

By the way, here is a picture of mine taken in 2014.

I don’t carry my excess weight in my abdominal area (but I got some junk in the trunk, yo) so when two preg’s and a large cyst operation caused severe diastasis, I did get a tummy tuck – BUT, just to restore my tummy back to where it was!