I can’t say enough good things about and highly recommend this book … “The New Rules of Lifting for Abs: A Myth-Busting Fitness Plan for Men and Women Who Want a Strong Core and a Pain-Free Back” by Lou Schuler/Alwyn Cosgrove
Myths are debunked and the book explains that the crunch is actually a poor choice for most people. Extending the core can be much more effective than flexing abdominal muscles.
If you are familiar with Dr. Stuart McGill then you are aware that performing loads of crunch-type exercises may harm your back. The book’s emphasis is on a strong core overall, rather than “toned” abs. It’s just that nice-looking abs can also result from the program.
Yes you can. The core muscles (of which the abdominal muscles are a part) are instrumental and used in basically every exercise we perform (particularly free weight or body weight). As the important link between the lower body and the head, these muscles are “exercised” and therefore “toned” in their daily chores such as stabilizing and transferring power from the ground up.
As for specifically targeted exercises to tone the abdominal muscles, there are TONS of them that do not involve crunching. Actually, too many to even list here.
I think it is important not to forget the function of abdominal muscles. I personally think the word “crunch” is describing one of the actions of the rectus abdominis–flexion of the spine. For me it’s like saying that biceps curls are passe’. When one looks at the direction the muscle fibers are running as well as the origin and insertion of the rectus abdominis, it only makes sense to work the muscle in a “crunching fashion” whether one is standing or lying down. That’s not to say one cannot include eccentric and isometric contractions when training that muscle group.
I personally don’t see anything wrong with performing crunches for that is exactly what the rectus abdominis does.
I didn’t realize that anybody was still doing crunches …
Any exercise that places the body in a position where it needs to stabilize will work the core muscles. Call it yoga, pilates, MELT, ball, roller, Bosu, bodyweight, TRX, kettle bells ……. you name it. And you are right that working the core muslces should not be at the expense of the neck and shoulder girdle.