The Truth About Planks Vs. Crunches: Which One Is Better?

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Medically reviewed by Kimberly Langdon, MD

Are Planks Better Than Crunches

When it comes to the best ab exercises, planks and crunches always seem to be at the top. But which one is better, and what are the reasons for it? 

It’s time to dive into the planks vs. crunches debate and figure out which one is better than the other. 

Are Planks Better than Crunches?

Crunches are amazing for your abs, but planks work your entire body[1], making it a better exercise overall. They activate your abs, that’s for sure, but they also activate all other muscles in your body. The more you hold a plank, the greater the activation and the more work your muscles have to do to stay in the right position. 

How To Properly Do a Plank

Before adding it to your workout routine, make sure you know how to properly perform a plank as it can be tough on your low back and hips. 

  1. Start in an all-fours position, palms and knees on the floor.
  2. Make sure your palms are stacked right under your shoulders and your knees right under your hips. 
  3. From here, tuck your toes and extend your legs, activating your quadriceps muscles. 
  4. Lift your belly button up and close your ribcage, activating your entire core, not just your abs.
  5. Push the ground away from you and make a little concave with your upper back, filling out the space in between your shoulder blades. 
  6. Gaze down or straight ahead of you to protect your neck and keep your hips from collapsing or lifting.
  7. Hold for a specific amount of time you’ve allocated. When you feel yourself starting to shake, push the ground away from you even harder, both with your palms and your feet. 
  8. You can always modify by dropping your forearms on the floor and pushing through a larger surface. 

Plank Variations

A basic, regular plank does plenty for your strength and endurance already, but there are plenty of variations you can try and challenge yourself even more. Check out some of these plank variations:

Side plank 

A perfect way to work your oblique muscles[2] and your entire side body is through a side plank. Starting in a regular plank position, place one of your hands in the center of your body and pivot on the same-side leg, stacking the other one on top. Push through the outer part of your foot to lift your hips and elevate your other arm straight towards the sky. Additionally, you can always modify by lowering down on your forearm. 

Walking Plank

Take your plank on a walk and further challenge your entire body. Starting in the basic position, start moving your hands and feet at the same time, maintaining the position. Avoiding lifting or dropping the hips is the real challenge as it makes your abs burn, activating them to their core. You can move forward, backward, or side-to-side. 

One-Legged Plank

Keeping a strong plank while testing your balance is an additional challenge your body will thank you for. Start in the basic position and push the ground even harder to elevate one leg from the ground. Keep the elevated leg straight and strong, all the way from your sitting bones to your foot, pointing or flexing it. If you want to take it to another level, try lifting the opposite arm off the ground and extending through both, your arm and your leg, to maintain balance. 

Plank With a Row

Adding weights to the mix and working your back muscles elevates a basic plank even further. It requires even stronger balance and power as you lift the additional weight while maintaining the same position. Start in a regular plank and lift a dumbbell off the floor through a pulling motion, keeping your elbow close to your body. Exhale and drop it down to the floor. Repeat on the other side. 

Plank With Shoulder Taps

Another interesting plank variation that challenges your entire body occurs when you tap your shoulders. It turns the notch on your ab activation and has you fighting to keep your hips level as you transfer your weight from one palm to the other. 

How To Perform a Crunch?

Crunches, on the other hand, are a more isolating movement than planks, targeting the abs while leaving the rest of the body without much engagement. In order to properly perform a crunch and really activate those abdominal muscles, here’s what you should do:

  1. Start in a lying position on your back, making sure you’re fully supported and the surface you’re lying on isn’t too hard. 
  2. Bend your knees and place your feet hip-width apart close to your sitting bones. 
  3. Place your hands behind your head and interlace your fingers.
  4. Pull your belly button up and close up your ribcage so your lower back is flat on the floor. 
  5. Take a deep inhale and exhale by lifting your upper body diagonal into the sky, gazing up and not towards your belly button. Exhale fully and come back down to inhale. 
  6. Repeat 10-12 times. 
  7. Make sure your lower back is fully on the floor so you’re isolating your abs and not crunching with your back muscles. If you can’t feel your back on the floor, place a padded mat underneath your sacrum. 
  8. Additionally, if this is hurting your neck, cross your arms over your chest and touch your opposite shoulders. 

Crunch Variations

As mentioned above, there are plenty of crunch variations that will have you working your muscles, and here are some of our favorites:

Bicycle Crunches

An amazing crunch variation that really works your entire core is bicycle crunches. They isolate the abdominal wall while testing your balance and making you engage your hips and low back as you perform them. 

Start on your back, like you’d do in a regular crunch, and extend one leg. On your exhale, try to touch your bent knee with the opposite elbow. Inhale to center and switch sides. Keep at it, inhaling to center and switching knee to elbow combos on exhale, really squeezing your abs on the end of each exhale. 

Side Crunches

Target your obliques with side crunches and you’ll feel them sore for days to come. Start by lying on your side and bring your upper arm behind your head. Bend your knees in fetus position and on your exhale, lift your upper body diagonally up, crunching your obliques as you do so. Keep your legs on the floor or try to lift the knees up for an additional challenge. 

Scissors (Straight Leg Crunch)

Scissors are an amazing crunch variation, but they do require a higher level of flexibility. You can always modify it by keeping your legs slightly bent. Start by lying on your back, legs extended. Engage your abs by bringing your belly button up and zipping your ribcage, trying to flatten your low back as much as possible. 

Lift your upper body off the floor and then lift both legs off the floor as well. Lower one of your legs and twist your body towards the other. Alternate and scissor your legs, turning towards the upraised leg. Repeat 10-12 times. 

Plank Vs. Crunches

Crunches are an amazing exercise for your abs as they completely isolate them and have them working hard without other muscles taking over. They can be done anywhere, anytime, and after only a few sets, your abs will be burning. 

The difference between a plank and a crunch mostly has to do with muscle activation, as when you’re performing a plank, you’re using your whole body. When you’re doing crunches, you’re isolating your abs. 

There are variations of crunches that can activate other muscle groups as well, but neither has you working your whole body like a plank. That’s why plank is the overall better exercise. 

Why You Should Perform These Exercises

Both of these exercises are a great addition to your fitness routine, no matter what your end goal is: to lose abdominal fat, get stronger abs, burn calories, or build core strength. Since they activate the body in a different way, you can even combine them in the same workout and reap the full benefits.


+ 2 sources

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  1. Solan, M. (2019). Straight talk on planking – Harvard Health. [online] Harvard Health. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/straight-talk-on-planking-2019111318304 [Accessed 28 Nov. 2021].
  2. Knapp, S. (2020). Oblique Muscle – The Definitive Guide | Biology Dictionary. [online] Biology Dictionary. Available at: https://biologydictionary.net/oblique-muscle/ [Accessed 28 Nov. 2021].

Medically reviewed by:

Karla is a published author, speaker, certified nutritionist, and yoga teacher, and she's passionate when writing about nutrition, health, fitness, and overall wellness topics. Her work has been featured on popular sites like Healthline, Psychology.com, Well and Good, Women's Health, Mindbodygreen, Medium, Yoga Journal, Lifesavvy, and Bodybuilding.com. In addition to writing about these topics, she also teaches yoga classes, offers nutrition coaching, organizes wellness seminars and workshops, creates content for various brands & provides copywriting services to companies.

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