As a fitness editor, I’m always up for a weird or wonderful ab challenge. With that in mind, when I tuned into David Harbour’s Instagram live with his trainer, David Higgins, I was intrigued to find out what his ab routine looked like when he lost 75 pounds for Stranger Things 4.
During the video, a viewer asked Harbour, who plays Jim Hopper in the hit Netflix show, what his ab routine looked like. The actor laughed, and said, “there’s always an argument around exercise where people will tell you, this is the way you’re supposed to do it, if you’re not doing it this way, you’re doing it wrong. Apparently, I’m not supposed to do crunches anymore, but the average ab workout was doing 200 crunches five times.” Yep, 1,000 crunches people.
But are crunches bad for your back? And what does 1,000 crunches do for your abs? To find out more, I dug into the science, then unrolled my yoga mat and gave it a go.
Looking for more workout inspiration? Read what happened when I did 100 toe taps a day here, when I added 100 dead bugs a day to my exercise routine, and when I asked Chris Hemsworth’s PT for the best ab exercises out there.
Are crunches bad for you?
According to a study published in the American Council on Exercise (opens in new tab), traditional crunches are one of the least effective abdominal exercises you can do. When you crunch, you’re only targeting a very small section of the abdominal wall. Plus, you’re putting a lot of stress on your neck and spine while doing so.
That said, David Higgins is a qualified professional, and wouldn’t put his client at risk during training. According to a study by the Harvard Medical School (opens in new tab) sit-ups and crunches can put the lower back under pressure if you have tight hip flexors, but if you’re working and training with a professional, and don’t experience tightness around your hips, they might work for you and your body. As a reminder, it’s always a good idea to check with a personal trainer when adding new exercises to your routine.
How to do a crunch with perfect form
Let's look at how to do a crunch with good form. To do a crunch, start by lying on your back, with your lower back flat against the floor. Keech brings her legs up to a tabletop position for the crunches in her workout, with her legs crossed. With your hands on either side of your head, engage your abdominal muscles and crunch your torso up towards your knees. Return to starting position and repeat.
I tried David Harbour's bizarre Stranger Things 4 ab workout — here's what happened
I'll caveat this article by saying I do suffer from tight hip flexors from doing a lot of running, and unfortunately, spending a lot of time sitting down behind my laptop at a desk. I also suffer from sciatica following a horse riding accident in my teens, so crunches aren’t often my go-to ab exercise.
That said, in the name of content, I took a deep breath and started crunching, ensuring my lower back remained firmly pressed to the floor at all times. Like Harbour, I decided to break the crunches up into four sets of 250 to ensure I was taking breaks, and to make the number seem a little more achievable.
My first 100 crunches taught me one thing — Harbour’s PT was a sadist. 1,000 reps of anything is an awful lot, but crunches? Forget about it. I kept reminding myself to slow the move down — it’s all too easy to place your hands behind your head and pull your torso up towards the ceiling, but the move should always come from the abdominals, not your head or neck.
During my second 250 reps, I mixed things up by doing the crunches on a yoga ball and instantly had regrets. This seemed to make the crunches even harder, and my core had that deep shake I normally get at the end of a Pilates class.
With another 500 crunches ahead of me, I mixed things up, adding in the odd 10 reps of bicycle crunches to keep the boredom at bay (here’s how to do bicycle crunches, and the variations to try). If Harbour needed help getting into the mindset of Hopper’s repeated days at the Russian labor camp, Higgins developed the ab workout for it. Even listening to my Upside Down savior song on repeat didn’t make this any more bearable.
1,000 reps later, I never want to do another crunch. No part of this workout was fun, but as a finisher for one of Harbour’s grueling Pilates workouts, I can see how it would help aid his dramatic transformation. Of course, no amount of crunches will help sculpt a six-pack — visible abs are the result of a low body fat percentage, but wow, this was a fitness challenge I never want to repeat.
Next: How to do a reverse plank for killer abs — as told by Ariana Grande's personal trainer.