Health & Fitness | July 28, 2022 11:03 am

Pharrell Says He Does 500 Crunches Every Morning — But We Don’t Believe Him

The 49-year-old is an undisputed skincare god. But his workout routine raises some questions.

Pharrell crouching in a woodland setting for a photo shoot.
Moisturizers, hot baths...and 500 crunches at dawn?
Patrick McMullan via Getty Image

While promoting his line of skincare serums in a recent interview with Vice Media’s British magazine i-D, Pharrell Williams also dropped some details about his morning wellness routine. And it’s a doozy.

“A self-described ‘crazy Aries man,’ Pharrell’s routine is disciplined and extreme. He wakes up at five in the morning, does 500 crunches, holds a long plank, takes a blisteringly hot bath with Epsom salts for 30 minutes, a freezing cold shower for five minutes, and then proceeds with his three-step skincare ritual: Humanrace rice powder cleanser, a lotus enzyme exfoliant, and a snow mushroom “humidifying” moisturiser. Then, he gets on with his day.”

We wouldn’t dream of questioning the producer’s beauty regime; he looks like he’s turning 30 next April, not 50. Pharrell’s dedication to hydrotherapy is also commendable — for years, the Finns (with their saunas and cold plunges), and the Japanese (with their onsens), have proven that thermoregulation cycling works wonders for heart health, mood and longevity. As spas have become more democratized in recent years, many casual gymgoers have taken up this charge…or at least, committed themselves to ice cold, so-called “Scottish” showers.

Still, the first portion of Pharrell’s morning routine is a little tougher to accept. He does 500 crunches every morning? Really?

Obviously, we have absolutely zero proof that Pharell doesn’t knock out that many sit-ups before dawn. He may very well also be completing that “long plank,” too. But this interview continues a weighty tradition of highly-casualized, celebrity-routine-reportage. It’s a typical trap for writers and readers to fall into. Pharrell is stylish, striking and successful (to the sum $200 million, according to those net worth blogs). Of course he does half a thousand crunches at five in the morning. If only we dragged our lazy asses out of bed and onto a mat, perhaps we could discover Maggie Rogers, too.

But the link between physical habits and professional pedigree — while real, and relevant — is rarely so clear-cut. The people most likely to be grilled about their morning hacks, or Sunday ramblings (e.g. The New York Times‘ “Sunday Routine” series), have generally established themselves as thriving, fascinating names. They then codify their public reputations with alluring checklists of tips and tricks. Is that every Sunday? Or an aspirational Sunday that occurs every six weeks? We’ll never know.

If Pharrell does do 500 crunches every morning, good for him. If that keeps him motivated and moving, that’s a good thing. Now, should he be doing 500 crunches every single morning? No, probably not. Of all the core exercises out there, crunches and sit-ups are an overrated relic. They ought to be left to yesteryear’s fifth grade Presidential Fitness Test.

Bluntly: the move is a waste of time. The crunch, along with its cousin, the sit-up (which has a longer range of motion — that’s the one someone holds your feet down for), more or less still constitutes ab-training’s most ubiquitous move. If you go to the gym at any time of the day, some sorry soul will be in the corner knocking them out in the hundreds. But they represent abdominal work at its most useless, as they encourage the myth of spot reduction (you can’t eliminate fat in a single section of the body), and they pull on the hip flexors.

When I was younger, I used to finish full-body workouts with 300 crunches. I loved it…because crunches are the ultimate “counting exercise.” You can reach a high level of repetitions without that much effort. (Contrast that with the agony it took me to reach just 10 pull-ups). But that’s because the hingeing, momentum-fueled motion of crunches allows you to cheat, and recruit your lumbar spine to knock each rep out. It can make you feel pretty accomplished, but over time, it’s also going to tighten/shorten your muscles, and create pain from the low back all the way up to the neck.

What should Pharrell be doing instead? His “long plank” is an excellent start, as an isometric exercise that targets all of the core (and can actually eliminate back pain). But moves like bicycle maneuvers, reverse crunches, ab halos, Russian rows and something called “black widow knee slides,” all provide dynamic, alternating movements that hit the abs, deep abs, obliques and your thighs, without causing issues down the line.

At the end of the day, Pharrell is in fantastic shape, and likely has a personal trainer who gets him right. He probably does 500 morning crunches when he’s on the road, on his own, in the hotel gym. There’s no harm in taking celebrity routines at face value, if you’re using them for personal motivation. But try not to follow them to a tee — and definitely don’t let the intensity of these purported regimens discourage you into doing absolutely nothing.