Ab Workout: Crunches to Strengthen Your Core
Everyone wants toned abs—not only do they look great, but having strong abs significantly helps you get rid of lower back pain by keeping your pelvis in a neutral position. Crunches are the best way to get those rock-hard abs, and in this guide you’ll learn all of the different crunch exercises and the best way to do them.
If you’re stuck on a desert island with just one ab exercise, crunches are the one. Done properly, you’re bound to feel a nice burn in no time flat.
Initially, the exercise feels rather easy; however, after several reps, you should begin to feel a burn in the upper third of your abs.
When performing a crunch, don’t:
- Bend your neck as you curl into the crunch position. This is the biggest reason that people who do a lot of ab work complain. Imagine having a softball between your chin and your chest.
- Draw your elbows in. You’re trying to lift your torso, not flap your elbows.
- Bring your torso up past 30°.
- Keep your head and neck in a neutral position; the less stress on your neck, the better.
- Be sure you curl as you lift.
- Focus your attention on the top section of your abdominals. Let them—and not any other part of your upper body—do the work.
- Keep your lower back pressed against the floor at all times.
Here’s how you properly perform a crunch:
- Lie on a mat with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Depending on your level of fitness, you can place your arms in any of the three following positions:
- Beginner: Keep your arms straight at your sides and point your fingers toward your knees.
- Intermediate: Cross your arms over your chest.
- Advanced: Bend your elbows and overlap your fingers behind your neck.
- Tighten your stomach muscles and slowly curl your torso up until your shoulder blades are off the floor.
- Slowly return to your starting position without completely relaxing on the floor.
Crunch start/finish position.
Crunch middle position.
Here’s a tricky one that takes some time to get used to. It’s not nearly as impressive-looking as some of the crazy leg lifts and other things you’ll see people doing in an effort to strengthen their lower abs, but it’s far more safe and effective.
When performing a reverse crunch, don’t:
- Roll your hips so your back comes off the mat.
- Tighten your shoulders or involve any upper-body movement.
- Hold your breath. (People always seem to on this exercise.)
- Keep the movement small—no need to roll back, too.
- Keep the movement smooth.
- Isolate the muscle by concentrating on the lower section of your abs.
Here’s how you properly perform a reverse crunch:
- Lie on a mat with your legs up and your knees slightly bent. In the starting position, you’ll look like a big letter L.
- Rest your arms on the floor at your sides.
- Keep your head on the mat and tighten your abdominals.
- Lift your butt off the floor so that your legs go up and slightly backward toward your head.
- Hold this position for a second and slowly return to the starting position.
Reverse crunch start/finish position.
Reverse crunch middle position.
Here’s another one that’s commonly abused in the gym. Focus on moving your shoulder toward your opposite knee. Avoid the temptation to move your elbow in or your knee back.
When performing an oblique crunch, don’t:
- Bend your head with your hand.
- Merely move your elbow to your knee.
- Curl and twist your shoulder toward your opposite knee.
- Keep the movement slow and controlled.
Here’s how you properly perform an oblique crunch:
- Lie on a mat with your left leg bent and your foot flat on the floor.
- Place your right ankle so that it rests on top of your left knee.
- Position your left hand behind your neck, and keep your right arm outstretched.
- Slowly curl up and twist toward your right knee.
- Hold that position for a second and then slowly return to the starting position.
- Switch legs and arms, and repeat on the other side.
Oblique crunch start/finish position.
Oblique crunch middle position.
Here’s an alternative to the previous exercise. Use it to break up the monotony whenever you please. If you choose this exercise, be sure to keep your knees to the side to keep the focus on your obliques.
When performing a side oblique, don’t:
- Bend your neck to the side as you lift your torso off the mat.
- Keep your shoulder and head going straight toward the ceiling.
- Be sure your knees stay to the side.
Here’s how you properly perform a side oblique:
- Lie on a mat on your right side with your knees bent.
- Place both hands behind your neck, and keep your head looking straight at the ceiling.
- Use your oblique muscles to lift your upper body slightly off the mat.
- Hold yourself off the mat for a second and then return to your starting position.
Side oblique start/finish position.
Side oblique middle position.
Now that you know how to do crunches properly, it’s time to get down on the ground and start toning those abs! Have a great workout!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Weight Training Illustrated, Fourth Edition, by Deidre Johnson, Jonathan Cane, and Joe Glickman