Get the Most out of your Crunch
Get the Most out of your Crunch
We’ve all seen someone in the gym (or have been guilty ourselves) busting out countless sit up reps or crunches in hopes to achieve a flat stomach or the ever coveted ‘six pack.’ The problem is, these aggressive reps more often lead to back pain than flat abs.
Having a decade of intense gymnastics training followed by more than a decade of dance experience has given me a unique perspective on the everyday workout, and has changed my approach to how I do the most common exercises (such as push-ups, squats, lunges, crunches, and sit ups). I have found that when it comes to working out (especially the abdominals) quality and technique are far more important than quantity.
When I think back to my decade of gymnastics training, each four-hour practice dedicating at least one hour to conditioning alone – I don’t remember being taught how to condition. We were acutely trained when it came to the apparatuses, but during conditioning time, we were simply told how many, and of what.
I’ve made a point when I teach conditioning to my students to not simply give guidelines, such as “Make sure your nose touches the floor with each push-up” or “touch your toes with each sit-up” because these are simply tasks, end results. The more important instruction is to equip them with how to properly achieve each goal.
Now, what do I mean by getting the most out of your crunch? First, in my experience, one of the most beneficial changes in my regular workout that I made, was switching from sit ups to crunches. If done with proper technique, crunches are more effective, yield less back pain, and require less of the hip-flexors. Additionally, I have found that really paying attention to my technique allows me to gain more result in less time. Plus, I feel better.
The majority of the techniques described below can also be applied to other ab exercises. Also note, that when doing a “crunch” with the proper form described below, the movement will not be very big – but the results will be!
Abs toward Spine
This is probably #1 when it comes to abdominal technique. The most common action to happen when doing a crunch and definitely when doing sit ups, is that your abdominals actually push outward. You are still building muscle when doing this, but you are building it on top of the existing muscle/fat.
Instead, think about drawing your belly button and abdominal wall toward your back/spine. To be honest, just repeating this alone can be effective.
Now, instead of pushing your abdominal out when you lift, you will actually contract them even more toward your spine, which “flattens” the stomach when you lift. Now you are training your abdominals to form those flat abs with each rep, and protecting your back.
Maintaining Lower Back Curve
It is also important to maintain your lower back curve. This is something that has evolved over the years in the fitness training world. This can be tricky as you also do not want to exaggerate the curve.
Lay on the floor, with your knees facing up and slide your hand under your lumbar spine (low back). Whatever space you find here is your natural curve, and this is what you want to maintain. Keeping this curve lessens your chance of back pain and promotes proper posture and spine curvature when standing.
“Knitting” your rib cage
This is similar to the abdominal action described above and if you think of “zipping up” your ribs, that might help. How I teach my students is this – lay on your back with your right hand over your right rib cage and left hand over the left rib cage. Take a deep breath, expanding the rib cage, filling your hands. Then release a deep exhale and let then hands respond. They should begin to slide towards each other and may even interlace.
That moment of the ribs interlacing or knitting together – is the action you want to find in your crunch. Again, this is promoting all of the muscles along your front/ abdominal wall to work and knit together to build a super strong network!
Elbows Directly to the Side
This is another common mistake I see. When doing a crunch or sit up, the tendency is to reach your elbows directly toward your knees (often with a bit of a jerk). This takes away from the work that the abs need to be doing, and can cause unnecessary pressure on the neck.
Instead, keep the elbows directly pointing to the sides. Then place just the fingers behind the head. The only purpose of the hands is to reduce strain on the neck, and you only need a light touch to do so. Keeping the elbows directly to the side also helps to remind you to maintain a long neck. Sometimes I even gently lengthen my neck with my hands when I lift.
Look to the Sky
Instead of curving your head - think about lifting your entire trunk (torso) toward the ceiling. The head should maintain its relationship to the rest of your torso during the entire crunch (instead of curving the chin toward the chest with each rep).
Something that was told to me once, that has always stuck is imagine that you have a tennis ball between your chin and chest. You should maintain that space the entire time.
Mind your base
Lastly, be sure the rest of your body is providing a solid foundation. Don't let knees sway to the side when you lift, use your inner thighs to maintain your knees pointing directly up, and plant your feet firmly into the ground. This also allows your lower half to really join in the workout.
I know this may sound like a lot, or feel overwhelming at first - but after some practice and application this new technique becomes second nature. If it is too much at first, focus on just a few objectives and work your way toward the full technique. Additionally you will begin to find ways to incorporate these skills in other exercises.
Now get out there and get crunching!! Feel free to leave any comments or questions in the comment section below, and I will be happy to answer them!