With the holidays fast approaching, many of us are wondering how to stay on top of our fitness routines throughout the festivities. Crunches are one of the most popular and portable core exercises. This makes them easy to do whether you’re traveling or watching TV, so they’re featured in nearly every type of full-body workout, from HIIT-style bootcamp to Pilates.
However, it is also one of the exercises I see most often performed incorrectly. Mastering the correct form will not only help you get the most out of your crunches, but it will prevent you from straining your neck and causing pain and injury.
Is a crunch or a sit up a better workout?
Sometimes I get asked if a crunch or a sit up is a better workout. The truth is that many people perform sit-ups incorrectly. Pushing forward and overusing the lower back or shoulders is a common mistake people make when trying to sit down. It is very difficult to use the abs and core correctly to do a good sit-up.
Therefore, I recommend people start with a crunch. First perform a crunch without any neck pain. Build your core strength. Then you can move on to a sit-up or a modified sit-up. I’d rather you do an exercise correctly than do a more advanced exercise incorrectly.
Ultimately, a sit up works the core more than a crunch, but the likelihood of performing a sit up correctly compared to a crunch is lower!
What does a crunch do for the body?
Strengthening your core with crunches can improve overall core muscle function, which can help improve athletic performance and promote balance and stabilization in other exercises you perform. They also help improve posture and reduce belly fat.
The reason crunches are considered a must exercise is because they cause muscle size growth, also known as hypertrophy, of the rectus abdominis muscle. So if you’re looking to tone your abdominal muscles, crunches are the perfect move to master.
It should be mentioned that the core is made up of four muscle groups and crunches only target one of these groups. It’s important to use crunches as part of a well-rounded core routine that works your abdominal muscles from all angles.
How many crunches should I do per day?
You can see fancy challenges like “Do 100 crunches a day to crush your abs!” Try to resist these fads. As a personal trainer, I recommend adding crunches to the ab routine you’ve already started, then gradually increasing your core work. Doing 3 sets of 10 crunches for a total of 30 is usually enough to make a difference. .
I recommend that you create your own workout routine – unless you already follow one – and include 3 different abdominal exercises. For example, a routine of abs can look like crunches, bike crunches, and lower lifts. You would do 10 crunches, 10 bike crunches, then 10 lower lifts. Repeat this two more times for a total of 3 rounds and 30 exercises each!
The common mistake people make when doing sit-ups
Many people – myself included before I studied physiology, personal training and Pilates – tend to pull their necks forward with their hands while squatting. It happens when you rely on your arms instead of your core to pull your body up and forward. This extra pressure on your neck strains the muscles and causes pain.
Pulling your neck with your hands also results in decreased core engagement. Crunches are a core strengthening exercise, so not engaging your abs is a huge mistake. To correct this error when performing a crunch:
Pull your belly button toward your spine and squeeze your abs, making sure your lower back stays in contact with the floor.
Gently rest your fingertips behind your head and make sure to keep your elbows wide pointing out to the sides of the room (instead of pulling forward towards your knees).
How to protect your back and neck
When doing a crunch, you want to make sure your head and neck are properly supported.
Here’s how to protect your neck and back during crunches:
Place your hands behind your head and open your elbows to the sides.
Lift your head and neck off the floor while supporting your head with your hands.
Let your head rest heavily in your hands. This maintains proper spinal alignment.
Relax your shoulders even as you use your arms to hold your hands under your head.
Try not to hunched your shoulders.
Imagine that you are holding an egg between your chin and your chest and you don’t want to break it. Make sure your chin isn’t tilted too far into your chest or pointed too high at the ceiling. Hold that egg! This helps you maintain proper alignment and also ensures that your neck isn’t too engaged during the crunch.
How to Do a Modified Crunch
If you’re unsure how to perform a crunch without straining your neck, try the modified version to work your core while gaining the confidence to tackle the full movement.
Lie down with your back on the ground.
Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the mat.
Place your hands behind your head with your elbows apart.
From this position, lift your chest only halfway.
Make sure to keep your knees bent and your shoulder blades off the ground as you contract your abs.
Lower your back to the ground. Repeat 10 times.
How to perform a crunch correctly
Performing a crunch takes some practice. If you’re feeling confident, follow these step-by-step instructions to complete the crunch with perfect form:
Lie on your back with your knees bent, your feet hip-width apart, and your feet flat on the floor.
Tighten your abs by pulling your belly button towards your spine and making sure to engage your core throughout the exercise.
With your hands placed gently behind your head and your elbows out, use your abs to lift your shoulder blades off the floor. Exhale as you lift your body.
Slowly release the position, inhaling as you rest your head on the mat.
Return to starting position and repeat.
4 ways to do crunches
If you still feel it in your neck, these exercises will help you build the strength to handle a full crunch.
Standing bike crunches
It’s the perfect move for beginners who want to practice engaging their core. Stand up straight with your hands behind your head. Lift your right knee up to your chest as you bring your left elbow down to meet the right knee. Then, bring the left knee up and bring the right elbow down to meet it. Continue to alternate sides. Don’t forget to contract your abs!
Modified bike crunch
Sit on your buttocks with your legs bent and your heels resting on the floor. Position yourself as if you had just pulled yourself up from a sit-up. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows apart. Twist your torso to the right and bring your right knee to your left elbow, then twist your torso to the left and bring your left knee to your right elbow.
Sit with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Lean back slightly, engaging your trunk and keeping your back straight. Hold your arms straight out in front of you as you lift your feet off the ground. Be sure to keep your legs together as you point your toes toward the ceiling and form a “V” shape with your body. Hold for 10 seconds. For a modification, keep your knees bent and open as wide as your hips, shins parallel to the floor.
Modified forearm plank grip
Lie on your stomach. Place your forearms flat on the mat and bend your knees so they touch the mat. Engage your core and lift your body off the mat, balancing on your knees and forearms. You can stay here or, from this position, lift your knees off the mat so that you form a straight line between your head and your feet. Hold for 10 seconds, then bring your knees back to the mat. Repeat 10 times.
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This article originally appeared on TODAY.com
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