Knowing how to do crunches and sit ups with the proper technique can mean the difference between getting a six pack fast or getting getting a neck strain. Bad posture during sit ups is a constant source of grief for a lot of gym goers and if you don't want to injure yourself, you'd better listen up.
Crunches and sit ups are one of the many classic calisthenics exercises, much like push ups, that everyone thinks they know how to do properly, yet most of the people do it wrong. To confuse matters even more, there are a lot of variations and it can be cumbersome sometimes to know which works best for you.
Want to have a washboard in your abdominal area? Read on.
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Warm up and diet
Abdominal muscles are high load-bearing muscles which is equally as good as it is bad, depending on the perspective. It's good because they don't need much warm up, which shortens down the time spent with exercising and therefore you can literally spend 5-10 minutes a day working on them.
The downside is, you will need to work them harder for them to take notice. The usual hypertrophy range (the rep range that make muscles grow bigger) of 8-12 reps don't apply to abs. Bomb them with 15-20 reps in each set and you will feel the burn sooner.
As mentioned above, all the abs workouts won't do much if you aren't paying attention to what you eat. This is especially true to men. The typical dad bod is the result of men building up fat reserves around their waists first. If you want your six pack to show, you will need to cut back on all the naughty carbs and bad fats.
Most importantly, if you had some time off exercising and especially if you are just looking into starting exercising for the first time, you might want to ease yourself into it, starting off with less reps and always checking your body metrics.
As mentioned in our article about half marathon training, getting a multi-sport smartwatch is good idea to track your heart rate and recovery times, things you wouldn't be able to do without them.
How to do crunches and sit ups correctly
The main reason sit ups have been banished from abs workouts is because they are performed incorrectly 90% of the time. Don't get me wrong, they are not easy to do correctly.
For one, don't try to do sit ups without leg support, that'll put way too much pressure on your back. You can get an under door crunch bar if you are working out at home or a sit up bench (or a multi-functional weights bench).
Also – and I can't tress this enough – don't have your hands behind your neck or head. Most people try to cheat doing sit ups by pulling their head with their arms. The only thing you'll achieve with that is spine injury and neck pain.
Keep you hands either on the side of your head or crossed in front of your chest. The former is better if your abs are not that strong just yet and you want a bit of momentum before your engage your core.
Either way, engage your core all the way through the movement and keep your back straight. By engaging your core and not using your hands/arms to help, you can avoid potential back injuries.
With crunches, you only have to lift your shoulders and head enough to feel your abs flexing. Again, don't pull with your arms; it's the abs you want to work. Crunches are easier to perform than sit ups and don't even require any external equipment.
With both sit ups and crunches, the starting position is legs being bent in 90 degrees and upper body on the floor. Arms are either resting next to the body on the floor (crunches) or crossed on your chest/raised and touching the side of your head (sit ups). Before you move your upper body, engage your core so your back and abs are ready for the movement.
Crunches are best performed by lifting your arms up and trying to reach your knees. If you are anything like an average human being, you won't actually be able to reach your knees but that's fine. Go as far as you can without feeling you're trying to break your back.
With sit ups, keep your back straight throughout the movement. Don't let your head go ahead and curve your back. Keep your core is engaged all the way through the movement too. Go as far as your hamstring lets you than lower your back down, keeping it straight and without slamming your body back down on the bench/floor.
Sit up variations and alternatives
Target your abs from all angles for maximum activation.
- Dead bugs: the best abs exercise if you have back problems. Lay on your back, legs bent in the knee and up in the air. Arms are also in the air, pointing up, extended. In the starting position, you should look like a dead bug (hence the name). Lower one leg and arm (opposite side) down to the floor (arm going above your head) in the same time, then return to the starting position. Do the same on the other side.
- Decline crunch: this variation is performed on a sit up bench. Set the incline to your preference so your head is in a lower position than your legs. Keep your back straight and your core engaged. After reaching the highest point, slowly lower your back down and don't slam your back against the padding.
- Hanging leg raise: hands down the most challenging abs exercise out there and the one that works all your abs. It requires a strong core and arms muscular enough to be able to hold you during the sets.
- Resistance band kneeling crunches: features on our best resistance band workout, this is a great exercise to provide some extra resistance to your abs workout. Make sure you hook the band around an object securely so it won't slap you on your neck as you do the crunches.
- Planks: Planks are notoriously difficult to perform, even for just a short period of time. You won't know how long a minute really is until you tried to hold a plank for 60 seconds. One of the best core strengthening exercises out there.
- Abs rollout: you can do planks to work your core and your abs but there is a more engaging way to work on your core muscles: ab rollouts. Ab rollers are super fun to use and they are also an inexpensive piece of kit. No reason why not to get them.
- Russian twists: This is a great exercise to work your obliques. Starting position is sitting on the floor, knees bent, feet on the floor, upper body raised (core engaged!) in a 45-degree angle. Extend your arms in front of you and twist your upper body to the right and then to the left, keeping your arms extended in front of you. For added difficulty, try holding a weight plate, a dumbbell or a kettlebell in your hands. You can also try to lift your feet off the ground, for extra lower-abdominal activation.
- V sit ups: Similar to planks, this is a stationary abs exercise that will really challenge your perception of time, meaning you will reevaluate how long a minute really is. V sit ups are performed sitting on the floor, legs being straight and raised in a 45-degree angle, back straight and also raised in a 45-degree angle. Arms are – wait for it – extended in front of you, parallel to the floor, so pointing away and in front of you. All you have to do is to hold this position. Sounds easy? It isn't. Also, it is advised to stretch your hamstrings before you try doing V sit ups.