How To Do Crunches For A Tried & True Core Workout
Core moves are perhaps some of the most popular exercises to integrate into really any workout routine. However, one that seems to have pretty mixed reviews is the infamous crunch.
Of course if you're doing crunches incorrectly, they can strain your neck and put undue tension on your body—but with proper execution, this can actually be a great move to add to your workouts for a little extra burn.
Looking to build an abs routine and add crunches to the mix? Fitness instructor Mindy Lai shows us how to do the movement correctly to strengthen your body and feel great while working your core.
How to do crunches.
Demonstrated by Mindy Lai.
- Begin by lying on your back with knees bent and feet on the ground hip-width apart.
- Take your hands behind your ears (you can also cross your arms over your chest), and keep the neck neutral. Inhale.
- On your exhale, engage your core and lift just the head and shoulders off the ground.
- Inhale as you come back down.
When it comes to performing a crunch correctly, the key is making sure to engage your core and adequately support your neck so you aren't putting your body at risk of injury. "The main thing to remember is not to pull on the neck," explains personal trainer Jason Williams, NASM-CPT.
Breathing through the movement and making sure to keep your crunches slow will also most effectively target your muscles, firing up the upper abs and obliques as you contract your core.
Modifications & variations.
Tabletop crunches are going to be the next level up from crunches. With your feet elevated in the air, the core needs to do a little extra work to keep your body stable. Because of this, it's particularly important to make sure your back is remaining flat against the ground at all times to fully target your abdominals and ensure you aren't risking injury.
Below, you'll also find additional variations on this classic move that target various parts of your core—such as those obliques.
Demonstrated by Jessica Aronoff.
- Lie on your mat, and bring your hands behind your head. Bring your feet up into a tabletop position. Feel your tailbone and lower back anchor down into the mat.
- Exhale as you lift your shoulders up off the mat. Inhale as you lower back down.
- Repeat for 1 minute.
Demonstrated by Lai.
- Begin lying flat on your back with your hands behind your head and elbows out wide.
- Lift your feet and stack knees over hips, forming a right angle with your legs. Shins should be parallel to the floor.
- Squeeze your core and tilt your tailbone slightly forward as you press your low back into the ground, leaving as little space as possible between your back and the mat. Try to maintain this connection to the floor throughout.
- With chin tucked, squeeze your abs and bring your shoulders off the mat. As you lift, extend the left leg straight, pointing the toes. Reach your left arm and shoulder toward the right knee, isolating the twist in the core.
- Slowly come back down the way you entered, keeping chin tucked as you untwist and bring your left shoulder and knee back to the center position.
- Repeat on the right side, reaching toward the left.
- Complete 20 to 30 reps (one rep = both sides). You can choose to complete a set of 10 one side at a time or alternate left to right.
Side Plank Crunches
Demonstrated by Katie Dunlop.
- Begin in a side forearm plank with shoulders stacked over the elbow. (For a bonus challenge, you can place a resistance band around your thighs just above the knees, as pictured.)
- Inhale, actively extending your top arm up past your head, bicep by the ear. Keep legs and core active, extending through the feet and lifting the hips up. Keep hips and shoulders vertically stacked.
- On an exhale, contract your core and drive your upper knee toward your chest as you pull your elbow to meet the knee in the middle.
- On your inhale, come back to side plank with your arm extended. That's one rep.
- Complete 10 reps on each side.
Add it to your routine.
As with most core exercises, crunches are easy to integrate into your workout routine to fire up your abdominals, improve your overall strength, and isolate the muscles of your midsection. If you don't have much time to spare, this five-minute abs workout from Jessica Aronoff, CPT, is a great quick burn, perfect for squeezing into your morning or evening.
For a longer focused exercise session targeting your core, try following several rounds of this strength-building workout that will build your base strength when completed regularly. Crunches may often get a bad rap, but they can certainly be an excellent and low-impact way to enhance your everyday workout session.
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career, and formerly worked at SheFinds. Her byline has also appeared in Women’s Health. In her current role, she writes and edits for the health, movement, and food sections of mindbodygreen. Readman currently lives in New York City.