Crunches are among the most popular exercise used to strengthen the abdominal muscles. For the standard crunch, lie flat on your back with your knees bent up and your feet flat on the ground. Next, contract your abdominal muscles to lift your head and back, down to the shoulder blades, off the ground. Finally, slowly lower your back and head back to the starting position.
The standard crunch is very similar to another core exercise – sit-ups. Crunches and sit-ups begin in the same starting position and both engage your abdominal muscles to pull up the head, neck, and back. However, there are several differences between the two exercises. A sit-up extends the crunch movement until one is sitting upright. Due to this extended movement, a sit-up engages more non-abdominal muscles, such as neck, chest, and leg muscles. Many gym goers prefer crunches to sit-ups, because crunches necessitate a smaller movement while providing very similar benefits to the abdominal muscles. Also, many individuals with back and neck pain find that crunches put less stress on these areas than do sit-ups.
There are many variations to the standard crunch that can be used to switch up a workout and engage the abdominal muscles in different ways. For example, the ball crunch can be used to reduce the level of leg muscle involvement, which is more present in a standard floor crunch. For the ball crunch, lean back with an exercise ball resting under your lower back and perform the same motion as for a standard crunch. The ball should stay stable during the entire exercise. Not only does this exercise more specifically focus on the abdominal muscles, but many people also find it to be a more comfortable exercise than the standard crunch.
Another great crunch that can be used to move pressure away from the legs and onto the torso is the vertical leg crunch. For this crunch, the starting position puts your body at a right angle with your legs pointing straight up and your back flat on the ground. Straight-arm crunches, reverse crunches, air-bike crunches, etc. – any form of crunch exercise is going to strengthen your abdominal muscles. The key to any great crunch is to really focus on engaging the abdominal muscles to facilitate the crunch movement.
A captain’s chair, also referred to as a power tower or knee/leg raise station, is a valuable piece of workout equipment that is available at most gyms. The chair generally has a padded backrest and armrests with no seat. There are also generally handles at the ends of the armrests. Start your exercise by placing your arms on the parallel armrests, holding on to the handles and pushing your back against the backrest with your legs hanging down. Your arms should form a 90-degree angle at the elbows. Use your abdominal muscles to lift your legs and hips. Different lifts will give you different results. With all of the captain’s chair exercises it is important to use slow and controlled movements. You do not want the momentum of your legs to assist in their upward movement – your abdominal muscles should control all of the movement. To turn your workout up a notch, you can increase difficultly by performing this exercise while wearing ankle weights or holding a dumbbell between your feet.
Planking can provide an intense abdominal workout. For the standard plank, place your forearms and toes on the ground, with your body stretched out. Make your body as parallel to the ground as possible and then use your abs to hold that position. Many fitness experts recommend holding this plank position for about 2 minutes. This can be a challenging plank time, and may take some time to work up to. Start by seeing how long you can hold a plank and then, with each new workout, try to hold it just a couple of seconds longer. If you want a real challenge, work up to a five-minute plank!