HOW TO DO IT: Lie on the ground or on a step bench with your feet on the ground or step at approximately hip-distance apart. Bring your hands to your sides, crossed over your chest, or with fingers interlaced behind your head. Exhale as you lift your shoulder blades off the floor, curling slightly through your upper back and looking just over your knees. Inhale as you lower your upper back to the ground, keeping the head lifted off the ground throughout the set.
SETS & REPS: Do 1-3 sets of 25 repetitions (reps).
TIME: Do 1-3 sets at 60 seconds per set.
WEIGHT OR RESISTANCE
None needed (just use your body weight)
None; mat and stability ball (55- to 75-cm) are optional.
DON'T DO THIS MOVE IF
Don't do the bicycle crunch or toe reach until you have mastered the crunch.
HOW TO KNOW IF YOU'RE DOING IT RIGHT
You should feel your abdominals (stomach muscles) working during this exercise. A common mistake in doing crunches is to lift the torso without curling through the back. This does not effectively target your abdominals and can put extra stress on your neck. To keep correct form, keep space between your chin and your neck as you curl through the upper back. If you feel discomfort in your neck, adjust where you're looking, so you look just over your knees when you lift. If you're doing crunches with your hands behind your head, keep in mind that your hands are there for balance and protection; avoid pulling your head upward with the arms. And keep your elbows pointing to the sides.
HOW TO MAKE IT EASIER
To modify crunches, try one of the easier arm options (at your sides or across your chest), or do the exercise with your head on an incline. Lie on an incline bench or an aerobics-class step with two risers on one side and one riser on the other side (so you create an incline). Your head should be at on the higher side of the bench, your feet should be at the lower end of the bench. Do the crunches as described above.
HOW TO CHALLENGE YOURSELF OR PROGRESS
If you can do 2 additional repetitions per set or complete 60 seconds without getting tired, consider adding repetitions, time, and/or sets. For example, instead of doing 25 repetitions for 3 sets, try 4 sets, or 30 repetitions for 3 sets. To increase intensity without changing sets or time, try doing crunches while lying on a stability ball. Sit on the ball and slowly walk your feet forward, so that your lower and middle back rest on the stability ball. Do the crunches as described above. You can also do bicycle crunches or toe reaches to make this exercise more challenging and to target your obliques (side abdominal muscles).
To do a bicycle crunch:
Lift your feet off the ground so that your knees are directly above your hips and your lower legs are parallel to the ground (a 90-degree angle at the knee). If this is too challenging, keep one foot on the ground.
Exhale as you lift your head and upper back off the ground, twist your torso to the right, bring your left elbow and right knee together, and extend your left leg forward (toes pointed).
To maintain correct form, keep your hips squared towards the ceiling and continue to focus on keeping your elbows outward. A common mistake in the bicycle crunch is to curl a lot through the neck and bring the elbow directly to the opposite knee. If done correctly, your left and right elbows should still point outward (as much as possible). Additionally, keep the extended leg at least 12 inches above the ground. If you feel discomfort in your low back, keep the leg even higher when extending it.
Keeping your shoulder blades lifted off of the floor, inhale back to the center position. Exhale as you twist to the left, bringing your left knee and right elbow together and extending your right leg forward. Continue alternating to the right and left.
To do a toe reach:
Lie down on a mat, and bring your feet off of the ground straightening your legs as much as possible (flex your ankles, pointing your toes behind you) towards the ceiling (creating a 90-degree angle at the hip).
Keeping your shoulder blades lifted off the ground, inhale back to the center position. Repeat with your left arm towards your right foot. Continue alternating to the right and left.
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