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How do I perform basic crunches?

The most common exercise for abs is the crunch, or sit-ups, as they're commonly called. One reason exercise gurus don't like the word "sit-ups" is because it implies a way of performing the exercise that isn't effective. In fact, many people when doing crunches tend to lift their torso off the ground too far. Raising your body up more than 45 degrees switches the emphasis of the exercise from your ab muscles to your lower back and hip flexor muscles to pull yourself up. Also, a lot of people peel their shoulders forward, which places unnecessary strain on your upper back and neck.

The takeaway: Instead of rolling off the floor, you should concentrate on folding your upper body forward, keeping your shoulders and upper back straight -- not rounded and slouched -- as you crunch. If you're unsure, ask a personal trainer at the club.

To perform basic crunches, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Cross your arms over your chest. Tighten your stomach, and keeping your head retracted, lift your shoulder blades from the ground, and bring your chest towards your knees. Return to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of repetitions. For a crunch, you do not have to come all the way to the knees. Doing this will engage the hip flexors and not allow the abdominals to do the work.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Toes point straight ahead and feet are approximately shoulder-width apart. Cross your arms on your chest. Draw your abs in by pulling the area just below your belly button toward your spine. Exhale and slowly crunch up lifting the upper body, thinking of bringing your lower ribs toward your hips. Hold the crunch position then slowly lower your upper body back to the floor, keeping your abs drawn in. Repeat 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.