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Crunches That Count
Stop Crunching by Numbers and Start Crunching the Right Way

You're in search of that elusive six-pack or flat stomach, so you buckle down and get to work. You do hundreds of crunches every day, and any other ab exercise that happens to sound good. You run across a cool looking contraption for the abs while channel surfing on a Sunday morning, so you buy it. After weeks and weeks of hard work and persistence, your abs are no closer to toned than when you first started. On top of that, you've got a nagging back and a sore neck. What went wrong?

(Article continued below.)

In a word, everything. Instead of giving your abs the workout they needed, you aggravated a host of other muscles. And you are not alone - loads of people make the same mistake. The solution is so simple that many people give up on ab exercises before discovering it: you need to learn proper form so that the abs, and only the abs are targeted when you exercise. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to work the abs, but if you learn how to crunch properly, it'll form the base of a really solid ab workout - one that produces results.

Perhaps you think you're performing crunches properly - after all, your body seems to be in the same position as the pictures you've seen. But the key is not so much the look of the move as the feel, and where your attention lies. When performing an exercise, your mind needs to be on the muscle being worked, not off daydreaming or thinking about the day's events. You need to be aware of how your abs feel when they're contracting and how it feels when you pull them towards your spine. When you perform a crunch, you should feel your abs contracting as you curl your torso towards your pelvis. Your abs are really all that should be working. You should not feel your neck pulling and straining. There's really no work for your neck to be doing. Your head should be cradled lightly in your palms and your jaw should also be relaxed. Tuck your chin in just slightly - that puts your neck in a neutral position. As you cradle your head, your elbows stick straight out - you should only barely see them in your peripheral vision. They should not move or flap around. Your back should be relaxed and your hips tucked slightly inwards - this keeps your back from strain. You don't need to force the hollow of your back onto the floor - the pelvic tuck will keep it in proper alignment. The pelvic tuck does not need to include the contraction of your glutes (butt muscles). Tightening the glutes will take work away from the ab muscles. Try a crunch while contracting your glutes hard, then try it again with just your abs contracting. You'll feel the difference immediately - the latter puts all the work on the abdominals. If you want to work your glutes, there are better exercises than a crunch! And your feet should be bent, your knees in the air, and they should be perfectly still. Moving them at all will keep the move from being effective. Remember, a crunch is not a big move. Your shoulders only need to be a few inches off the floor. The goal is not to touch your knees with your elbows, as in those old-fashioned sit-ups. The goal is to make your abs contract as hard as possible, and while that should take some effort, it should not take a big move.

Now, let's spend just a moment on reverse crunches. The reverse crunch is another exercise that becomes nearly useless when done improperly. In fact, it can stress your back if you do it wrong. In this move, your legs are raised and bent, with your thighs perpendicular to the floor. Once again, your hands cradle your head, or they can lay at your sides (in this latter position however, make sure you don't use them to assist the move - they should be relaxed without any pushing). The goal is for your ab muscles to do a reverse curl, bringing your knees closer to your head. This is really a very small move involving abdominal contraction. It's not a swinging motion at all - the only way your knees should come closer to your head is by ab power. Your hips only need to come about an inch or two off the ground. You should not feel any strain in your back and your legs should not move on their own. There are more advanced variations of the reverse crunch, but before attempting them, you should already be familiar with the proper form for the basic version, and your back and abs should already be strong.

Another important, and often neglected aspect of ab work is breathing. In resistance training, you are usually exhaling on the exertion, and this is even more important in ab exercises. If you are breathing deeply, you are using your diaphragm and your abdominal muscles. If you exhale consciously on the exertion, you are actually giving more power to the move by effectively utilizing the abs. Using a full, slow exhale to complete the move also forces you to take your time, and the longer you take, the more you'll get out of the move. Your results will be a lot better when you do 40 crunches, with correct form and breathing, in the same time you used to take to do 400 fast ones.

Correct breathing, proper form, and awareness - these give the real crunch to your crunch.

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