Abdominal crunches are similar to sit-ups but are easier to do (and kinder to your back). They are also more effective at working your ab muscles than old-fashioned sit-ups. And the best thing is, you can do crunches while watching TV or listening to music. Just make sure to complement them with some aerobic exercise and a balanced, nutritious diet, because ab exercises alone won’t flatten your stomach.
So how many crunches should you aim for? Ideally, beginners should try to complete three sets of 25 repetitions. If you can’t do 25 per set, try for as many as you can. You can increase your reps after a few days’and a few more reruns of Sex and the City. Remember to keep the movements slow and controlled’your abs are meant to do the work!
Why it pays to tone those abs:
‘ Strong core muscles stabilize your body for better balance and posture
‘ They support the spine, helping you avoid backaches
‘ Your stomach will be flatter
‘ You’ll have better flexibility
Tip: Tempted to buy one of those ab machines often advertised on late-night TV? Save your money. A study by researchers at California State University concluded that most ab machines are not any better than the no-equipment-needed, basic, time-tested crunch.
Handy hint: Poor posture often leaves people unable to activate their deep abdominal muscles. You can remedy this by learning to pull your belly button in while breathing out. With your ab muscles relaxed, tie a ribbon or piece of string firmly around your waist and try breathing out while pulling your belly button in to narrow the waist. Try to keep the tension off the string by holding this posture for five full breaths, then release. Keep at it for eight reps. Once you’ve mastered this, forget the string and stay conscious of breathing this way during the day and while you do abdominal crunches.
1. Lie on your back with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart. (Beginner’s option: Lie on your back and put your feet up against a wall, keeping your legs bent at a 90-degree angle. This will make it a little easier.)
2. Place your hands behind your head, or fold them across your chest.
3. Curl up, lifting your shoulder blades off the ground and moving your elbows toward your knees. Don’t lift up your entire back’just your shoulder blades’and don’t pull your head forward, which will strain your neck.
4. Squeeze your abs for a second (imagine you’re squeezing a lemon).
5. Slowly return to the starting position.
‘ Remember to breathe out when lifting your body up, and to breathe in on the way down.
‘ Make sure your movements are slow and controlled; resist the temptation to rock yourself back and forth to try to get through a few more reps.
‘ It’s better to do fewer crunches with good form than a lot of crunches with bad form.
This article was originally titled "Crunch time!" in the Summer 2008 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today and never miss an issue!
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