As someone who isn’t exactly the "gym-going" type, I always find myself at a loss when discussing exercise moves and fitness routines. Such was the case when the term "reverse crunches" came across my computer screen. I didn’t know how they were different from regular crunches, if I should be doing them, or if they were another seemingly pointless move that would do little for my body. Of course, we’re all always trying to look our best and tone up when we can, but I like to know if an exercise has other perks as well. Does it help with back pain? Anxiety? Flexibility?
We spoke to a fitness expert to get the lowdown. Turns out, reverse crunches are powerful and boast enough benefits that they’ve become mainstays in my rather limited exercise routine.
Read on for everything you need to know about reverse crunches and why you should consider adding them to your workout routine.
Meet the Expert
What Is a Reverse Crunch?
"The reverse crunch is a classic core-strengthening move that targets the lower abdominals," says Boncompagni. "Unlike regular crunches, which are performed with the feet on the floor and work more of the upper abs, reverse crunches are done with legs lifted off the floor."
Benefits of Reverse Crunches
Boncompagni shared several key benefits of this core exercise.
They target those pesky lower abs.
Reverse crunches earn a spot in many core routines because they target the lower abs, which are notoriously difficult to strengthen and tone. "They work the rectus abdominis," Boncompagni continues, "which are the muscles on the front of the abs—what people often refer to as your ‘six-pack muscles.’ They really focus on the lower portion of these muscles, which can be harder to train, so it’s a great exercise to include in your ab routine." Though you certainly don’t need to concern yourself with achieving chiseled abs, having a strong core is critical for optimal health, injury prevention, posture, and movement efficiency, so it’s important to make sure you’re strengthening your lower abs, too.
They can improve your posture.
Reverse crunches also activate your deep core muscles, such as the transversus abdominis, which helps you maintain healthy posture, especially when sitting for long periods of time.
They strengthen your mind-body connection.
"Because this move really requires you to focus on the squeeze of the abdominals and working from the lower abs, it is totally mental and builds the neurons between your brain and your body," Boncompagni says. "So, while I’m training my abs, I’m also training my mind, and I have a greater mind-body connection."
They are safe for your neck and back.
A common complaint with standard crunches and many abs exercises is that they bother the neck. And with good reason—they involve flexing the neck, and many people make the mistake of interlacing their hands behind their head and pulling too much on their head, further straining the neck. Reverse crunches don’t involve neck flexion and are safer for the spine overall.
They don’t require any equipment.
You can definitely spice up reverse crunches with variations like using resistance bands and ankle weights, but a real perk of the exercise is that it can be done anytime, anywhere, with just your body and the floor (though a good mat is recommended). Any exercise that avoids the gym wins my support.
They help you feel more confident in your body.
One of the greatest benefits of exercising is that it helps us feel more confident and powerful in our bodies. Boncompagni says reverse crunches will do just that. "I love how exercises like this help me build a better relationship with my body, They truly make me feel more embodied, more in my skin, and, therefore, more confident," she notes. "It’s so magical. It impacts the way I walk, the way I hold myself, and the way I feel in my skin."
How Do I Do Them Properly?
Boncompagni walked us through how to perform a perfect reverse crunch. Work up to completing two or three sets of 20 reps.
"It’s important that your back is protected from the floor, so these are best done on a bench or mat with a lot of cushioning support," advises Boncompagni. "Also, make sure your back remains flat on the mat."
- Lie on your back with your thighs perpendicular to the floor and your shins parallel to the floor. Your feet should be together, and your hands should rest at your sides.
- Exhale, drawing your belly button into your spine to engage your lower abs.
- Lift your butt and hips off the ground, and start tucking your knees in the direction of your forehead.
- Once your hips and butt are lifted a couple of inches off the ground, hold the position for a full breath, and then inhale as you lower your legs back to the starting position.
When Can I Expect to See Results?
"In my personal experience, it takes three weeks to a month of consistent effort in the gym to see a difference in the mirror or how your clothes are fitting," says Boncompagni. Keep in mind, nutrition is also important when it comes to seeing results. But, more important than "seeing" results aesthetically is starting to feel the benefits of a stronger core.
Boncompagni adds that if you really want to see and feel a difference in your abs, reverse crunches aren’t enough. "The best approach is to combine reverse crunches with other moves that target those core muscles—I’m talking planks, pikes, etc.—in addition to weight training, running, yoga, or any other form of exercise that you enjoy that also helps strengthen the core," she suggests.
Do Reverse Crunches Boost My Overall Health?
"This move has benefits far beyond toning. Reverse crunches are great for anyone to do, but conditioning your core, including your lower abs, is especially helpful if you suffer from chronic back pain related to muscular imbalance or poor posture," says Boncompagni. "Because so many of us are not getting enough movement in our days, we might be disengaging our abs as we work at a desk, which will lead to worsening posture, more back problems, and make us more vulnerable to injuries."
That being said, if you experience persistent back or hip pain when performing reverse crunches, it's important to see a physical therapist to address muscle imbalances or other limiting factors.
Level Up Reverse Crunches
Once you’ve mastered basic reverse crunches, you can kick it up a notch by trying one of several common variations, such as lifting your shoulder blades off the floor simultaneously. "The key thing with all of these variations is to really slow down the exercise so you aren’t relying on momentum to do the work," says Boncompagni. "Whether or not you are also lifting your shoulder blades off the floor with each rep, the magic happens when you focus on squeezing from the lower abs to lift the legs and hips."
This version engages your lower back, abs, and hip flexors, putting nearly your whole core to the test.
- Sit on a bench or well-cushioned mat with your hands next to your hips on either side of your body.
- Engage your abs as you lean back until your back is angled 45 degrees relative to the floor.
- Using your lower abs, exhale and draw your knees in toward your chest, and hold for at least a full breath.
- Inhale as you return your legs to the starting position.
- Complete 15 reps.
With Resistance Band
This variation adds resistance to ramp up the intensity of the exercise.
- Attach a resistance band to a heavy stationary object, and attach the other ends around each ankle.
- Position your body so that there is tension on the band.
- Perform the reverse crunch as usual, pulling against the resistance band in a controlled manner.
- Complete 12–15 reps.
You’ll target your obliques with this variation for an even more all-encompassing core exercise.
- As you draw your knees and legs up, twist your hips to the right so that your left thigh is on top of your right thigh.
- Return to the starting position.
- Complete 12–15 reps, and then switch sides.
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