How to Do a Perfect Abdominal Crunch

Abdominal crunch
Ben Goldstein

Whether you love them or hate them, you've probably done a lot of them over the years, just like the rest of us.

Crunches have been the mainstay of ab workouts for decades and, though we've found plenty of other exercises, crunches are still a great way to target your abs. The reason crunches work so well is because of how the abdominals work.

Specifically, crunches target the rectus abdominis or what we usually call the '6-pack muscles' that run along the front of the torso.

It's this muscle that, when you reduce belly fat, gives you that carved ab look that so many of us crave. Every time you flex your abs, which is anytime you contract the abs to bring your shoulders towards your hips, you target that 6-pack muscle.

The Deceptive Crunch

Although many of us have done hundreds, maybe thousands of crunches over the years, most of us are probably doing them wrong. Or, at the very least, not doing them as effectively as we could be.

What's deceptive about crunches is that doing them correctly is harder than it looks. In fact, most of us have probably done them for so long, we may not even pay attention to form.

Some of the common mistakes include:

  • Pulling on the neck - This not only strains the neck, but it takes away from working your abs. You want to originate the movement in your abs, not from your head.
  • Crunching too high - The crunch is a subtle movement, lifting the shoulder blades just a few inches off the floor. Some of us jerk the shoulders up, which adds momentum and reduces the effectiveness of the exercise. It takes time to build strength in the abs, so it's best to take your time and do the move slowly rather than using momentum to get the body up.
  • You relax as you come down to the floor - It's easy to let your shoulders fall to the floor but a more effective approach is to keep the tension on the abs throughout the entire movement. You never want to completely relax the shoulders onto the floor.

Doing the Perfect Crunch

  1. Lie down on the floor on your back and bend your knees, placing your hands behind your head or across your chest. Some people find that crossing the arms over the chest helps them avoid pulling on the neck. However, if you find your neck is strained, you can keep one hand cradling the head.
  2. If you are putting your hands behind your head, your fingers should gently cradle your head. The idea is to support your neck without taking away from the work of your abs.
  3. Pull your belly button towards your spine in preparation for the movement. 
  4. Slowly contract your abdominals, bringing your shoulder blades about one or two inches off the floor.
  5. Exhale as you come up and keep your neck straight, chin up. Imagine you're holding a tennis ball under your chin. That's about the angle you want to keep the chin the entire time.
  6. Hold at the top of the movement for a few seconds, breathing continuously.
  7. Slowly lower back down, but don't relax all the way.
  8. Repeat for 15 to 20 repetitions with perfect form for each rep.
  1. To add variation, bring your knees in at the same time you lift your upper body off the floor (full body crunch)
  2. To make it more difficult, balance on an exercise ball, hold a weight at your chest


  1. To keep your neck in proper alignment, place your fist under your chin to keep your head from moving.
  2. In the past, we've been told to keep your back flat against the floor throughout the entire movement. Now we know that it's better to keep a neutral spine. That simply means your spine is in the strongest position to support you. A quick way to find it is to rock the pelvis back and then forward and then allow your pelvis to relax somewhere between those two extremes.
  3. If your back arches too much, that may mean your abs need time to build strength. Try propping your feet on a step or platform to give your back some support.

Alternatives to Crunches

While crunches are fine, there are plenty of other ways to work the abs without doing a single crunch. In fact, crunches aren't even the most effective ab exercise. And, some of the best exercises for your core are done using your entire body, not just your abs.

Great Ab Exercises

So, if you're over crunches, what are some new, different exercises you can do for a more functional core workout? Some options include:

  • Reverse woodchops with the band
  • Side bends with a medicine ball
  • Overhead squats
  • Med ball rotations with static lunges
  • Standing side crunch

It's great to incorporate exercises into your routine that work the abs naturally. For example, compound exercises like squats with an overhead press or pushups with a side plank almost always put quite a bit of emphasis on the core.

In addition, the more muscles you work during an exercise, the more functional that exercise is and the more calories you burn.

What About Flat Abs?

What if you want flatter abs or a six-pack? Or maybe you want to get rid of a muffin top. Is that something crunches can do for you?

Unfortunately, no. Spot reduction just doesn't work. It isn't possible to do an exercise for a specific body part in the hopes of burning fat from that one area. When you exercise, your body draws energy from the entire body, not just the part you're working.

So, what can you do? You can learn more about belly fat and the kind of exercise you need to do to reduce overall body fat. We don't have control where we lose the fat. We just have to exercise and hope that fat eventually comes off where we want it to.

How to Target Belly Fat

  • Try HIIT Workouts - High intensity interval training has been shown to target belly fat. If you're new to HIIT training, start with beginner interval training and work your way up to more advanced training.
  • Lift Weights - Lifting weights not only helps you lose body fat, it can specifically help you lose belly fat. Studies have shown that people who lift weights along with doing cardio have less belly fat than people who don't.
  • Examine Your Diet - You've probably heard that flat abs are made in the kitchen and there's a reason for that saying. Your diet is where you can make the most progress with losing belly fat. Start by getting an idea of how many calories you need and then keep a food diary to track your eating habits.

The truth is, it's not easy getting rid of belly fat, but it's still very important to work your core. A strong back and strong abs are the foundation of all your daily movements, so no matter how they look, they need to be strong.

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Article Sources
  • Sternlicht, E., et al. 2007. Electromyographic comparison of a stability ball crunch with a traditional crunch. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21 (2), 506–509.