How to nail the perfect crunch and sit-up


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Doing crunches and sit-ups on a routine basis? Good for you! Now, are you doing them correctly? We hope so. Do your back, neck and abs a favor and follow these tips by Julie Erickson, owner of Endurance Pilates & Yoga in Arlington, Mass., and creator of Barre Boston. She explains the proper way to do a crunch and sit-up.

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The perfect crunch

In a proper crunch, the focus is on bending the upper part of the torso. A crunch mainly uses the upper connection of the rectus abdominus (abs) for mobility and the rest of the abdominals and core muscles for stability throughout the rest of the torso.

Things that can go wrong during a crunch are:

  1. Lifting with the neck muscles.
  2. Lifting with the shoulders.
  3. Lack of stability in the rest of the body.


To avoid this, focus on the following:

The hands should be behind the head and palm on top of palm without fingers linked. Why? Because it will open the chest, support the weight of the skull and pull the shoulders into their proper alignment prior to the upper torso lifting away from the mat.

The neck and spine should lengthen, not shorten as the head lifts away from the mat. Instead of jamming the head forward and pressing the chin into the chest, think of lengthening the neck, pulling the head away from the shoulders and continuing to keep that length while drawing the head away from the floor. The head should come into a lifted and supported position above the chest prior to the ribcage, and shoulder blades lifting away from the floor into the crunch.

The elbows should stay wide and the shoulders away from the ears. The upper back muscles and latissimus dorsi (i.e., broad shoulder muscles) are key players in the alignment for a proper crunch. In order to allow the proper firing pattern and strengthening of the core and abdominal muscles, the lats and upper back must do the job of maintaining the head, neck and shoulders in the proper alignment.

The return to a start position is just as important as the lift. Keep all of your muscles engaged throughout the entire exercise, never letting anything release or “flop” onto the floor.

What doesn’t move is as important as what does move. Part of the challenge in a crunch is to keep the part of the body that doesn’t move absolutely still throughout. Your legs should be drawn together, lower body still and stable, the lower part of the torso drawing in.