3 Mistakes You’re Probably Making With Crunches

Fact: Crunches can be an incredibly effective way to strengthen and sculpt your abdominals without a gym membership or single piece of equipment. But, as everyone knows, only those who do crunches correctly will reap the benefits (and avoid injury).

Sure, you’ve heard about keeping your rear on the floor, your chin toward your chest and your muscles engaged. But according to fitness instructor Amy Dixon, that’s only part of the equation.

As Dixon explains and demonstrates in the above video, there are three all-too-common mistakes she sees when people do their crunches. Here’s what you should avoid doing if you want to get a truly effective ab workout.

Mistake #1: Beginning in the wrong position

Keeping a neutral spine is essential in a crunch, but many of Dixon’s clients don’t have a clear understanding of what this really means and, as a result, they begin the crunch with improper form. “They end up with their lower back popping up off the floor,” she says.

The easiest way get into the correct neutral-spine position, Dixon explains, is to think more about your hips than your back.

“[I] have them go to extremes: Stick their hips way out behind them, then tuck them in as much as they can. Find the spot right in the middle,” Dixon says.

Mistake #2: Focusing intently on keeping your chin to your chest

Ever heard the old-school tip about pretending to hold an orange between your chin and your chest when you do crunches? Well, there’s a slight problem with it, Dixon says.

“Even when you do that, it doesn’t stop you from cranking with your neck,” she states.

To make sure you use your abs instead, Dixon suggests an alternative approach.

“Just lift from your rib cage,” she advises. “If you focus on lifting your chest towards the sky while keeping your head and neck in line with your spine, you’ll only use your abs and won’t have to worry about leading with your neck — which can lead to injury and fatigue.”

Mistake #3: Pulsing all day long

Doing quick repetitions of tiny crunches over and over may feel like it’s giving you a real workout, but it only targets your upper abs, Dixon says.

“You’re not working all of your abs unless you explore a fuller range of motion,” she says. “So, do a mix of pulses, halfway-up crunches and full-on sit ups.”

Not only will this work all of your ab muscles, but it also has an added benefit.

“You’ll also notice an improvement in your ease of movement on a daily basis,” Dixon says.

More from HuffPost:

The 4 Best Exercises for Your Core That Aren’t Crunches

The 4 Best Exercises for Your Core That Aren’t Crunches

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Bent-Knee Pilates Hundred

Why do it: Michele Olson, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University, has found that dozens of moves (some familiar, some new) are better than crunches at working your corewithout putting stress on your spine. How did she do it? She lab-tested ab exercises using an EMG machine to measure the strength of contractions. One of her favorites is the no-frills Pilates Hundred. This isometric exercise was 31 percent more effective than traditional crunches at targeting the external obliques (the V-shaped muscles running diagonally down your sides). The Hundreds are also uniquely effective at working the deeper ab muscles, Olson says, which support the spine.

Starting position: Lie on your back with your knees bent at 90 degrees, shins parallel to the floor (arms at your sides).

How to do it: Lift your head and shoulders. Inhale and pump your arms, palms facing down, 3 to 4 inches off the floor, 5 times. Exhale and pump your arms 5 more times. This is 1 breath cycle, or 1 rep. Repeat until you have completed 10 breath cycles.

Courtesy of Michele Olson

Bent-Knee Pilates Hundred
Why do it: Michele Olson, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University, has found that dozens of moves (some familiar, some new) are better than crunches at working your corewithout putting stress on your spine. How did she do it? She lab-tested ab exercises using an EMG machine to measure the strength of contractions. One of her favorites is the no-frills Pilates Hundred. This isometric exercise was 31 percent more effective than traditional crunches at targeting the external obliques (the V-shaped muscles running diagonally down your sides). The Hundreds are also uniquely effective at working the deeper ab muscles, Olson says, which support the spine.

Starting position: Lie on your back with your knees bent at 90 degrees, shins parallel to the floor (arms at your sides).

How to do it: Lift your head and shoulders. Inhale and pump your arms, palms facing down, 3 to 4 inches off the floor, 5 times. Exhale and pump your arms 5 more times. This is 1 breath cycle, or 1 rep. Repeat until you have completed 10 breath cycles.

Courtesy of Michele Olson
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Plank with Arm and Leg Raise
Why do it: This advanced version of the classic “bird dog” is another terrific move for those deep abdominal muscles, which, Olson says, are practically neglected by crunches. And because this move strengthens the support muscles for your back, it can help improve your posture.

Starting position: On all fours, align your knees under your hips and your wrists under your shoulders.

How to do it: Raise your left arm in front of you to shoulder height and, at the same time, extend your right leg out behind you. Hold for 2 counts, then lower your left arm and right leg to the ground. Alternating sides, complete 15 to 20 reps total.

Courtesy of Michele Olson
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High Knee March
Why do it: Sure, this standing move works both your abs and your lats (the muscles that pull in your waist). But its real advantage over crunches is that it works the front and back muscles in harmony — a feat that, Olson says, helps you build overall core strength and makes you less likely to get injured when picking up heavy objects.

Starting position: Stand tall with feet hip-width apart and hands behind your head, elbows out.

How to do it: Tighten your abs and lean slightly forward as you bring your right knee up toward your belly button. Lower the right leg and return to start; repeat on opposite side for 1 rep. Alternate legs; do 12 reps total.

Courtesy of Michele Olson
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One-Knee Side Lift
Why do it: This yoga-inspired move is a variation on the side plank, which Olson found is 47 percent better at working the external obliques on the sides of your body and slightly better at toning the rectus abdominus (those muscles that make the 6-pack).

Starting position: Sideways: Lie on your right side with your right forearm on the floor, your hips and legs stacked.

How to do it: Press into floor, straightening left arm upward and lifting hips toward ceiling. For stability and balance, bend your right knee so that your shin makes contact with the ground. Hold for a count of “one Mississippi,” then lower. Lift again and repeat. Complete 15 reps on each side.

Courtesy of Michele Olson
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