Ab curls, crunches and sit-ups are all basically the same exercise. Sit-ups are a bit tougher, but the objective in all cases is to strengthen the classic “six-pack” abdominal muscle (also known as rectus abdominis). In my experience people often do this exercise badly, involving a lot of huffing and puffing for no good end result, and occasionally putting themselves at risk of injury.
And some people should definitely not be doing ab curls.
Who it’s not good for
- back injuries
- a diagnosed back condition (eg, spinal stenosis)
- low bone strength (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
- current or recently operated-on hernia.
|What it’s good for||Strengthening the long abdominal muscle which we use for leaning and bending forwards. Everyday benefits include:
|How often to do it||Every one to two days|
|Equipment you’ll need||Anything – mat, rug, towel etc — you can lie on comfortably while on the floor|
This is my preferred technique for ab curls, which I believe to be safe and effective, if done properly. But the bottom line about ab curls is this: if you are doing an exercise routine already and keep yourself reasonably active, you will have enough rectus abdominis strength for your needs; your time is better spent strengthening your obliques or transverse abdominis muscles. It’s only if you are doing certain sports (eg, sprinting, swimming) that you need extra-strong rectus muscles.
- Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart
- Do a little pelvic tilt (draw front hip bones slightly up to your eyebrows), and gently suck down your belly button to keep your lower back and buttocks on the ground during the movement
- Rest your fingers at the top of your bent legs
- Move your head very slightly forwards, to look at the top corner of the room, then tighten your abs and slide hands towards your knees
- Keep your eyes fixed on that corner as you lift your upper back a little way from the ground, as though being pulled up by a piece of string in your chest
- Do not round your shoulders or dip your chin to your chest
- Hold the position briefly at the top point (which may be only 10 degrees off the floor), before lowering down slowly and under control
- Rest briefly, then re-set your pelvic tilt and head position ready to go again
Aim for 15 curls in one go. Start with as many as you can manage, stopping when it gets too hard or when you see your abs starting to “bunch up”. Make a note of how many you managed, and aim to do one more repeat next time.
Varying the exercise for more challenge
When you can manage 15 crunches with perfect control, you need to move on to a harder challenge. Here are some options:
1. Hold each crunch at the top point
Hold for a count of 5 before lowering again slowly, breathing throughout
2. Put your feet up
Place your feet against a wall, making a 90-degree bend at the knee
3. Bring your hands to your ears
- Place hands at the sides of your head, elbows wide, fingers just by your ears
- Keep arms in this position as you do your curls. The added weight of your arms makes the exercise harder
- Take care not to round your shoulders – best achieved by keeping your elbows as wide open as you can throughout the movement