Ab curls

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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

Anyone with…

  • 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:

  • bend­ing down to tie shoelaces
  • being able to reach for­wards for some­thing safely, without top­pling for­wards or los­ing bal­ance
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.

Lying face up, knees bent at start of ab curl

Ab curl, start pos­i­tion

Reaching hands to knees at top of ab curl

Ab curl, top of move­ment

  • 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

Curling up, hands to ears and elbows out at sides

Ab curl, hands to 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

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