What is the proper way to do crunches?

July 28, 2012

Q: I’m a little confused on how to work abs correctly. My training partner says that you have to be able to do at least 250 crunches if you ever want a tight waistline with visible abs. I know this is not true, because I’ve tried it and still no major results. Aside from the obvious things such as a strict diet and good amount of cardio, what advice do you offer when it comes to proper technique of performing the most basic abdominal exercise, the crunch?

A: Of all the body parts, I believe abdominals are the most misunderstood. The average person believes a great abdominal workout depends on how many crunches they can do. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s been my experience that those who claim to be able to do hundreds of crunches have trouble squeezing out 20 when forced to use proper technique. Remember, when it comes to achieving a great waistline, quality will go a lot further than quantity, so be sure to incorporate the following techniques for best results.

Keep your head parallel to your torso

One of the biggest mistakes people make is locking their fingers behind their heads and pulling their neck and head forward. This technique will most likely result in a pain in the neck rather than a chiseled midsection. Instead, try lightly touching your ears with your fingers, keeping your neck parallel to your torso and slowly lifting your body with your chin facing the ceiling. A great way to perfect this technique and limit neck pain is to wrap a small workout towel behind your head, grip it in both hands and crunch up. Be careful not to pull on the towel but only to rest your head and neck, and you will automatically feel intense pressure in the abdominal muscles instead of the neck.

Eliminate all momentum

Slow down! What’s the hurry? If you are ever going to get the six-pack of your dreams, you have to take your time and make sure that you are lifting your body with your abs only and not using the rest of the body to complete the exercise. If you’re doing them correctly, it should take approximately 2-3 seconds to complete one rep.

Exhale at the top of the movement

Failure to exhale at the top of the crunch shortens the movement and puts a buffer of air in between you and your abs. Therefore, it’s important to time your breathing so you breathe out at the top of the movement, allowing for peak contraction and a longer range of motion.

Pause at the top and bottom of each repetition

By stopping your motion for a split second at the top and bottom of each crunch, you’ll increase time under tension, causing the muscle to burn in tensely. This technique will quickly exhaust the abdominals by forcing a greater number of muscle fibers to get involved, giving you an incredible workout.

Incorporate giant sets

Use giant sets - series of abdominal exercises done in a row with little to no rest in between. A good example would be doing crunches, bicycle crunches and leg raises for 25 repetitions each. The take a 40-50-second rest and start again until the desired amount of sets is complete. Giant sets will help shape and refine the abs as well as build endurance.

Try adding the above techniques to your abdominal training and good results are sure to follow.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out