A man lies on the floor doing a reverse crunch. Share on Pinterest
Ivan Gener/Stocksy United

The reverse crunch is a challenging core exercise that primarily hits your rectus abdominis, the muscle in your abdomen that makes up your “six-pack.”

It’s a simple exercise that you can pick up in minutes, and is great for beginners and fitness aficionados alike. As you get stronger, you can increase the number of reps and sets to continue to make it more challenging.

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of a reverse crunch, how to do it correctly, and other effective crunch variations.

A reverse crunch offers many of the same benefits as the traditional crunch. However, because your neck and most of your back stays on the ground, it’s thought to be easier on your spine.

Here are some of the key benefits of a reverse crunch:

  • Strengthens your rectus abdominis. The reverse crunch primarily works your rectus abdominis (your “six-pack”). The primary function of this muscle is to flex your trunk and spine.
  • Takes strain off your neck. When doing sit-ups and crunches, people often pull their neck forward with their hands. The reverse crunch keeps your head flat on the ground and your neck out of a vulnerable position.
  • Less stressful on your back than crunches. Research has found that reducing how far your spine bends forward during crunches reduces the force on your spinal discs. Since reverse crunches flex your spine less than traditional crunches, they’re thought to be easier on your back.
  • Targets other core muscles. Reverse crunches also activate your transverse abdominis, the deep muscle below your abdominals, and your external obliques.
  • Easy to set up. All you need for reverse crunches is your own bodyweight. That means you can do them anywhere and anytime you want.

The reverse crunch doesn’t target your obliques as much as some other core exercises. Your obliques are two layers of muscle on either side of your core that help you twist and bend your trunk.

In recent years, there’s been a shift away from isolated core training for improving athletic performance. Instead, there’s more of an emphasis on performing integrated movements that more closely replicate athletic movements.

If you’re focusing on strength training in an effort to improve your athletic performance, you may want to also include dynamic core exercises into your program. These are exercises that more closely replicate movements in your sport.

For example, a golfer may want to include rotational medicine ball throws to help benefit their golf swing.

Here’s how you can perform a reverse crunch with proper form.

Instructions

  1. Lie face-up on a mat or other soft surface with your knees bent at 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor. Keep your arms near your sides with your palms down.
  2. Exhale and brace your core. Lift your feet off the ground and raise your thighs until they’re vertical. Keep your knees bent at 90 degrees throughout the movement.
  3. Tuck your knees toward your face as far as you can comfortably go without lifting your mid-back from the mat. Your hips and lower back should lift off the ground.
  4. Hold for a moment and slowly lower your feet back toward the floor until they reach the ground.
  5. Repeat for at least 10-12 repetitions. Do one set to start, and increase the number of reps and sets as you get stronger.

Things to keep in mind

  • Try to perform the exercise slowly.
  • Your hips and lower back should come off the mat when you tuck forward, but your mid-back should stay in contact with the mat.
  • Push into the ground with your hands to help you balance.

Safety tips

Stop if you feel pain or discomfort in your back or anywhere else. You should feel a burning in your abdominals, but not a sharp pain.

Healthline

Many other variations of the traditional crunch can help you build your core strength. Here are three examples:

Bicycle crunch

The bicycle crunch is a great exercise for activating your abs as well as your oblique muscles, which help you rotate your trunk.

  1. Lie on your back with one knee tucked toward your chest and the other knee extended straight in front of you. Put your hands on the back of your head.
  2. Switch the position of your feet while you bring your opposite elbow to your front knee.
  3. Continue switching positions for at least 10 reps on each side. Do one set to start and increase the number of reps and sets as the exercise becomes easier.

Safety tip

Keep your hands lightly touching the back of your head to avoid the temptation of pulling your head forward.

Healthline

Oblique crunch

The oblique crunch is another variation of the crunch that targets your obliques.

  1. Lie on a bench so that your right hip is in contact with the top of the bench, your right foot is under the bench, and your left leg is bent comfortably on top. Put your right hand on your chest and your left hand behind your head.
  2. Crunch your trunk forward as far as you comfortably can while using your foot beneath the bench for balance.
  3. Pause for a moment when you reach the top of the movement and slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for at least 10 reps on each side. You can add more reps and sets as the exercise becomes easier to do.

Safety tip

Make sure the bench is solid and stable before starting so that it doesn’t tip over.

Healthline

Stability ball crunch

Share on Pinterest
stability ball crunch

The stability ball crunch adds a stability challenge to the traditional crunch.

  1. Lie down with a stability ball under your mid-back and your feet flat on the floor. Try to choose a ball that allows you to keep your thighs parallel to the ground and your knees at a 90-degree angle.
  2. With your hands behind your head, crunch your trunk upward as you would during a traditional crunch.
  3. Hold for a moment at the top of the movement and return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for at least 10-12 reps, and increase the reps and sets as you gain core strength.

Safety tip

Rest your fingertips gently behind your head. Doing this will help you resist the temptation to pull your head forward.

Healthline

The reverse crunch is a simple core exercise that can help you strengthen your abdominals. It’s thought to be easier on your back than traditional crunches and sit-ups because your spine doesn’t flex as much.

If you feel any sharp pain while performing reverse crunches, stop immediately.

If you’re new to fitness, have an injury, or aren’t sure how to do a reverse plank with good form, you may want to work with a certified personal trainer to start.