How to Perform the Perfect Crunch

Ready, Set, Crunch!

The secret for getting rock-hard washboard abs is to properly train your core muscles, supplement your core training with cardio exercise, and manage your overall diet. This may not sound surprising to you, but what happens when your diet is in check, your getting plenty of cardio, and your ‘crunching’ it out to what seems to be an eternity… all to find you’re not getting the results you expect!!??

In order to get to the “core” of what’s holding you back from that 6-pack, let’s focus on the simple crunch and take a deep dive into the technical aspects of establishing good form!


The basic crunch is the one of the most widely-known and commonly-performed exercises through history! It’s a simple movement in theory and you can virtually do this exercise anywhere with no equipment. You just sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet on the ground and sit up… then repeat!

But, if not done correctly, this simple motion can actually cause more harm than good. Poor form can create lower back and neck issues and your abs could suffer by not being engaged during the exercise.

So to check if you’re properly working your abs during crunches, the following provides a list of “Crunching “Do’s” and “No-No’s”


• Perform the crunch exercise slowly with control to get the most out of the exercise.
• Press your fingertips into the back of the head and let the head rest into your fingers/ hands.
• Engage your abdominals by drawing them ‘up and in’ to support the spine
• Keep the head, neck, and shoulders lifted off the ground surface so that there is no break
• Protect your lower back by keeping it strong and engaged.
• Consider complimenting your crunches by lying on your belly and do controlled back extensions.


• Avoid overarching the lower back.
• Avoid pulling on your neck with your hands or letting your elbows hug into the head.
• Faster is not always better. Move slowly with control so that your abs have a chance to contract, strengthen, and improve.
• Don’t hold your breath! If you do, it forces air into the belly by creating a pouch or a protruding midsection.
• Don’t get fixated on a number of reps. Less can be more. This way you can really focus on executing the exercise properly.


The natural position of the spine, although containing natural curves, is called a neutral spine. The neutral spine position is the most optimum to work in since it mimics daily life. However, it is very common for people who lack inner abdominal strength to struggle to maintain a neutral position in the spine and pelvis.


• The spine remains in its ‘natural’ curve as you perform the exercise. Depending on the core exercise performed, the range of motion will differ to keep the normal curve.
• As a general rule to determine a neutral spine, no tension should be felt in the lumbar spine. If so, move into the imprinted position.

Different from a neutral spine position, an imprinted position is when the lower portion of the spine (lower back) presses into the ground surface. The feedback from pressing (imprinting) the lower back can be felt immediately in the abdominals. Although the spine loses its natural curve by flattening out, the activation of abdominals is an important feeling to recognize when performing the movement.


• Imprint is a Pilates term associated with flattening the spine or pressing it into the base of support to feel the abdominals activated.
• There’s a slight pelvic tilt so that the lower spine is in contact with the surface.
• Most crunch exercises are performed from an imprinted spine.


Wherever you perform your crunches, maintaining correct form is essential! The Total Gym can help make sure your form is spot on (no spotter necessary)! The following describes the benefits of integrating the Total Gym with your crunches:

One of the most common ways to lose proper form is while lifting the upper torso off the floor. This is where the versatility of the Total Gym comes into play! The incline on Total Gym can be set appropriately to assist (or challenge) your abdominals. For those with less strength in the core, position your Glide Board such that your upper torso is higher than your hips. This simple variation allows everyone to perform his/her own crunch the right way the first time! The Glide Board can always be modified to make it more challenging if/when you are ready!

Here’s a more detailed explanation and approach for performing the crunch on the Total Gym for all strengths and skill levels.

1. Choose a low to medium incline. (The higher the incline, the easier the exercise. The lower, the more challenging.)
2. Lie supine on the glide board with your head closest to the tower. Bend the knees, position feet flat on the glide board and hip-width distance apart.
3. Place your hands your head with your thumbs close to your ears. Depending on shoulder range of motion and abdominal strength, you can also place your finger tips behind the base of the neck for support. (Just don’t push on your neck with the hands.)
4. Open the elbows out to the sides to keep the chest open.
5. Slightly tuck your chin to keep the natural curvature of your spine. A small space is maintained between the chin and chest… so no double chins please!
6. Draw in your abdominals and take an inhale to prepare for lift off…
7. Exhale your breath as you curl the upper torso (head, neck, shoulder blades) off the surface.
8. Hold the lifted position for a moment, then slowly lower back to the starting position.

NOTE: If you are imprinting, there will be NO space between your lower back and the surface you’re lying on. If you are in neutral spine, the range of motion will be limited to maintain the same space between the lower back and the surface throughout the crunch.

Be sure to check out the video to see how you can brush up on your crunch form!


Maria Sollon

Maria Sollon Scally MS, CSCS holds a Master’s Degree in Performance Enhancement/Injury Prevention and Kinesiology. She has obtained numerous certifications in various areas of fitness and is a national conference presenter. Maria specializes in Pilates, Performance Coaching, and Corrective Exercise Techniques and Kettlebells. She is the creator of the Plyo Pilates Method and has developed a series of amazing workout DVDs. She is a Master Trainer for Total Gym, Resist-a-Ball, Body Blade, Peak Pilates, Kettle Bell Concepts and is a freelance writer for Fitness accredited magazines, newsletters, and fitness blog sites. Maria demonstrates her knowledge each day and uses her dynamic creativity throughout her specialized line of work. (purchasable workout videos) (workout clips)

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