Getting rid of baby weight or getting ready for swimsuit season means you're going to have to make friends with crunches. These exercises don't only help to flatten your tummy (with other cardio and weight training, naturally), but also help stabilize and strengthen your lower back muscles. Unfortunately, sloppy technique can mean that all of your crunches and ab exercise are for naught -- make sure you're doing them right if you want to see real results.
Grab a mat and lie on your back while keeping a neutral spine. Over-arching your back can be a cause of strain, so make sure that your shoulder blades are flat on the ground and that your pelvis is tucked. Focus on pulling your belly button to your spine, which helps to protect your back while doing a crunch. This is the spine position you'll need for any ab exercise, whether you're lying down, sitting or standing.
Align your head with your spine and slip your hands behind your head for support. Do not lace your fingers, which can result in you unwittingly pulling on your head and causing neck strain.
Exhale and contract your abdominal muscles as you lift your upper back off of the floor. Your shoulder blades should maintain a straight line with your hips; never round out your back or tug on your neck to get a higher lift. Instead, lift just a few inches off of the floor.
Hold the pose for up to three seconds before inhaling and releasing back to your starting position. You should be able to maintain complete control of an ab exercise from start to finish to ensure that you get the most out of each repetition. Simply releasing and dropping means you're only doing half of the exercise.
Utilize smooth, slow movements rather than jerky ones. If you find yourself pulling upward on your head or neck, try crossing your arms over your chest to remove the temptation. Constantly check your alignment; it's better to complete one perfectly executed ab exercise than 10 sloppy reps. Do ab exercises in sets of 12 to 15. repeating as necessary.
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Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.