Why The Reverse Crunch Is Your Shortcut to Six-Pack Abs

This comprehensive guide to Reverse Crunches will help you build strength in your core.

Reverse Crunches are a much better use of your time than traditional Crunches.

Traditional Crunches put unnecessary pressure on your spine. Reverse Crunches are a more intuitive, efficient movement, and they can help you get a shredded, strong core while avoiding the pitfalls of the common Crunch. Here's how and why you should include this potent ab exercise in your routine.

How to Perform the Reverse Crunch

Reverse Crunch

There are several ways to perform the Reverse Crunch. Dr. John Rusin, a physical therapist, strength coach and owner of DrJohnRusin.com, recommends the following method since it effectively maximizes muscle tension in a pain-free manner.

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Setup: Lie back on a bench with your thighs perpendicular to the ground. Place a foam roller between your hamstrings and calves and squeeze the roller. Place your hands over your head and grab the edge of the bench.

Action: Forcefully contract your abs to lift your butt off the bench and your knees up above your chest. Hold this position for one or two seconds with a maximal ab contraction. Slowly lower back to the starting position until your butt is on the bench and your thighs are perpendicular to the ground. See the below pictures for a step-by-step guide:

reverse crunches

reverse crunches

reverse crunches

reverse crunch

reverse crunch

reverse crunches

Coaching Points

• Drive your calves into the foam roller as hard as you can.
• To properly target your abs, lift your knees up toward the ceiling before bringing them in.
• Perform each rep slowly.
• To protect your back, do not let your knees go beyond perpendicular.

Sets/Reps: 3x10-12

Common Mistakes

The Reverse Crunch is a fairly simple exercise, but you gotta do it right to reap its full benefits.

One of the most common mistakes is lowering the knees too fast. This causes hyperextension of the lumbar spine (a.k.a. an arched lower back), a position which Rusin believes can be quite dangerous. He says, "If you control the lowering part of the rep, you never have to go into the position of hyperextension of the lumbar spine (arched lower back), which is a position I believe to be more injurious than the hyperflexion position (rounded lower back)."

If you do the exercise right and with the proper tempo, the movement comes from the t-spine and rib cage, not the lumbar spine like a traditional Crunch. Here's an example of what it looks like when it's done too fast, causing hyperextension of the lumbar spine:

Reverse Crunch with lumbar extension

It's also important to lift your knees up toward the ceiling before you bring them in toward your body. That's the key to the exercise's effectiveness, since it better targets the abdominals. Here's an example of what it looks like when you don't take your knees toward the ceiling before bringing them in:

Reverse Crunch Incorrect Form

It just looks less effective, doesn't it?

The final common mistake is not driving your calves into the foam roller hard enough. Make sure the foam roller is right up underneath your knees before you squeeze it in. You should feel tension throughout your lower body, which creates a more controlled movement, stabilizes your lumbar spine and allows for a more powerful ab contraction. You can perform the movement without a foam roller, but using one really helps clean up the movement and make it more effective.

Muscles Worked

Reverse Crunch Muscles Worked

The Reverse Crunch works all of the major abdominal muscles.

The primary mover is the rectus abdominis—the large muscle that makes up the ridges you see in a six-pack. Despite looking like six or even eight separate muscles, the rectus abdominis is actually one large muscle. Reverse Crunches work all of the muscle, with extra emphasis on the lower region. Secondary muscles include the obliques, which are the muscles on either side of the rectus abdominis, and the tranverse abdominis, the deepest of all abdominal muscles whose functions include stabilizing the spine and core.

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Benefits Of Reverse Crunches

reverse crunch

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Reverse Crunches compared to traditional Crunches is that they are guaranteed to torch your abs without your having to do a crazy number of reps.

When you perform a rep slowly and in control, your abs and obliques contract to bring your butt off the ground, hold the top of the movement and control the descent. Your muscles work at high intensity for a long duration—one of the keys to building muscle. "It feels like you got kicked in the stomach a couple of times after you do them," says Rusin. When performed correctly, Reverse Crunches also don't bend your spine back and forth repeatedly like traditional Crunches.

Though the Reverse Crunch is a great way to build muscle and get those shredded abs you've been dreaming of, the majority of your core routine should still consist of stability exercises like Planks, Side Planks, Rollouts and Loaded Carries. Stability exercises create the solid core needed to maximize power and improve body control in your sport and in the weight room. But the Reverse Crunch is an awesome way to build seriously impressive abs. If you want to add it to your workouts, do it no more than once per week in addition to your other core work. It's a bonus, not a substitute.

Who Can Perform Reverse Crunches?

reverse crunch

The Reverse Crunch is not for everyone. If you have back pain, you'll probably want to stay away from it. Also, if you haven't developed a strong foundation of core stability, you're better off focusing on that before integrating Reverse Crunches into your routine.

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If you are on your feet a good part of the day (as opposed to sitting at a desk and not using your core muscles to support your spine), the Reverse Crunch is an excellent abdominal exercise. It builds the lower part of your abs—a troublesome area for many people—and places less stress on your back than traditional Crunches and Sit-ups.

"For the non-symptomatic athlete or lifter (one with no back pain), this is a great exercise if you can go slow and controlled," Rusin says. "Master Dead Bugs and other similar exercise before developing dynamic stability."

The Reverse Crunch Core Circuit

Since you shouldn't do Reverse Crunches multiple times per week, use this core circuit to finish off a workout once a week.

Add Reverse Crunches to your core workout twice per week. Start with two to three sets of eight to 10 reps. If you have a strong core, increase the reps as desired. Take 30-60 seconds of rest between sets. Once you get a sense of your own core strength, you can adjust the number of reps per set as you see fit.

  • Rollouts
  • Pallof Presses
  • Reverse Crunches
Sets/Reps: 2-3x8-10 of each exercise through the circuit
Photo Credit: Nastco/iStock/Thinstock, jacoblund/iStock/Thinkstock