The crunch is the most efficient and the safest way to tone abdominal muscles. This exercise focuses effort on the crucial layer of muscle covering your midsection from rib cage to pubic bone. It bypasses muscles that may well be strong enough already, like hip flexors. It avoids stressing the small of the back, which can happen when your back arches as you rise. And if done correctly, without jerking the neck, the crunch protects you from upper cervical strain as well. All of these reasons make the crunch superior to the sit-up when the sit-up involves a lift of more than 45 degrees from the floor- the level at which scientists have determined that hip-flexor involvement occurs. Holding your feet down does not help. This only emphasizes the hip flexors and detracts from the work of the abdominals. And if you do the sit-up with your legs straight, you risk lower back strain. Technique is everything with crunches. The results you get will depend not on how many you do, but how well you do them. Start with one of the crunches for the rectus and one diagonal crunch, done left and right, for your obliques. The basic crunch: To perform the basic crunch, lie with your back flat on the floor and your legs comfortably dawn up to about a 90 degree angle. Support the back of your neck just below your skull with your hands. Point elbows forward. Slowly lift your upper body with your abdominal muscles, raising yourself no higher than the bottom of your shoulder blades. Let the weight of your head hand, supported by your hands. Use alternative arm positions to vary the amount of effort. For the least effort, reach your arms forward. Add exertion by folding your arms across your chest. Or spread your elbows, placing your hands behind your head for more difficulty. When using alternative arm positions, be sure not to jerk your neck up as you lift. The diagonal crunch: To tone the muscles that shape the sides of your waist and provide the power for torso twists and turns, you must pull across your abdomen as if tightening an X-shaped band, one crosspiece at a time. You can also intensify diagonals by lying on one hip with your bent legs crossed to the side. Begin with your head and shoulders slightly lifted, arms reaching out. Continue reaching as you roll up slowly. Never roll all the way down.
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