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The beginning of each new semester attracts swarms of new exercisers to the Physical Activities Center (PAC).


And one of the most popular areas always seems to be the abdominal section.


Sadly, many exercisers are not making their abdominal exercises as safe or effective as they could be.


So let’s take a look how to perfect one of the favorites– the abdominal crunch.


(Remember that not all exercises are appropriate for everyone.  Check with your physician or a qualified fitness specialist for more information about what exercises may be appropriate for you.)


Level 1:  Abdominal Crunch on the floor (click image to enlarge)

Here is the foundation move.  Lying on the floor, you simply raise your shoulder blades off of the floor until you find the peak of the contraction where your abdominal muscles engage.  Be careful to keep a little bit of space in between your chin and your chest and don’t yank on your neck.  When you lie on the floor, you are somewhat supported by the floor so some of your abdominal muscles are resting.


Level 2:  Abdominal Crunch on the BOSU (click image to enlarge)

We can make that foundation move just a little bit more challenging if we perform the same exercise on a BOSU.  BOSU stands for “BOth Sides Up” or “BOth Sides Utilized.”  Put the middle of your back on the BOSU and straighten your back so it is parallel to the floor.  Notice that your torso is parallel to the floor.  That is key.

Perform the same exact crunch motion as Level 1.  Because the BOSU creates instability, additional abdominal muscles will have to contract to keep you in the same plane of motion.


Level 3:  Abdominal Crunch on the Stability Ball (click image to enlarge)

For Level 3, we can transition from a BOSU to a Stability Ball.  This creates even more instability and you will feel even more muscles contracting.   Notice that you begin in a “table top” position where your feet are underneath your knees and your torso is parallel to the floor.  The tension will be felt during the bottom portion of the curl, not the top.

Level 4:  Weighted Abdominal Crunch on the Stability Ball (click image to enlarge)

And finally, this brings us to Level 4 which is my personal favorite:  a Weighted Abdominal Crunch on the Stability Ball.  For this advanced version, simply hold a weighted Medicine Ball (try 4-10 pounds to start).  Start in the “table top” position and straighten your arms over your shoulders.  I cannot emphasis the “table top” position enough– it is key to finding the resistance.  The Stability Ball should be on the middle portion of your back.  Lift your shoulder blades up about 8-12 inches as if you are trying to touch the ceiling with the ball.  Lift straight up toward the ceiling, not toward your knees.  Try to find a weight that challenges you in about 10-15 repetitions.  (If you feel like you are straining your neck because your head is unsupported, go back to level 3).


Abdominals can be trained like other muscle groups 2-3 non-consecutive days per week.  Try 2-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions choosing a level that fatigues you during the last few repetitions of each set.

Keep in mind that abdominal exercises can train your abdominal muscles but they cannot spot reduce fat in the midsection. Be sure to eat a healthy diet and stay active to help with that.