A Better Way to Reverse Crunch for Lower Abs

A Better Way to Reverse Crunch for Lower Abs The Fitness Maverick

The lower area of the abdominals can be a trouble-spot, and the reverse crunch is just one of many exercises often performed mindlessly in an attempt to target that area. Having a low level of body fat will undoubtedly allow you to see your abs. But, as I always say, while “abs are carved in the kitchen they are grown in the gym” (with resistance). It’s important that your abdominal training have as much thought with exercise selection and technique as with any other muscle you’re trying to improve the shape of. Here’s what you need to know about the reverse crunch with a video at the end where I coach you through the best way to perform it.

Does the reverse crunch really target lower abs?

Unfortunately no single exercise has the ability to isolate a certain area of your abdominals. Even if your goal is to isolate the entire rectus abdominis (six-pack) muscle, it would still impossible to do so without other muscles being activated at the same time (for example your external obliques). That being said, with the right exercises and techniques it is possible to emphasize the muscle fibers that make up the lower portion of your rectus abdominis.

The rectus abdominis extends the length of the abdomen, and from the pubis to the lower three ribs and sternum. In order to work the muscle fully we need to be using exercises that align you correctly and pull your lower ribs and pubis closer together. It is the lower abdominals that are largely responsible for the action of pulling the pelvis upwards (posterior pelvic tilt), and the exact motion that’s being trained during reverse crunches. Research has shown that the highest lower abdominal activation can be achieved in a posteriorly-tilted position at the pelvis (1, 2). Of all “lower abs” exercises then the reverse crunch is arguably one of the best, particularly when done on an approximately 30 degree decline bench.

A common reverse crunch mistake

A common mistake I see which fails to work your abdominals as effectively is performing reverse crunches by pulling your knees towards your chest – more of a tucking in motion. Instead, reverse crunches should be performed with your knees lifting up towards the ceiling.  

Reverse crunching by bringing your knees towards your chest results in the resistance coming closer to the movement axis (lumbar/sacral base) thereby reducing load through your abdominals. 

By moving your knees towards the ceiling and trying to keep your thighs vertical at the top keeps the resistance further away from the movement axis (lumbar/sacral base), helping maintain load through your abdominals. 

How to reverse crunch

Set-up

  • Set a bench to a 30 degree decline. The greater the decline the harder the difficulty.
  • Position yourself on the bench so your legs are in the direction of the decline.
  • Hold on to the bench overhead, or any other grip your bench might have available.
  • Clench a medicine ball between your knees or use ankle weights if you need to add more resistance.

Performance

  • Holding firmly overhead so as not to move or slide down the bench, flex your hips and pull your knees in and up towards the ceiling.
  • Your knees will remain at approximately the same angle throughout. 
  • Imagine pulling your pelvis towards your ribcage as much as possible, with your hips coming off the bench at the top.
  • Squeeze your abs hard at the top before lowering down fully.
  • Do not let your feet touch the floor between repetitions. Although a soft touch (not bounce) on the floor is acceptable.

 

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References:

  1. Sarti MA, Monfort M, Fuster MA, Villaplana LA. (1996) Muscle activity in upper and lower rectus abdominus during abdominal exercises. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 77(12): 1293-1297.
  2. Workman JC, Docherty D, Parfrey KC, Behm, DG. (2008) Influence of pelvis position on the activation of abdominal and hip flexor muscles. J Strength Cond Res, 22(5): 1563-1569.

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