As someone who isn't exactly the "gym-going" type—I always find myself at a loss when discussing exercise moves and fitness routines. Such was the case when the term "reverse crunches" came across my computer screen. I didn't know where to start, how they're different than regular crunches, and if I should even be doing them. That, and if there's a benefit for those who aren't looking to lose weight. Of course, we're all always trying to look our best and tone up when we can, but I like to know if an exercise has other perks as well. Does it help with back pain? Focus? Anxiety? Turns out, reverse crunches can benefit your body and your mind in more ways than one.
Below, find everything you need to know about the exercise move and why you should even be trying it to begin with. Keep scrolling for a few fitness experts' best advice.
What is a reverse crunch?
"Reverse crunches are the opposite of upper-body crunches," says celeb trainer and Belleon Body co-founder Carlos Leon. "It's a classic core-strengthening move that targets the lower abdominals," adds Tatiana Boncompagni, an Athleta ambassador. "Unlike regular crunches, which are performed lying on your back with the feet on the floor and work more of the upper abs, reverse crunches are done with legs lifted off the floor.
"They work the rectus abdominis," Boncompagni continues, "which are the muscles on the front of the abs, what people often refer to as your six-pack muscles. They really focus on the lower portion of these muscles, which can be harder to train, so it’s a great exercise to include in your ab routine."
How do I do them properly?
"Start lying on your back with thighs perpendicular to the floor and feet together, hands lighting resting behind your ears on either side of your head," explains Boncompagni. "As you lift your shoulder blades off the floor, squeeze your lower abs to lift your knees toward your forehead, slightly elevating your hips and taking a nice pause before you lower your shoulders and knees back to starting position. Exhale as you curl up and in, inhale as you return to starting position."
"There are lots of little variations of the reverse crunch that you can play with, like you can keep your hands on the floor, palms down, during each rep, or you can extend your legs out at the end of the rep, but the key thing with all of these variations is to really slow down the exercise so you aren't relying on momentum to do the work," says Boncompagni. "Also make sure you are lifting or squeezing from your lower abs or belly button."
She continues, "It's important that your back is protected from the floor, so, these are best done on a bench or mat with a lot of cushioning support. Also, make sure your back remains flat on the mat. Whether or not you are also lifting your shoulder blades off the floor with each rep, the magic happens when you focus on squeezing from the lower abs or belly button to lift the legs and hips."
When can I expect to see results?
"That depends on the results you want," Boncompagni warns. "In my personal experience, it takes three weeks to a month of consistent effort in the gym to see a difference in the mirror or how your clothes are fitting. But bare in mind, nutrition is also important when it comes to seeing results. You need to have a low enough body fat composition to be able to see definition in your midsection—that's just based on your anatomy, not your weight.
"Also," she continues, "the best approach is to combine reverse crunches with other moves that target those core muscles—I'm talking planks, pikes, etc—as in addition to weight training, running, yoga or any other form of exercise that you enjoy that also helps strengthen the core."
Do reverse crunches help my overall health and wellness (outside of toning up or losing weight)?
"Because this move really requires you to focus on the squeeze of the abdominals and working from the lower abs, it is totally mental," Boncompagni adds. "I love how exercises like this help me build a better relationship with my body. They truly make me feel more embodied, more in my skin, and therefore more confident, because I have a greater mind-body connection. So while I'm training my abs, I'm also training my mind. It's so magical. It impacts the way I walk, the way I hold myself and the way I feel in my skin.
"Reverse crunches are great for anyone to do, but conditioning your core, including your lower abs, is especially helpful if you suffer from chronic back pain (that’s related to muscular imbalance or poor posture). People who are leaner are going to see more definition in the lower abs by amping up their lower ab training, but by no means is this a way to reduce fat in your lower abs. So yes, this move has benefits far beyond toning.
"But you don't need to do reverse crunches to strengthen your abs; you can actually train them more effectively by using heavy weights when you train your lower body and upper body. Think of your weight-training program or body-weight program as your outfit and the reverse crunch like the accessory that pulls your whole look together. It's the killer highlighter in your makeup bag you pull out when you want to take it up a notch."