One of the most simple and effective exercises is also one of the ones I see done badly, really badly, most often. It’s the sit up or crunch.
I can’t count how many times I’ve watched people in the gym doing sit ups where the only thing moving is their neck. They put their hands behind their head and bend at the neck, up and down as if that’s going to work out their abs. The only thing its working is their neck, and it’s doing that in a way that could easily lead to injury.
So, when it’s crunch time, here’s how you do it.
Lie on the floor with your knees bent and the soles of your feet flat on the floor.
To begin with keep your hands away from your head, just to get the technique right. Try crossing them over your chest, with each hand touching the opposite shoulder.
Tighten your abdominal muscles so that it feels as if your belly button is getting as close as it can to your spine.
As you lie there pick a point on the ceiling that your eyes can focus on. This is critical in helping keeping good form throughout the exercise.
Gently contract your abdominal muscles and slowly raise your upper body off the floor as much as you can. As you do this keep your eyes focused on that point in the ceiling. Doing this will help you keep your head and neck in line with your body and reduce your inclination to bend your neck.
If you are doing this correctly your upper body should be in a straight line from the waist to the tip of your head - nothing should be out of line.
If you are not doing it correctly your body will be in a straight line but your neck and head will be tilted forward. That’s a great way to pull a muscle and hurt yourself. It’s also not working your stomach muscles as hard so you are missing out on the benefit.
Rise up as high as you can, pause for a second, then lower down but don’t go back all the way to the ground. Just before your shoulders touch the ground again raise yourself back up. Repeat.
If you are just starting out do this, say 10 times, to get used to the technique. As you get better you can do more.
If you’ve been doing sit ups for years and think you can do more by all means do, but remember, if you’ve been using poor technique you may suddenly find that doing them properly can be a lot harder than you are used to.
The wonderful thing about sit ups is that by building strong stomach muscles you give yourself a strong foundation for so many things. It gives you better posture when you walk or sit, it gives you more power when playing tennis or racket ball or squash, and it gives you a much cuter silhouette at the beach.
And let’s face it, spring is here so even if the Groundhog doesn’t agree, summer can’t be that far away.