A strong core is an integral component in overall fitness, and building your abdominal muscles can make you look and feel great.  Crunches are one of the easiest exercises to do – and one of the easiest exercises to do the wrong way.

Most of us remember having to do sit-ups in gym class, and the fatigue and back pain that came along with it.  We most likely weren’t taught that the best way to do a sit-up actually ISN’T a sit-up, but the better and safer alternative: crunches.   Sounds simple, right?  Lie on the floor, flex your abdominals, partially sit up, lie back on the floor, repeat.  There is actually much more to doing proper crunches, and following these guidelines can make the difference between being fit and just hurting yourself:

1. Lie flat on the floor, knees bent, and feet flat.  Loosely cross your arms across your chest or cup hands behind your head.

2.  Contract your abdominal muscles.  While exhaling, slowly lift your shoulders off the floor, making sure to keep your neck and back in alignment.  Aim for a distance of 4 to 6 inches from the floor and hold the position for several seconds.

3.  Begin inhaling, and slowly lower yourself back to the ground, maintaining back and neck alignment.

4.  Repeat 10-15 times, then rest before doing another set.

Never pull up on your head while doing crunches, this can severely injure your neck and back.  If you find yourself hurting, dizzy, or out of breath, rest a few minutes.  Don’t push yourself until you are hurting; instead, build your endurance over time.

Crunches can help you create a strong core, but crunches alone will not give you the best results-or a six-pack.  While this exercise will build up your abdominal muscles, they do nothing to any layers of fat that may be on top of your muscles.  Add weight training, aerobic exercise, and a healthy diet to the mix to get the results you desire.