How to do an abdominal muscle reverse curl

While crunches remain one of the most popular go-to abdominal exercises for people dying to have a six-pack, that doesn’t mean it is one of the most effective. In fact, if you browse the web, you will see several studies claiming that crunches are not as helpful as you think. So even if you do a hundred crunches every single day, it will not do much for your abs and your spine will only hate you for it.

You know what is truly effective? Reverse curls.

What is a reverse curl and how do you do it

Think crunches, but instead of you bringing your chest and shoulders upward and off the ground, you lift your lower extremities towards your face, hence the reverse. Here is a step-by-step guide to get started:

  1. Lie down on the ground and bend your knees to a 90-degree angle while keeping your feet flat on the ground. Your arms should stay on either side with your palms facing down to help you balance.
  2. Brace your core and slowly lift your feet off the ground while making sure that your knees are still bent at a 90-degree angle. Your thighs should be in a vertical position.
  3. Bring your knees towards your face, with your hips and lower back only slightly lifting off the ground. Try doing this as far as you can comfortably go, but make sure that your mid-back stays in contact with the ground.
  4. Hold that position for a few seconds before slowly lowering your feet back to the ground.
  5. Repeat. Do at least one set of ten repetitions in the beginning, but you can always increase the number of sets and repetitions as you get stronger.

The better alternative

Since you are more prone to back and neck injuries in traditional crunches, switching it for a reverse curl is a no-brainer. Both sit-ups and crunches put strain on your neck because most people have the tendency to push their neck forward with their hands. In a reverse curl, this will not be a cause for concern because both your neck and head are in a neutral position.

Another reason why the reverse curl is the better alternative is the comfort that it gives to your back. It is known that crunches can do more harm than good to your spine if done too often over time. This is because traditional crunches flex the spine more and put unnecessary pressure to it, which can sometimes lead to overarching and increased tension on the spinal discs.

Hitting two birds with one stone

You will have a better chance at getting toned abs with reverse curls than traditional crunches because this exercise works your rectus abdominis more by flexing your trunk and spine. Your abdominals will also feel more burn during reverse curls, unlike traditional crunches where you feel the sharp pain in your back more than the burn.

Not only does a reverse curl target your abdominals, it also activates your transverse abdominis, which means that as you carve that six-pack, you are also shedding that pesky muffin top that makes your lower belly look poochy. This is because, unlike traditional crunches, the lower abdominal area is given extra emphasis in a reverse curl.

But perhaps the best thing about reverse curls is that they guarantee that sweet, sweet burn to your abs without having to do an outrageous number of reps. Talk about doing less for more! If you reverse curl the proper way, your muscles will work double time for a long duration because of the controlled movement. And we all know controlling your movement in specific exercises such as the reverse curl is one way to effectively build muscle.

No need to worry if you feel like you just got punched in the stomach; that only means you are doing it right. 

Common mistakes to avoid

Reverse curls are relatively simple, but patience and precision are important if you want to achieve optimal results. 

A common mistake people do when performing reverse curls is lowering their knees too fast, endangering their lower back in the process. When you do this, the lumbar spine becomes too arched as it tries to adjust its position to the speed by which you are doing that particular movement.

But if you bring your feet back to the ground in a more controlled manner and with the proper rhythm, your lumbar spine will never have to hyperextend because the movement will come from the thoracic spine and the rib cage. Going fast will not make it more effective so there is no need for you to rush it.

People also tend to forget that it is necessary to bring your knees upward before you bring them towards your body. This is the key to feel that burn in your abdominals.

Who can’t do this

While the reverse curl sounds like it could be the answer to people’s six-pack deficiency, this exercise may not be for everyone.

For starters, do not bother to attempt doing this exercise if you are aware of any existing back problems. Reverse curls might only worsen your situation, so it is probably best that you don’t test your luck and just stay as far away as possible from this exercise.

If you are someone who hasn’t developed your core stability yet, you might want to work on building a strong foundation for that first before incorporating reverse curls to your workout routine. An already stable core will ensure that you will be able to perform the exercise correctly, and thus reap the full benefits.

This is not to discourage people who have back problems or beginners who want to start with this exercise; this is simply a reminder to look for safer options instead so you will not have to compromise other parts of your body, and to build your strength first to prepare yourself for what you are getting into.

Crunches but better

Liking reverse curls so far but still don’t want to give up crunches in your routine? Here are a few crunch variations that are way more exciting but less painful for your back:           

Bicycle crunch

The bicycle crunch is one classic variation of the traditional crunch that not only activates your abs but your oblique muscles as well. This will help improve core movements, such as rotating your torso.

Start by lying down on the ground and putting your hands behind your head, then tighten your core and lift your torso off the ground. As you do this, raise your right knee towards your chest and rotate your upper body so that your left elbow touches your right knee. Lower your right foot back to the ground and your torso back to the ground at the same time, and then do the other side.

Oblique crunch

This variation also adds more challenge to the good ol’ crunch because this exercise specifically targets, well, the obliques.

To begin, lay on your side with your forearm down and knees slightly bent. Then slightly roll back to engage your glutes and lift your legs a few inches off the ground. Put your other hand behind your head so your elbow is bent. Proceed by bringing your legs upward, lifting your knees to your elbow while bringing your elbow down towards your knee at the same time. Make sure you are squeezing your sides in every lift. Do your desired number of repetitions and move on to the other side.

Ball crunch

Including a ball in your crunches provides better stability, and with its soft surface, there is less pressure on the spine, making this exercise relatively safer than traditional crunches.

Start off by choosing a ball that is firm and almost the same height as your knees, then sit on it and make sure that your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. Slowly roll back while walking your feet out, allowing your lower back to rest on the ball. You may put your arms across your chest or behind your head, but if you want to do a more challenging crunch, you may also extend your arms all the way over your head.

Once you have positioned yourself on the ball, tighten your abdominals. Also tighten your glutes to bring your torso upward and off the ball. As you do this, balance yourself using your lower back, legs, and glutes to keep the ball from rolling. In a controlled manner, lower your torso back to the ball to stretch the abs. Do your desired number of repetitions but make sure that the core remains engaged throughout this exercise.

Post curl clarity

Now that the awesomeness of the reverse curl has been established, you may want to start incorporating it to your daily workout routine. But you may also want to keep in mind that this exercise shouldn’t just be your main abdominal exercise nor should it become a substitute for other exercises. Remember that there is no shortcut to that coveted six-pack, and that together with the right diet, you need a more dynamic core regimen as well.