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Different Ways to Do Crunches & Sit Ups

By Andrea Chrysanthou

Crunches and situps are two similar exercises that are used to strengthen your abdominal muscles. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but the difference between crunches and situps is that with situps your torso is meant to completely come off the floor, while crunches only require your shoulders and upper back to rise off the floor. Both exercises can be done in different ways to change the intensity and add variation to your core training routine.


Adding equipment to your situps or crunches not only adds variety but can also change the intensity of the exercises. Crunches on exercise balls recruit more muscles than regular situps, while crunches using ab roller devices make the exercise much less challenging and therefore less effective. Other equipment often used to perform situps and crunches include decline benches in which you are lying on a decline and have to work harder to perform the exercise.

Leg Recruitment

Raising your legs while performing a crunch or situp makes the exercise more challenging and yields 129 percent more abdominal muscles than a traditional crunch. Crunches that require raising your legs include vertical leg raises, which require your legs to be extended up in the air for the entire exercise, and reverse crunches in which your legs raise and lower during each crunch. The bicycle maneuver, which is the most effective abdominal exercise, requires your legs to mimic a cycling motion while you crunch and try to touch your elbow to the opposite knee.

Arm Positioning

The positioning for a traditional crunch or situp involves having the hands behind your head, with the elbows pointing out to either side. To add more intensity, you can raise your arms straight up above your head, with your elbows at the sides of your head. This is called a long arm crunch and recruits 119 percent more muscles than a traditional crunch. You can also cross your arms in front of your chest to add variety to your ab exercises.

Weighted Crunches and Situps

Traditional crunches and situps are done using only your body weight, but holding a weight over your upper body makes the exercise more challenging. Holding a dumbbell, barbell plate or medicine ball on your chest or above your head requires you to lift more weight with each crunch or situp, therefore recruiting more abdominal muscles.

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