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Reverse Crunches: How To, Risks, Variations,…

There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about doing reverse crunches, what will the effects be?

Reverse crunches are a variation of regular crunches that is generally considered safer for your neck and back. For this exercise, you fold your legs and move them toward your chest with the help of your abs.

Reverse crunches are typically done to grow and strengthen ab muscles similar to regular crunches. For other fitness goals, there are many better exercise options.

Before you give this ab exercise a try, keep in mind that you generally can’t target fat loss in specific body parts. Reverse crunches can be helpful for building abs but they are relatively bad for losing belly fat.

If that is your goal you want to look for exercises that help you burn a lot of calories.

Whether you should add reverse crunches or other alternatives to your routine ultimately depends on things like your personal situation, personal preference, and training goals.

How to do a reverse crunch

For reverse crunches you preferably want a yoga mat or other soft surface to lie on. To do a reverse crunch take the following steps:

  1. Lie down on your back with a 90-degree angle in both your hips and knees. Your arms start resting on the ground at 90 degrees out from your shoulders or just next to you for stability.
  2. Slowly move your knees towards your chest while keeping your hips and knees in a 90-degree angle. To do this your hips and lower back will come off the ground. Stop right before the middle of your back would come off the ground too.
  3. Lower your lower back, hips, and legs back into starting position in a controlled motion.

Keep your movements slow and controlled to make your abs really work hard and to avoid bad technique. Use your ab muscles, not the momentum of your legs or your arms for the movement.

Your legs should stay at the same angles. Moving them will only use other muscles besides your abs.

How to do a reverse crunch

Reverse crunch variations

Reverse crunches with just your body weight are the standard version of the exercise. There are also a few variations that can make the exercise easier or harder.

Some people are not ready yet for full reverse crunches. The first step to a full repetition is simply pressing your lower back against the ground with the help of your ab muscles.

If you can do that without a problem, the next step is only moving your knees towards your chest a small amount.

Both of these variations will help you train similar muscles but at a less challenging level.

On the other hand, bodyweight reverse crunches can become too easy. At this point, you may need to turn to other exercises or make reverse crunches harder to keep seeing a lot of muscle growth and strength progress.

Making reverse crunches harder at the right points in your training journey can also speed up progress compared to doing the regular bodyweight variation over and over.

The main way to make this exercise harder is to do weighted reverse crunches. This is basically doing the same exercise but with extra weights or resistance to make it harder.

You can do things like wear a pair of ankle weights or clamp a medicine ball or dumbbell between your legs.

Muscles worked with reverse crunches

Reverse crunches are mainly an ab muscle isolation exercise. This exercise will focus slightly more on the lower abs compared to regular crunches.

Besides that, you also engage your hip flexors, glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings a tiny amount to keep your legs in position but only to a very small extent.

The way you build muscle in places like your abs is by engaging these muscles so that they get damaged enough. This may sound counterintuitive but this damaging makes it so your body repairs these muscles, and adds a bit more to be better prepared to exert similar efforts in the future.

If you stick to exercises with the same weight, as your muscles become stronger this same effort may not damage your muscles enough to promote extra muscle growth.

By adding extra resistance to exercises like reverse crunches you are better able to damage the muscles in a shorter amount of time. If you don’t overdo it, give your body enough nutrients, and give your muscles enough rest this can in turn lead to faster and more core muscle gain.

For both the bodyweight and weighted reverse crunches, to build the most muscle mass you want to do about 4 sets of 10-40 reverse crunches depending on how advanced you are.

Depending on your personal situation, workout plan, and training goals, reverse crunches may be a good or bad addition.

Keep in mind that you have other core muscles like obliques that often play an important role too. Exercises that target both obliques and abs can be a better idea in some situations.

Reverse crunches benefits

Some people question how useful this exercise can be but adding reverse crunches to your routine can offer you some helpful benefits. Some of the most important ones include:

  1. Stronger muscles: Reverse crunches are a type of resistance training that can help you strengthen your ab muscles and make them stand out more.
  2. Can help with losing weight: Doing reverse crunches likely requires more energy than your regular daily activities. Extra muscle mass also helps with burning more calories. Both of these aspects can help with, but are no guarantee for, weight loss. Keep in mind that there are better exercise choices if weight loss is your goal.
  3. Improves mood: Exercise like reverse crunches promotes the release of substances that help you feel good.
  4. No equipment or location required: Since reverse crunches are a bodyweight exercise you don’t have to invest in equipment or be in a specific location. That being said, a soft surface like a yoga mat can make the exercise more comfortable.
  5. Improves sleep: Exercise like reverse crunches can improve the quality and duration of your sleep which in turn offers many important benefits.
  6. Slows down aging: Reverse crunches won’t influence how many days have passed since you were born. However, exercise can slow down the progress of certain aging markers that are correlated with negative health effects.
  7. May reduce or prevent back pain: Core strengthening exercises like reverese crunches can reduce or prevent back pain (1, 2). If you currently have back pain you do want to be careful and talk to an expert before implementing this exercise.

While inevitably many workouts are better for some of these benefits than reverse crunches, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from adding one activity to your routine.

Potential risks

The main thing to keep in mind is that reverse crunches can be hard on body parts like your back, hips, and neck even if you implement the right technique.

If you are weak or sensitive in these body parts you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. Especially if you have any back pain, you may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.

If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that reverse crunches are not (yet) for you.

Reverse crunch alternatives

While reverse crunches can definitely be a great addition to your workout routine, there are also some alternatives available for training your core muscles. Some of these reverse crunch alternatives include:

  • Crunches
  • Bicycle crunches
  • Sit-ups
  • Leg raises on the captain’s chair
  • Compound core exercises
  • Flutter kicks
  • V-ups
  • Plank exercises

Which one of these options is the best depends on things like your personal situation, training goals, the equipment you have available, etc.


Many people will benefit from adding reverse crunches with the right technique to their routine. You may need to make the regular version more challenging soon with crunch equipment to keep seeing a lot of muscle growth and strength progress.

That being said, for goals besides strengthening your abs and making them stand out more, there are many better exercise options.

You also need to remember is that reverse crunches can be hard on body parts like your back, hips, and neck even if you implement the right technique.

If you are sensitive or weak in these body parts you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. Especially if you have any back pain, you may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.

Also keep in mind that consistency is an important factor for any workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently. If doing reverse crunches is a workout you love, great. If not other exercises can also offer a lot of benefits.

If you do decide to implement more reverse crunches make sure you give your body enough nutrients, rest, and sleep to repair and grow your muscles.


Matt Claes

Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.