Everything You Need to Know About the Reverse Crunch

by Jordan Syatt May 5, 2015

During a seminar at which I was recently presenting, one of the attendees told me he hated the reverse crunch because “crunches aren’t functional.” 

He went on to explain “reverse crunches are not only a waste of time but they are actually dangerous because they take you into lumbar flexion.” 

Realizing there was a major disconnect regarding the true meaning of “functional training” along with the perceived dangers of lumbar flexion, I put the rest of my discussion on hold.

First Things First: What is “Functional Training?”

Most coaches agree the term “functional training” basically implies training to prepare for the activities and challenges you face on a daily basis while helping you achieve your individual goals.

Some coaches think this requires training on unstable surfaces, like a bosu ball, as a means of improving balance. As I explained in my article, Why Functional Balance Training Isn’t So Functional, however, this type of “training” is more of a circus act than a valid or safe training practice.

functional trainingOther coaches think “functional training” solely consists of sports performance based exercise and, specifically, unilateral (single-arm/single-leg) drills as these tend to be more similar to our activities of daily living. 

But I disagree.

I disagree with the notion that “functional training” solely consists of one methodology or only targets a single outcome.
For training to be considered “functional”
it must help you achieve YOUR individual goals.
This means effective “functional training” simply involves training in way that faciliates your continued progress.

Whether you’re a bodybuilder looking to get bigger biceps, a powerlifter trying to build a stronger deadlift, a marathon runner hoping to improve your aerobic capacity, or a 60-year old woman trying to move and feel better…each method of training will invariably differ but, as long as they’re appropriate for the goal at hand, they are all certainly “functional.”

What’s This Lumbar Flexion Thingy?reverse crunch

For all intents and purposes, “lumbar flexion” simply refers to rounding the lower back.

In recent years lumbar flexion has become the redheaded stepchild of performance based training. With research indicating loaded spinal flexion (lifting weights while rounding the lower back) increases the likelihood of back pain and injury, every coach and their mother has jumped on the “lumbar flexion is evil” bandwagon and relegated all lumbar flexion movements to the “never, ever, ever – not even once – do this” list.

But there’s a problem.

Lumbar flexion isn’t inherently dangerous.

Aside from the fact that it’s a natural and important movement pattern, imagine not being able to round your lower back.

How would you perform normal daily activities like bending over to tie your shoes or sitting on the toilet?reverse crunchI’m pretty sure most of us aren’t blowing discs out of our spine every time we bend over to put our socks on, nor are we in debilitating back pain every time we take a dump.

But that’s just my speculation.

On a serious note, while loaded spinal flexion (i.e. deadlifting with a rounded lower back) isn’t the safest idea, rounding your lower back is not inherently bad especially when performed unloaded and under control.

And that brings us back to the original topic of the reverse crunch. But just in case you’re interested in reading more on lumbar flexion, take a look at this piece written by Dean Somerset. 

Everything You Need to Know About the Reverse Crunch

1. The Reverse Crunch Is The Perfect Progression to The Hanging Leg Raise

One of the most advanced core strengthening drills in your training repertoire, most lifters aren’t able to perform the hanging leg raise correctly without first establishing a high level of abdominal strength.

Enter: the reverse crunch.

See what happens when you vertically flip the reverse crunch?

reverse crunchLooks oddly similar to the hanging leg raise, huh?

Screenshot (91)While they’re obviously different movements it’s easy to see they function in similar ways.

The reverse crunch is relatively easier as you can draw stability from the floor and the force of gravity isn’t forcing your legs straight down as it would in the hanging leg raise.

However, both movements target the external obliques, force you to establish eccentric hip extension control, and resist lumbar hyperextension at the end range of motion (ROM). 

Your Takeaway: If you’re in need of a safe and basic progression to build up to an effective hanging leg raise, the reverse crunch is your best bet. To watch the best hanging leg raise instructional video on the internet read this article.

2. The Reverse Crunch is Great for Athlete’s and Trainee’s Stuck in Excessive Anterior Pelvic Tilt

The reverse crunch is one of my personal favorite core strengthening drills for trainees and athletes presenting with excessive anterior pelvic tilt and lumbar hyperextension.

Aside from simply “strengthening the abs,” the reverse crunch targets the external obliques which, as noted by Eric Cressey, facilitates a posterior tilt of the pelvis.

reverse crunchWorth nothing, if you’re stuck sitting at desk all day and/or exhibit more of a posteriorly tilted pelvis, the reverse crunch might not be your best choice as it’ll only further lock you into your current position. 

3. Reverse Crunch Tutorial

Reverse Crunch Technique Points

1. Place the anchor 1-3 inches behind your head and grab on with your fingers – NOT your whole hand.

2. Start with your feet close to your butt, knees close to your face, head flat on the floor, and slowly control the eccentric (lowering) portion for about 3-5 seconds on every rep. Do Not just free fall towards the floor.

3. Once your tailbone touches the floor immediately initiate the concentric (ascending) portion of the movement. Do NOT lose tension in the abs and do NOT slip into lumbar hyperextension.

4. Throughout the entire movement do NOT excessively use your arms/hands to control the movement. The control should come from your abdominals. If you feel your hands/arms tightening up too much then your abs aren’t working sufficiently.

Reverse Crunch Programming Considerations

Frequency: 1-2x/week 

Intensity: On a scale of 1-10, difficulty should be a 7-9 on a regular basis. Do Not go to failure.

Sets & Reps: 3-4 sets of 5-8 repetitions per training session.

Workout Placement: Near the tail end of your training session after your main movements (squats, deadlifts, bench press, etc) so you don’t fatigue your abs beforehand. 

Reverse Crunch Progressions

Reverse Crunch Progressions

1) Use a Lighter Anchor

When you first start training the reverse crunch start by using an anchor that can’t budge from the floor like a squat rack or heavy dumbbell rack. 

As you get stronger and need more of a challenge, it’s time for you to progress to lighter and lighter anchors.

For example, start with a 24kg kettlebell and progressively reduce the weight (20kg, 16kg, 12kg, etc). Doing so will make the movement signficantly more difficult as you’re required to use less arms and more abdominals to control your body.

Once you can do a perfect reverse crunch with a light medicine ball it’s time to progress it even further.

2) Move Your Knees Further Away From Your Face

With your knees close to your face the lever arm is relatively short which decreases the difficulty of the drill. 

To make it more challenging simply move your knees further away from your face while adhering the same technique guidelines outlined above.

Important to note, the reverse crunch (when performed correctly) is already incredibly difficult. Myself included, I’ve only seen a small handful of lifters who could actually progress the reverse crunch this far. So don’t jump the gun and try to do the most advanced variation right off the bat; odds are the most basic variation will be more than sufficient to illicit a positive training effect.

Did This Help You Understand the Reverse Crunch?

If the instructional video and information helped you better understand the reverse crunch and how to use it, don’t forget to share it with your lifting buddies so they understand it too.

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