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There are many ways to do a crunch.
Elevating your legs during a crunch can help take some pressure off of your back. It also alters the position of your lower back, making it easier to engage your abdominal muscles. You can do almost any type of crunch with your legs off of the ground, but some crunches are specifically designed to keep your legs elevated.
Bicycle crunches tone both your obliques and your rectus abdominus muscles, making them an ideal choice for abdominal conditioning. They also top the American Council on Exercise's list of most-effective abdominal exercises. Simply lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet off of the ground. Crunch up, pulling your right elbow toward your left knee as you pull your left leg slightly in. Then repeat the maneuver, switching sides so that you pull your left elbow toward your right knee. Continue alternating knees and elbows.
A flutter kick is a challenging version of the traditional crunch that works your lower-abdominal muscles. Lie on your back with your legs extended straight out, but elevated 6 to 12 inches off the ground. Using your abs, kick your legs up and down. Then lower your legs back to their starting point and spread your legs slowly apart, also using your abs.
While a traditional crunch has you lifting your torso, the reverse crunch requires you to lift your legs instead. Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet off of the floor. Using your abs only, slowly rock your hips and legs up, lifting them off of the ground and holding for one to two seconds before lowering them back down and then lifting again.
Vertical Leg Crunch
The vertical leg crunch positions your legs straight up in the air. Lie on your back with your toes pointed toward the ceiling. Lift your torso off of the ground, reaching for your feet as you crunch up. Keep your abs engaged by keeping the small of your back flat against the floor.