Want to work your lower abs harder than when you do regular crunches? Fed up or hit your limit with regular crunches and want some variation? Tabletop crunches, are exactly the ab burning tabletop core exercise you’re looking for!
Luckily for you, I’ve created the ultimate guide to this highly beneficial exercise. Find out why you should do them, how to do them properly, the benefits, and common mistakes we all make. So, read on to find out everything you need to know about this highly beneficial core exercise.
What are tabletop crunches?
Tabletop crunches are a variation of regular crunches. The main difference from regular crunches is that the legs are required to be suspended from the floor during the exercise.
By having to suspend the legs, it could be argued that this alone makes them harder than the regular crunch. However, they are quite different so it’s hard to compare them. My personal view is that they are harder! However, everyone’s opinion on that will differ.
Whatever your view, one thing is for certain. And that is, that just like any other crunch your abs are going to get worked hard!
Why should I do crunches?
If you’re thinking that crunches are the exercise you need to do to strip that layer of belly fat off, think again. The reason being that crunches alone will never burn enough fat to do this. There is no exercise, that I know of, that will target particular areas of fat in your body in this way. In most cases, as fat decreases through exercise, it will do so in unison across the entire body.
Most of our body fat is held around our midriff, at the belly, lower back, and sides. Because of this, it appears as though the belly fat is never leaving. However, it is reducing, it’s just a bigger tank to empty so to speak. To effectively empty that big tank you will need to be doing long-duration aerobic exercises like cycling, swimming, running, etc.
Enough now about what crunches won’t do, and a little about what exactly they will do. Think of crunches as a more targeted version of full sit-ups. The purpose of crunches is to specifically target the abdominal muscles (your abs) and little else. A sort of isolation version of a sit-up if you will. Crunches will firm, strengthen, and define your abs so that when you finally empty the big belly fat tank, your well-defined six-pack will be there to say hello!
Tabletop crunches muscles worked
- Lower abs
- Upper abs
- Hip flexors
- Obliques (crunch and twist version)
Just like a standard crunch they will target and work your abs. However, the position of the legs means the lower abs get hit a little harder. The requirement to elevate and suspend the legs means they also work your quads and hip flexors a little bit too. The crunch and twist version will also work your obliques.
How to do tabletop crunches
As with all exercises take your time when starting out. Proceed slowly and progress in small increments. Of the times I have succumbed to injury, 90% of the time it was because I pushed too far too soon, before my body had time to strengthen and adjusted to increased effort or load. With that out of the way let’s get straight into how to do them.
- Begin by lying flat on the floor/mat on your back.
- Raise your legs off the floor, place your upper leg 90 degrees to your torso, and your lower legs parallel to the floor.
- Hold your legs in this position for the duration of the exercise.
- Rest hands lightly behind your ears.
- Begin to lift your shoulders off the mat a little using only your abs, whilst moving your head towards your knees. DO NOT PULL YOUR HEAD UPWARDS WITH YOUR HANDS!
- Once you have reached the top of the movement begin to lower back down. You can identify the top of the movement as when your abs will contract no further.
- Repeat steps 5 and 6 to complete a rep.
- Exhale when lifting the body, and inhale when lowering.
Tabletop Crunch and Twist
A slight variation on the standard tabletop crunches. Everything is done exactly the same with the addition of a little upper body twist as the body is lifted upwards. This variation feels harder and will work your obliques more than in the standard version.
- As you lift your torso move your right shoulder towards your left knee.
- On the next rep move your left shoulder towards your right knee.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
How many tabletop crunches to do
Example sessions of this exercise are something like 3 sets of 10 reps to start. If 10 reps feel like too many, then do as many as you feel you can do without losing form. Take at least a day between sessions at the start, to allow the body to recover and repair. If you feel like holding your hands behind your head is too difficult you can also place your hands on the floor. Then, as you begin to move upwards, move your hands upwards, pointing through towards your toes. Keep the shoulders, elbows, and hands in a straight line while doing so.
To progress your fitness you can ad 1 or 2 reps per session, increase the number of sets, or increase the number of sessions per week. There are plenty of options in that regard.
Benefits of tabletop crunches
- Works abs hard. Tabletop crunches work the abdomen muscles in a highly targeted manner.
- Defines the abs. However, don’t confuse this with burning/removing belly fat.
- Helps strengthen the core. Transfers well to everyday life and sporting activities.
- Helps toward improving balance and posture.
Tabletop crunches common mistakes
As with all exercises, there are common mistakes we all make. These are the most common mistakes made while doing a tabletop crunch. Being aware of them makes it far less likely you’ll make them in the first place, and recognize quickly if you do.
Doing them with poor leg technique
Holding the legs in the air in a particular way is required to hit certain muscles, in a particular way. Once you feel your legs beginning to drop, or too hard to hold correctly it’s time to stop. If you’re not holding the correct form then you aren’t doing the exercise properly. Performing the tabletop crunch with poor form will start ingraining bad technique. It also increases the likelihood of straining muscles and developing an injury.
Pulling on the head with the hands during the lift phase
Firstly if you are doing this then you are doing it wrong. There should be no pull on the head from the hands or arms at all. This is usually done in an effort to assist the body upwards. However, it only serves to place unnecessary strain on the neck and upper back. This again ingrains bad technique and risks injury.
Not breathing correctly
Breathing out on the way up is important during crunches. When you begin the upward portion of the crunch you are contracting and tightening your torso. What you don’t need at this point is two lungs full of air to squeeze against also. So remember, breathe out on the way up, and breathe in on the way down.
Doing them too fast
Unless you are trying to gain an entry in the Guinness book of world records, then there is no need to do them too fast. Aim to be able to complete each rep with proper form before trying to progress. Don’t get caught up competing with the other guy/gal in the gym. Think of it this way, johnny does 20 crunches in 1 min with terrible form. Do you honestly think his workout is better than your 10 crunches in 1 min with perfect form? I’ll let you ponder that one.
Other crunch variations
There are a great many variations of crunches and sit-ups. Too many to list in this article. However, to add some variety here are just three others you might like to try once you have mastered the tabletop crunch, or indeed to compliment it.
Swiss ball crunch
As you may have guessed from the name these crunches are performed on a stability/exercise ball. Doing crunches on these balls provides two great benefits. Firstly, they provide great support for your back while doing the crunch. And secondly, they require you to engage a lot of other muscles throughout your body in an effort to balance yourself on the ball.
- Begin by lying with your back on the ball. Make sure thighs are parallel to the floor and lower leg are 90 degrees to thighs.
- Your lower back at this point should be well supported, and feel as if curved around the ball.
- With your hands placed lightly behind your ears begin to contract your abs.
- By contracting your abs this should begin to raise your chest up and forward in the crunching motion.
- You will recognize when you’re at the top of the exercise when you feel the middle of the back begin to leave the ball, and your abs are fully contracted.
- Be careful not to let your head drop downwards.
- Just like tabletop crunches, remember not to pull on your head with your hands.
This is quite similar to the tabletop crunch, in that the legs are suspended from the ground during the movement. However, there is some added movement and coordination going on between the hands and legs during the crunch. The action of the legs is similar to that of pedaling a bicycle, hence the name. This exercise works the obliques in addition to the abs.
- Begin by lying face-up on the floor/mat. Ensure the lower back is in contact with the mat.
- Lift the legs a little from the floor.
- Put hands behind the head, but don’t interlace fingers together.
- Twist your torso to move your left elbow towards your right knee, while simultaneously straightening the left leg.
- Twist your torso the other way to begin moving your right elbow forward and left elbow back. Simultaneously straightening the right leg and pull back up the left leg.
- Repeat steps 4 and 5 you will begin to see the pedaling motion. This is one rep.
Remember to keep the elbows and shoulders wide, and not pull on the neck and head with the hands.
Ensure that your sides move, not just your shoulders and arms.
This exercise can also be performed with hands on the floor by the sides.
This is quite a technically difficult crunch to do. Maintain good form and don’t rush them. Progress as slow as you need to.
As the name suggests this crunch is a reverse of the regular. It uses the lifting of the legs to engage the abs. As opposed to lifting the torso to engage them. These are also effective at working the obliques.
- Begin by lying flat on the mat, face-up, with hands on the floor.
- Lift the legs up, keeping the knees bent.
- Using your abs, begin to lift your hips from the floor and toward your chest until abs are fully contracted.
- Lower slowly to return to start position.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 for 1 rep.
You can increase or decrease the difficulty of this depending on how much bend is placed on the knee. Lessen the bend to increase the difficulty. Increase the bend to lessen the difficulty.
Tabletop crunches are an effective exercise at isolating and working the abs specifically. They are very effective at defining and strengthening those muscles. However, what they won’t do as some believe, is specifically target your belly fat. You really need long-duration aerobic exercise to begin burning and stripping fat. Also, it should be noted, that you should complement any crunch/sit-up type exercise with some kind of back extension exercise to keep everything balanced. I personally prefer doing full sit-ups when I do work my core, however, I don’t have any overriding reason for this. I just like doing them. Overall though, these are a great exercise to add to your bodyweight exercises arsenal along with squats, press-ups, pull-ups, and the like.
As always, feel free to leave a comment if you have any thoughts, advice, questions, or opinions related to this article.
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Always consult your GP before undertaking any form of weight loss, fitness, or exercise.
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