Rectus Abdominis Exercises

3 Exercises to Target the Rectus Abdominis Muscle


The rectus abdominis is one of the four abdominal muscles located in the anterior abdominal region and running vertically along the midline of the abdomen, extending from the pubic bone to the sternum.

The rectus abdominis is responsible for posterior pelvic tilt (PPT) and spine flexion. It is a popular muscle to focus on for aesthetic purposes, but it’s important not to neglect the other abdominal muscles and work on strengthening the entire core. In this Muscle and Motion article, we will explore the relationship between the hips and spine, discuss how to avoid excessive spine flexion, and analyze three exercises that target the rectus abdominis.


1. Abdominal Crunches

Abdominal crunches have remained a staple in abdominal workouts for many years, primarily focusing on the rectus abdominis muscle. Strengthening this muscle is essential for developing core stability and enhancing overall performance. Crunches can be incorporated into a dedicated core strength routine or integrated into a comprehensive full-body workout regimen.

To perform the exercise correctly, follow these steps:

  1. Lift your head and shoulder blades off the floor while keeping your lower back grounded and supporting your head with your hand.
  2. Exhale on your way up and inhale on your down.
  3. For endurance or stability training, hold the contracted position for 6-7 seconds (isometric contraction).

The main goal is to activate the rectus abdominis without generating excessive lumbar flexion throughout the full range of motion.

Anatomical Analysis of Abdominal Crunches:

  • The target muscles in this exercise are the abdominal muscles, with a particular focus on the rectus abdominis. 
  • The obliques assist with the flexion movement. 
  • The transverse abdominis is pulled slightly inward to maintain intra-abdominal pressure.


2. Reverse Crunches

Reverse crunches are what their name suggests–they’re like regular crunches, only that instead of disconnecting the scapulae off the floor, the pelvis disconnects. In other words, the thoracic spine is fixed, and the pelvis is free to move. 

To perform the exercise correctly, follow these steps:

  1. Lie flat on your back on an exercise mat or a comfortable surface.
  2. Extend your arms alongside your body, palms facing down.
  3. Bend your knees and lift your legs off the ground, creating a 90-degree angle at the hips and knees. This will be your starting position.
  4. Engage your core muscles by drawing your navel in towards your spine.
  5. As you exhale, contract your abs and lift your hips off the ground, curling your lower back and pelvis towards your chest.
  6. Inhale and slowly lower your hips back down to the starting position.

Remember to maintain proper form throughout the exercise. Avoid using momentum or swinging your legs to generate movement. Instead, focus on engaging your abdominal muscles to initiate and control the movement.

➔ You can press your hands against the floor for resistance if you want.

➔ Make sure the movement occurs in the spine and not the hip.

Anatomical Analysis of the Reverse Crunch

During the reverse crunch exercise, the main target muscles are the abdominals, with a specific emphasis on the rectus abdominis.

  • The abdominals play a crucial role in this exercise by pulling the pelvis upward and preventing it from returning to the ground. This upward movement is achieved through a concentric contraction, where the muscles shorten as they contract. 
  • During the return stage of the exercise, the abdominals engage in eccentric contraction. In this phase, they actively control the descent of the pelvis, preventing it from dropping too quickly or uncontrolled.

To adjust the level of difficulty in the reverse crunch exercise, you can manipulate the load on your abdominal muscles. To make it easier, you can bring your legs, along with the center of mass, closer to the movement axis. On the other hand, to increase the challenge, you can position your knees farther away from the movement axis, with them aligned over the pelvis.

By adjusting the load in this manner, you can effectively modify the intensity and difficulty of the reverse crunch exercise based on your fitness level and desired challenge.


3. Jack Knife Crunch

The Jack knife crunch is a dynamic abdominal exercise that targets the abdominal muscles and hip flexors, helping to strengthen the core and improve overall stability and control.


To perform the exercise correctly, follow these steps:

  1. Lie flat on your back on an exercise mat, extending your arms straight back behind your head.
  2. Engage your core muscles by drawing your navel in towards your spine.
  3. Simultaneously lift your legs and upper body off the ground, bringing them together towards the center in a closed jackknife position.
  4. Exhale as you perform the movement, focusing on contracting your abs.
  5. Inhale and slowly lower your legs and upper body back down to the starting position with control.

Note: It’s important to avoid arching your back when lowering your legs and aim to keep your neck aligned with your back throughout the movement. Focus on engaging your abs and hip flexors to execute the exercise effectively.


Anatomical Analysis of the Jack Knife Crunch

  • During the Jack knife crunch exercise, the primary target muscles are the abdominal muscles and the hip flexors. 
  • The hip flexors play a crucial role as they connect the legs to the upper body and are responsible for pulling the legs upward. Additionally, these muscles contribute to anteriorly pulling the pelvis. 
  • The abdominal muscles are actively engaged in this exercise. They work statically to stabilize both the pelvis and the spine, while also dynamically flexing the spine.

The abdominals work diligently both statically, to stabilize the spine and prevent lumbar movement, and dynamically, to flex the spine during the jack Kknife crunch exercise. This combination of stability and controlled movement helps to effectively target and engage the abdominal muscles.


Strengthening your core is an important goal to have in every training session, and you can always add it to other exercises you do. Every time you want to train a muscle, find different ways to make the target muscle activate in different ways by training different exercises in your workout routine. Remember, training all the abdominal muscles is crucial and, along with them, strengthening the back muscles as well.


Have a look at our article regarding abdominal bracing if you want to learn how to engage your core muscles better. Learn crucial nuances for every Strength Training exercise to get satisfying results and avoid common mistakes. With the Muscle and Motion Strength Training App, your workout will be more effective than ever!



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Muscle and Motion
Muscle and Motion
“Muscle and Motion” is one of the most complete resources on muscular and anatomical dynamics in the world. Our staff includes physical therapists, movement experts, fitness trainers, and highly skilled animators. This enables us to provide you with the most advanced and accurate programs in the world of movement anatomy.