The 30-day crunch challenge

Say hello to your new tummy-toning friend... the crunch!

Crunch exercises might sound scary (even painful!) but stomach crunches are actually one of the best ways to target those tummy muscles (not sure about you but we think ours are in there somewhere!) without causing the damage to the neck or back that traditional sit ups can lead to. Thanks to our new 30-day challenge, crunch exercises aren't just for gym bunnies and exercise buffs - you can learn some simple and straight forward crunch exercises that will leave you looking and feeling healthier in just one month, all from the comfort of your own home.

The four crunch exercises in our 30-day crunch challenge are all specially designed to target your abs, for the maximum impact in the minimum amount of time. They target your 'core', and by strengthening your core you can help protect and support your back, protect your spine and body from injury, and help with better balance and stability.

Crunches are by far the best way to target your tummy muscles, but it's important to do them correctly otherwise you'll be completely wasting your time. Which is where Nutracheck Fitness Expert Kelly Marshall comes in! Her 30-day plan, using four crunch exercises, will show you exactly what to do each day for a month, so by the end of the 30 days you'll have a noticeably flatter stomach. And there's no gym membership or expensive equipment needed, you can do the challenge from your living room. Result!

What does the plan involve?

Kelly says: 'What a lot of people don't realise when we talk about "the core", is that the core is composed of two different systems - the stabilisation system and the movement system.

The stabilisation system relates to our deep stabilising muscles, including our transverse abdominals (inner corset), which can be targeted with isometric exercises (such as a static plank).

The movement system comprises of our more superficial muscles that work to flex, extend and rotate our bodies, such as the rectus abdominals and obliques (the "six pack" muscles we can see). To target the movement system we use exercises that incorporate flexing, extending and rotating movements, such as crunches, and this is what this challenge is all about - the movement system (six-pack muscles).'

The challenge

To start your 30-day crunch challenge all you need to do is download your own exercise plan using the link below, print it off and stick it up somewhere that will motivate you to do your daily crunch exercise.

You can download your FREE 30-day crunch challenge here

*Tabata note: use a free timer app or use a 'Tabata' song on Spotify - it displays 20seonds of work followed by 10 seconds rest x 8 (4mins work).

Between sets of a particular exercise or between different exercises assume it is 30 seconds unless it is stated otherwise. Be strict not to take more rest - use a stopwatch or timer.

The moves

There are four crunch exercises you'll be using during the challenge. Kelly outlines each one as well as showing you exactly how they should look!

1. Dead bug

This exercise is not only a test of coordination but creates a demand diagonally across the core muscles, forcing them to recruit and work together. This results in more muscle activation and more gains in strength and tone.

Start by lying on your back with your arms and legs in the air (like a dead bug!). Draw your tummy muscles in toward your spine so it feels activated and your lower back is not arching off the floor. While maintaining tummy tightness, slowly take one arm and the opposing leg away from the midline of the body until you reach a point where you feel you cannot maintain the core tension you started with. This is your strength threshold so at that point slowly return the limbs to the starting position, then do the same with the other arm and opposing leg.

As you get stronger you will be able to take the limbs further away from the body and closer to the floor. Don't compromise technique or you will feel it in your back!

2. Straight leg toe reaches

This exercise fires up the lower abdominals because you have to keep your legs raised off the floor, but then isolates the upper abdominals as you perform a crunch from your upper body to reach for your toes.

Start by lying on your back with your legs raised up so the soles of your feet are facing the ceiling. Draw your tummy muscles in toward your spine, this should minimise any arch in your lower back and then reach with your arms straight to try and touch your toes. This movement should be slow and controlled with ideally a two-second pause at the top of the movement. Even if you can't reach your toes you should be aiming for them. Your ability to keep your legs straight and to reach your toes will improve as you get stronger.

3. Banana crunches

This more advanced exercise isolates the oblique muscles (side abs), targeting that 'love handle' area! Start lying on one side with the arm on the floor out in front of your body at 90 degrees, the other, upper arm bent with your hand at your ear and elbow high. Have your feet stacked on top of each other and make sure you have your hips pushed forward to make a very straight body position.

While maintaining this straight line and with your tummy pulled in, attempt to lift your legs (still stacked) off the floor at the same time as you take the elbow of the top arm towards your hip. Essentially you are trying to create a lift at both ends of the body at the same time, asking the side ab (side facing ceiling) to contract to make it happen. Control the movement as much as possible and repeat for desired reps one side before changing to lie the other side up.

4. Reverse crunches

This exercise isolates the lower abdominals which are often the weakest and the hardest to target. By focusing the demand towards the leg-end of the abdominals we ask the fibres at that end to do most of the work.

Start by lying on the ground with an immovable object behind your head that you can hang on to (i.e, a sofa, bed, cabinet - that doesn't move!). Take your arms overhead to hold on to the object and then lift your legs up in the air so the soles of your feel face the ceiling. This is your start and finish position. Draw your tummy muscles in tight and then pull on the object behind you to brace slightly and to help you while you try to lift your hips off the ground - taking your feet closer to the ceiling. The legs should travel up towards the ceiling and possibly slightly over your body but it should be controlled and not forced by straightening at the knees.

Aim to control the movement up and back to the floor at the same speed - this will be a challenge on the way down where you might find momentum drops you back to the floor. As your lower abs get stronger movement will get bigger and be more controlled throughout.

We'd love to know if you're going to take the 30-day crunch challenge, and for you to keep us posted with your progress! Either leave us a comment below or visit our Facebook page to share your exercise experiences. Good luck!

Kelly Marshall, Nutracheck Fitness Expert, says 'It's true that you can't out-train a bad diet. To get the maximum benefit from your crunch challenge, you need to make sure your nutrition is as focused as your exercise. The Nutracheck App is a must-have tool if you want to monitor your diet and track your calorie intake'.

If you are trying to lose a few pounds as well as tone up, the Nutracheck calorie counter App and website can help. Enter all the activity you do in the exercise diary and see how many calories you've burn. Record everything you eat in the Nutracheck food diary - the App is super-fast to use - and get the balance right to lose weight.