How to Do a Curl-Up


You can include curl-ups, a simple exercise that resembles a modified situp, in abdominal workouts to help build six-pack abs, strengthen the back and improve core stability. And fitness assessment tests, such as the American College of Sports Medicine test, measure abdominal strength and endurance with partial curl-ups. Unlike the basic curl-up, a straightforward sitting-up exercise that you can do on an unmarked mat, the ACSM test is timed and requires a strict set-up and proper form.

Things You'll Need

  • Exercise mat
  • Masking tape
  • Scissors
  • Metronome or stopwatch

Basic Curl-Up Technique

  • Sit on an exercise mat, bend your knees 90 degrees and put your feet flat on the mat about hip-width apart. Slide your feet back until they are about 12 inches from your butt. Lie back on the mat and put your hands, palms down, on top of your thighs. An alternate hand position is to cross your arms over your chest and rest each hand on the front of the opposite shoulder.

  • Breathe out, contract your stomach muscles and push your lower back into the mat. Slowly lift your head, shoulders and upper back off the mat to curl your upper body toward your thighs. Slide your hands up your thighs until your fingertips reach the top of your knees. If you have your arms crossed over your chest, lead with your elbows and curl up to a 30-degree angle. Avoid lifting your hips and feet.

  • Breathe in, slowly lower to the mat and slide your hands down your thighs or keep them in place against your shoulders. Control the downward movement and repeat. Start with two sets of 10 reps and gradually work up to three sets of 15 reps.

  • Add a dumbbell for more challenge and resistance. Assume the starting position, except hold onto each end of a dumbbell, extend your arms behind your head and rest the weight on the floor. Keep your arms straight and slowly raise the weight. When it is directly above your chest, curl up and touch your knees with the weight. Reverse your movements to the starting position and repeat.

Fitness Assessment Technique

  • Cut two pieces of masking tape the width of your mat. Stick them onto the mat 4 inches apart, positioned so the tips of your middle fingers touch the edge of tape nearest your butt. Start in the basic curl-up position, except rest your arms by your sides with your palms flat on the mat.

  • Set a metronome to 50 beats per minute. If you don't have a metronome, have an assistant use a stopwatch to call out a cadence -- about one curl-up every three seconds. Ask an assistance to count the number of curl-ups you perform.

  • Listen to the clicking of the metronome or the cues of your assistant. On the first click or cue, curl up and slide your hands forward until the tips of your middle fingers touch the edge of the second strip of tape. With the second click or cue, slide your hands back to the first strip of tape and lower your body to the mat. Perform as many as you can.

  • Stop when you have reached 25 curl-ups or you can't keep up the pace with good form. Common form errors to avoid include lifting your feet, hips or hands off the mat, or not sliding your fingertips to the edge of the second strip of tape.

Tips & Warnings

  • Warm up for 10 minutes before your workout or test for maximum benefit or test results.
  • Check with your health care provider before beginning an exercise program for the first time or if you have been away from fitness programs for a while, or if you have any chronic health issues.

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  • Photo Credit Samo Trebizan/iStock/Getty Images
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