The importance of core strength goes well beyond just having a “six-pack” or toned abs. Core strength helps support most of our body’s movements and creates the stability needed to perform any sort of exercise or daily activity.
Suitcase crunches are a great way to develop core strength, tone up abs and get a flatter belly. It is a challenging exercise that helps to improve your overall stability and mobility. The movement also engage the hip flexors to help improve range of motion and flexibility.
In this handy guide, we outline everything you need to know about suitcase crunches, including how to perform them, the muscles worked and the benefits they offer. We also include some variations to increase difficulty and example workouts to follow.
How to Perform Suitcase Crunches
To do suitcase crunches;
- Lay on the floor with your legs straight and your arms stretched out behind your head. Think of this as the suitcase being open.
- Engage your core by squeezing your abdominals to lift your arms over your head and towards your legs. Simultaneously lift your legs off the ground slightly and bring them towards your chest, bending your knees.
- Your torso should be in a tucked position. Think of this as the suitcase being closed.
- Hold for a moment, before extending your legs and arms back out to the starting position.
- Repeat for repetitions.
Tip – Unlike v-ups, your back should remain on the floor. It is the movement of bringing the legs towards your chest by squeezing your abdominals that should be the focus. Similarly, unlike v-ups you are bending your knees as you bring your legs towards your chest.
Suitcase crunches should be a very controlled movement that avoids any sort of swinging motion. You may also want to pause in the “open” and “closed” suitcase position, to really force your core muscles to work hard.
Muscles Worked and Benefits of Suitcase Crunches
Suitcase crunches primarily work all the core muscles, including the abdominals and the obliques. This provides benefits such as a stronger core, toned abs, and a flatter stomach. It also brings with it the benefits of better stability, mobility, strength and balance.
The movement also helps improve hip range of motion and flexibility. If you’re struggling to bring your knees close to your chest, it could be inflexible hips causing the problem. This is important to identify as inflexible and poor range of motion around the hips can sometimes be the root cause for things like lower back pain.
Suitcase crunches also require the back to stabilize and support the movement as you bring your legs in. The hamstrings and quads are also required to bend and straighten the legs during the movement. If you are using additional weight, this can certainly create enough resistance for your legs to feel like they’ve had a workout too.
Variations and Progression
To increase difficulty, try some of the following variations;
Medicine Ball Suitcase Crunches
Hold a medicine ball as you follow the movement. This creates additional weight, forcing your body’s muscles to work harder.
You can hold a medicine ball in your hands, which will create additional weight in your upper body. This can be a great way to engage the shoulders, chest and arms within the movement. This can create a more complete exercise, useful for those looking for an effective workout.
Alternatively, you can hold the medicine ball between your ankles or knees, which will create additional weight in your lower body. This will require your core to work harder as it brings your legs towards your chest, but also requires your legs to squeeze the medicine ball to avoid it dropping out, thus making the muscles work even harder.
Dumbbell Suitcase Crunches
Another great variation is to hold a dumbbell in your hands as you perform the movement. As with holding a medicine ball, this engages the shoulders, chest and arms, creating a more all-round movement.
While holding a dumbbell, keep your arms straight and avoid bending at the elbows. This ensures the weight hinges at the shoulders.
Alternating Suitcase Crunches
Another way to add variation and progression is to do alternating suitcase crunches. This movement involves bringing a single leg towards your chest, whilst maintaining the extended position with the other. This movement is then repeated with the other leg.
This adds an element of coordination, as well as requiring better balance and stability during the movement.
If you reach towards the single leg during the “closed” suitcase position, it will require a subtle twist, which will engage the obliques (the muscles on the side of your core) more.
Suitcase Crunches Workout
Suitcase crunches lend themselves for all kinds of workouts. If you include them in a HIIT workout, remember to maintain a slow and controlled movement. A lot of the benefits come from the ability to hold the extended position and squeeze the legs inwards, as opposed to a rocking or swinging motion.
To begin with try something such as:
5 sets x 10 suitcase crunches
3 sets x 5 weighted suitcase crunches
3 sets x 10 alternating suitcase crunches