The Expert: Aly Teich is the founder of The Sweat Life, a weekly web series and online magazine that provides readers with an insider lens on all aspects of health, fitness and happiness. "I'm very much about encouraging people to work out for the sake of feeling their best and living their best lives, and being the happiest they can be," says Teich. "There's nothing wrong with wanting to feel great in your skin and look a certain way — but if you're not happy and feeling good first, you're never going to be happy with how you look. Happiness is the key in terms of energy and longevity for me." Also key is feeling comfort and support while you're working out; and for Teich, Sweaty Betty provides just that with its range of bras that give different support based on the type of workout you're doing.
The Moves: Crunches benefit your core, which, in turn, benefits the entire body.
"Strengthening your core is an absolute must," explains Teich, "especially if you're someone who has a weak back." And giving your core a workout is about so much more than getting a six-pack. Says Teich, "It's great to have a flat stomach or have abs, but really, when it comes to strength and health, having a strong core is one of the most important things you can do for a healthy body foundation."
"But," she continues, "a lot of people don't know how to properly work their core." Use her tips below to get a perfect core workout with just two simple moves: the basic crunch, and the bicycle crunch.
• Keep your shoulders off the ground, and your elbows nice and wide with your hands resting on the back of your head.
• Position your feet comfortably flat against the ground with your knees bent.
• Keeping your lower back against the ground, lift your shoulders off the ground, making sure to engage your abdominal muscles.
• Finish each crunch by returning your upper back to the floor, but don't let your shoulder blades touch the ground again before beginning the next crunch.
• Tucking in your chin just slightly will help you avoid straining your neck.
• As an alternative, you can try elevating your legs off the ground at a 90-degree angle, as long as your lower back is still correctly positioned. This is called a "tabletop."
• Utilizing the "time-under-tension" technique — meaning that you're staying up in one move without letting yourself rest — makes crunches much more effective. Says Teich, "Your ab muscles are actually your endurance muscles, so they're meant to be worked in time-under-tension. You're already under tension, so it fatigues the muscle in a different way." This is why you shouldn't let your shoulders touch the ground while crunching.
• The form of a crunch is more important than the amount you lift your back. "Even if it's just going up an inch and back an inch, never allowing your shoulders to touch the ground and keeping your abs in that constant motion is so much more effective that you'll probably only need to workout your abs for half the amount of time," says Teich.
• Variation on the basic crunch: Instead of keeping your feet planted, use your legs to mimic the motion of riding a bicycle to work both your abs (upper and lower) and obliques.
• Place hands lightly behind your head and do a basic crunch first in order to ensure your shoulder blades are off the ground and your core is engaged. (Both should be the entire time.)
• Lying flat on the ground, bring one knee into your chest and lift the other leg up to a 45-degree angle.
• Twist and crunch up towards the knee that is pulled into your chest.
• In one smooth motion, straighten that leg out away from your chest while pulling your other knee in, twisting your body towards your other side. Repeat.
• Remember to utilize time-under-tension by keeping your shoulder blades off the floor at all times.
• Take your time. Going too fast will put unwanted pressure on your hip flexors.
• Focus on form by bringing your armpit — not your elbow — to your knee.
• Try to turn your body as far as possible. The more you twist your upper body during the bicycle crunch, the more you'll be working out your oblique muscles.
The clothes: Teich is wearing the Brahama Padded Yoga Bra and Union Jack Power Leggings from Sweaty Betty, a UK-based activewear brand with a mission to provide women with workout clothes that make them feel both powerful and beautiful. Sweaty Betty has more than 50 stores in the U.S. and UK, along with an e-commerce site.