Endless crunches aren’t just boring. At a certain point, they also become ineffective in your quest for six-pack abs.
Crunches won’t give you the best abs but these moves will.Image Credit: Lyndon Stratford/iStock/GettyImages
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Besides doing ab exercises to sculpt the abs of your dreams, you’ll also want to build a strong core, which is much more than just your abs. It includes your hips, lower back and glutes — muscles crunches neglect.
Read on for the best 12 no-crunch core exercises. They’ll train your entire midsection, prepare you for movement, and yes, give you the foundation for a carved set of abs.
1. Crab Walk
This old-school gym class move is great for your core.Image Credit: Cate Norian
- Start with your butt, hands and feet on the ground, knees bent, feet on the floor and hands behind your back.
- Press through your hands and feet to lift your hips until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your mid-back.
- Maintaining this straight line, walk backwards by alternating steps with your right hand and foot and your left hand and foot.
Childhood crab walk races did more good than you realize — that’s why so many athletes practice the move as adults. “Almost all of our core work comes from being on the ground,” says Jeremy Frisch, owner and director of Achieve Performance Training in Clinton, Massachusets.
2. Tripod Crab Hip Lift
Add a leg lift to take your crab walk to the next level.Image Credit: Cate Norian
- Begin in the top of the crab position, hands and feet planted on the ground, hips lifted and forming a straight line from knees to mid-back.
- Lift your right leg and reach for it with your left arm while maintaining the flat body position,.
- Return your hand and foot to the ground and repeat this your right arm and left leg.
3. Side Plank
The side plank is a great oblique-focused exercise.Image Credit: Cate Norian
- Lie on your right side with your right arm bent and your elbow beneath your shoulder.
- Push through your feet and forearm to raise your hips off the ground so that you form a straight line from feet to shoulders.
- Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
Side planks not only sculpt your obliques, they may also help predict a potential injury. In his research, Matt Nichol, former NHL strength and conditioning coach, found that athletes who weren’t able to hold a side plank for more than a minute with good form were significantly more likely to be injured.
4. Toe Tap
Toe taps seem simple but they will fire up your core muscles.Image Credit: Cate Norian
- Lie on your back with your knees bent 90 degrees with your shins parallel to the floor.
- Without changing the bend in your knees and, most importantly, without allowing any part of your lower back to lose contact with the floor, lower one leg to the floor until your toe taps the ground.
- Bring it back to start and lower the other leg.
This Pilates move is much tougher than it sounds. Pilates classes are all about core control, says Elizabeth Burwell, certified personal trainer and owner of High Performance in Greenville, South Carolina, so don’t be surprised if your midsection starts shaking while you’re doing it.
Too easy? Double up: Lower both legs together, keeping the same bend in your knee as you lower and raise.
5. Medicine Ball Slam
The medicine ball slam uses all the same muscles as the crunch.Image Credit: Cate Norian
- Grab a medicine ball with both hands and stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees and elbows slightly bent.
- Hold the ball overhead.
- Then, slam the ball down in front of you, bending forward slightly as you do.
- Retrieve the ball and repeat.
The medicine ball slam uses the same muscles as a standard crunch, says Mike Wunsch, certified personal trainer. “As you reach overhead, you go into extension of the hips,” he says. “And as you come down, you go into flexion.” The difference is that this explosive move also involves your hips, back and shoulders and can be a good stress reliever.
6. Farmer’s Walk
The farmer’s walk exercise is simple but effective.Image Credit: Cate Norian
- Stand holding two dumbbells at your sides, arms fully extended.
- Keeping a natural curve in your spine, begin walking forward, keeping the weights at your sides.
- Contract your core to keep the dumbbells from swinging.
It might not look like much, but the farmer’s walk is an extremely effective exercise. As you walk, your entire torso is activated to help you maintain a straight posture, while carrying heavy weights, Wunsch says.
To challenge your core further, Wunsch has his athletes carry the weight on just one side, holding a dumbbell or a kettlebell low by the hip at arm’s length or in rack position (elbow bent and the weight up at the shoulder). The one-sided carry creates instability from side-to-side, relying on your core to compensate.
7. Bear Crawl
The bear crawl requires plenty of strength from your core.Image Credit: Cate Norian
- Begin on your hands and knees.
- Lift your knees off the ground and raise your hips up to the sky.
- Using your palms and feet, take several steps forward, moving your right hand and foot, then your left hand and foot.
Just try to perform a fast, four-point crawl, and you’ll realize how strong babies are. “You’re moving in a more basic form of locomotion, and reconnecting neuromuscular connections you had as a baby that have gone by the wayside,” says Jared Meacham, fitness center coordinator for the World Bank Group. Translation: Everything will work together and work better together.
8. Tripod Bear Crawl
Try this variation if the bear crawl is too easy.Image Credit: Cate Norian
- Start in a bear crawl position with your hands and feet flat on the floor, knees lifted and hips raised.
- Put your weight in your right arm and left leg. Raise your right leg off the ground and raise your left arm toward your right toes.
- Bring your right leg and left arm back to the ground.
- Then, repeat this motion with your right arm and left leg.
9. Ball Chest Press
This exercise will increase the intensity of your ab workout.Image Credit: Cate Norian
- Stand about four feet from a sturdy wall with your knees slightly bent.
- Hold a ball against your chest with both hands, elbows out.
- Maintain a tight core and chest pass the ball to the wall, straightening your elbows to throw the ball forward.
- Catch the ball at chest height as it bounces off the wall and repeat.
Make sure to generate the strength to stop the ball from your core and not your arms. If you want to increase intensity with this move, use a weighted medicine ball.
10. Twist and Toss
This variation will target your obliques, too.Image Credit: Cate Norian
- Stand a few feet away from a wall facing sideways. Your right side should be closest to the wall.
- Twist your torso to the left, facing away from the wall. Hold the ball with arms extended and slightly bent at chest height.
- With knees slightly bent, twist through your torso to swing the ball around toward your right side, releasing it so it flies against the wall around chest height.
- Catch the ball and rotate back to start.
11. Leg Raise
You’ll feel this in your lower abdomen.Image Credit: Cate Norian
- Lie on your back with arms along your sides, legs bent and feet on the floor.
- Keeping a natural curve in your spine, tighten your core and slowly raise your legs so that your shins are parallel to the floor.
- Without overarching your back, bring your legs back down to the start.
Want to take this move to the next level? Try it on a pull-up bar! Hang from the bar with your hands directly above your shoulders, your body forming a straight line. Maintain a tight core as you bend your hips to lift your thighs until they’re at least parallel with the floor. If this is too tough, perform the move with bent knees.
12. Straight Leg Raises
Make your leg raises even more challenging with this modification.Image Credit: Cate Norian
- Lie on your back with your arms along your sides, legs straight out.
- Keeping a natural curve in your spine, tighten your core and slowly raise your legs, keeping them straight and extended.
- Without overarching your back, bring your legs back down and return to start.
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