Forget counting crunches every day. Not only are they inefficient at toning up your tummy, they’re bad for your back. In fact, a recent editorial in Navy Times, an independent publication that covers the U.S. Navy, referred to sit-ups ‘an outdated exercise today viewed as a key cause of lower back injuries’. Many fitness experts are ditching the crunch in favor of more functional exercises which tighten up the abs, while working other muscle groups at the same time – exactly how the body is designed to work!
Here are 14 exercises that will give you a washboard stomach faster than crunches ever could.
Although planking looks easy, it’s anything but! This exercise is fantastic for strengthening the core, and building abdominal muscle.
A study published in the Journal Strength and Conditioning found that, while crunches only engage 64% of six-pack muscles, the plank provides 100% activation!
Planks do so much more than just tone your abs though – they strengthen the back, increase flexibility, improve posture, and contribute to healthy bones. To learn more about the benefits of planking, and to see how to maintain the correct form whilst in position, check out this article on the benefits of planking.
2. Side Plank and Twist
Once you’ve mastered the basic plank and side plank, add a little twist to the exercise…literally. This modification works the obliques, giving you a tighter waist and overall trimmer appearance.
Assume the side plank position, bracing your core. Stretch your free arm toward the ceiling and then slowly swing it underneath your body, before reaching it toward the ceiling again. Keep your abs engaged throughout this exercise. Repeat several times, before switching sides.
3. Plank Dolphin
Working both the abs and shoulders, this exercise sees you begin in the plank position, with your feet about hip-width apart.
Raise your hips up toward the ceiling, keeping your neck relaxed and your spine elongated, before lowering them into the starting position. Repeat several times, ensuring you engage your stomach muscles throughout.
4. Split Leg Raises
To really feel the burn in your lower abdomen, add some split leg raises to your tummy-toning routine.
Lie flat on your back and raise your legs straight up, with feet pointing toward the ceiling. Keep your back flat by pulling your belly-button in and down, and leave your arms flat on the floor alongside your body.
Lower one leg toward the floor, without touching the ground. Bring the other leg slightly toward you, in a scissoring motion. Hold this pose for just a couple of seconds before switching legs and repeating.
5. Twisting Mountain Climbers
Target the obliques with this challenging move. Beginning in the full plank position, engage your abdomen and use your core strength to twist your hips and drive your right knee toward your left elbow.
Return to the starting position and then drive your left knee toward the right elbow. Continue to alternate legs for 30 to 60 seconds.
6. The Hundred
This Pilates move is a great warm-up exercise for a full body routine or core workout.
Lie on your back with your legs in the ‘table top position’ (knees directly above hips). Pull in your navel so your lower spine is flat on the floor.
Lift your head and shoulder blades just off the floor and keep your arms straight and parallel to your body, raising them slightly off the ground.
Quickly pump your arms up and down with a small range of motion, inhaling for five pumps and exhaling for five. Repeat this pattern ten times (to make 100 breaths – hence the name). Those who enjoy an extra challenge can straighten their legs toward the ceiling, ensuring the back is pressed to the floor at all times.
7. Single Leg Circles
While it may have an innocuous sounding name, this exercise will make your abs burn!
Lie down flat and keep a straight body, with both legs together and your arms by your side. Reach one leg straight up to the ceiling, point your toe and begin to ‘draw’ a large circle in the air – first crossing the leg over the body and bringing it down toward the ankle, before returning to the starting position. Do this five times in each direction, before switching legs.
Remember to keep your core engaged and your leg movements controlled.
One of the most dreaded exercises around, the burpee is as challenging as it is effective. This full-body exercise really helps with core engagement, while strengthening and toning the abs.
From a standing position, squat down, get onto the ground and do a push up. Come back up from the push up, return to squat position and jump up. That counts as a single rep – which is why burpees have the reputation they do! Repeat for 60 seconds, or do as many as you can.
9. Kettlebell Suitcase Carry
Kettlebell moves are fantastic exercises to work the whole body. This particular move sees you strengthen and tone both your arms and abdominal muscles.
Stand up straight, and take hold of a reasonably heavy kettlebell in one hand, keeping your arm straight down by your side and the kettlebell about a foot away from your body. Resist the urge to lean toward the weight, and contract your abs so you have the strength to keep a straight posture.
Walk forward for 15 to 20 yards like this, ensuring your body remains upright and your shoulders square. Swap the kettlebell over to your other hand and repeat.
10. Goblet Pause Squats
Squats are a traditional leg exercise (although they have a surprising number of other benefits too).
This modified version, however, is a fantastic ab strengthener! Because it’s easy on the back and knees, it provides a greater challenge to your core, which has to work harder to keep you upright.
Hold a large dumbbell or kettlebell in front of you, keeping it just below chin level, and close to your chest. Squat down and hold this position for three to five seconds, before returning to the starting position and repeating.
To perform the corkscrew, lie flat on your back with straight and strong arms by your sides. Slowly inhale and lift your legs to 90 degrees over your head, keeping the heels together and toes apart.
Circle your legs around, exhaling and inhaling with control. Switch direction and draw the circle in the other way. Repeat several times, reversing the circle direction each time.
12. Double Leg Lowers
Really focusing on the lower abs, this exercise is all about control.
Lie on your back and raise your legs in the air. Keep your arms by your sides with the palms facing down and pressed into the floor for stability. Slowly lower your legs toward the floor and, with control, bring them back up again. Repeat this 15 times.
Only lower your legs as far as you can go – it’s more important to keep your lower back pressed into the mat to prevent injury. Keep the abdominal muscles engaged throughout.
(If you struggle with the double leg move, try bending your knees or lowering one leg at a time.)
13. Hip Dips
Another modification of the plank, this exercise sees you rotate and dip your hips toward the floor, helping to further engage the core and strengthen the abs and lower back.
Start in the plank position, and rotate your hips to the right, until your body almost touches the floor. Pause, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side – twisting and dipping your left side. Pause, and return to the plank position. Continue to alternate sides until the set is complete.
14. Bridge Opposite Arm-Leg Reach
A great beginner or warm-up move, the bridge with opposite arm-leg reach will tone and tighten the core whilst improving focus.
Lie on a mat with your left knee bent and your foot flat on the floor. Both the right leg and the left arm should be raised up toward the ceiling. The right arm is down by your side to provide stability.
Open your raised leg to the right, and raised arm to the left while keeping the rest of the body still. Use your abs to return these raised limbs to the starting position. Inhale while you are opening, and exhale whilst bringing your leg and arm back to center position. Repeat several times, before switching sides.