No, you don't have to do crunches all the time
When most people think “abs,” they think the muffin top that blooms over the top of too-tight pants. But abdominals, a set collectively known as the core, includes the many interconnected muscles that run up the back and stretch down to the butt and the front and inner thighs, says Michele Olson, PhD, professor of physical education and exercise science at Auburn University–Montgomery, Alabama.
Here are 24 moves, from simple to killer, that will keep your daily core workouts interesting.
Get more from your core
You’ll get more from your Pilates, yoga, or core-focused moves—meaning a slimmer, flatter belly—by following these tips:
- Move from your waist. Whenever you twist, make sure the movement happens from your bottom rib up. Keep hips still.
- Tighten up. Throughout each move, you should feel a tightening, similar to zipping up a pair of tight jeans, from one hip bone to the other.
- Exhale deeply. To help strengthen your abs and protect your lower back, be sure to exhale thoroughly with every breath.
A new kind of crunch
Try this two-in-one abs-and-obliques move from David Barton Gym owner David Barton. Here’s how: Sit so thighs and upper torso form a V shape, with lower legs crossed and lifted.
Hold a 5-pound medicine ball (or dumbbell) between both hands. Swivel left to right and back, bringing ball across body while maintaining the V shape.
Do 3 sets of 15 reps 3–4 times a week.
Bridge opposite arm-leg reach
Take inches off your waistline with this do-anywhere move from fitness expert and teacher Jessica Smith.
- Lie faceup with your left knee bent, left foot flat on the floor, and right leg extended toward the ceiling. Reach toward the ceiling with your the left arm and keep your right arm down by your side.
- Without moving your hips or shoulders, open your raised leg to the right and raised arm to the left. Now, concentrating on your abs, return your raised leg and arm to the center. Do 10–12 reps, then switch sides and repeat.
Low-belly leg reach
Targets corset and six-pack. Lie faceup with knees bent to 90 degrees, hands behind head, and abs contracted. Keeping knees stacked over hips, lift shoulders and crunch up; inhale and hold for 3-5 seconds.
Exhale and extend legs to 45 degrees; hold for 3-5 seconds while squeezing lower belly. Do 2 sets of 10-15 reps.
An advanced Pilates-inspired move. Lie on your back with knees bent to 90-degree angles and feet lifted. Tighten abs as you inhale, and lift arms up and back over head.
Exhale and swing arms forward, straightening legs so your body forms a V. If needed, put hands on the floor for support.
Roll down slowly, bending knees and bringing arms overhead. Do 15 reps.
A killer move that will torch calories as it works your core. Kneel on all fours, toes tucked under, keeping your back neutral. Draw your belly in toward your spine as you contract your abs and lift both knees about 2 inches off the ground.
Keeping abs engaged, bring right knee to nose (shown). Then kick right leg straight out behind you, squeezing your butt (shown); keep lower abs contracted and hips facing the ground to protect your back.
Repeat 8 times; switch legs and repeat.
Advanced leg crunches
A get-ready-for-swimsuit season move from celebrity trainer Eduardo Dias.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and a 3-pound dumbbell between your feet. Place your hands, palms down, beneath your sitting bones.
- Concentrating on your lower abs, use them to bring your knees in toward your chest while lifting your hips, head, and shoulders slightly. Return to the starting position; that’s 1 rep.
Do 15–30 reps 3–4 times a week; you should see results in 4 weeks.
Ana Caban’s belly blaster
- Lie on your back with your knees bent in toward your chest. Hold 1 (3-pound) dumbbell with both hands.
- Extend your left leg to 45 degrees, keeping your right knee bent. Lift your head and shoulders and move the dumbbell to the outside of your right knee, pressing into a crunch with a twist (shown above).
- Pull your left leg in to meet your right leg and reach the weight up toward the ceiling, keeping your shoulders and head elevated off the floor. Now repeat step 2, but this time extend your right leg and keep your left knee bent. That’s 1 rep.
Do 8 reps 4 times per week, and you should see results in 3 weeks.
Oblique driving-knee crunch
Lie on your back on a stability ball with your feet hip-distance apart on the floor and knees bent to 90 degrees. Place your right hand behind your head and your left fingertips on the floor for balance. Brace your core and lift your left foot off the floor. Extend your left leg, foot flexed.
Crunch up, twisting your right shoulder and rib cage toward your left knee while simultaneously stretching your right leg straight (keep your foot on the floor). Return to starting position (left leg lifted and right leg bent); that’s 1 rep.
Do 15 reps, then switch sides and repeat.
“I’m a fan of this efficient move not only for its core (and arm!) strengthening but also because it’s a great way to strengthen your pelvic floor—and that helps in everything from better sex to better posture.”
Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position with hands on a mat next to your hips. Tighten your pelvic floor (as if you have to pee and are holding it in), push into your hands, and lift your entire lower body off the mat.
Hold for 3 breaths, then lower back down. This is a pretty challenging move, so if you can’t lift your whole lower half, keep your feet on the floor and just lift your butt. Do 3 reps.
Sit with your feet on the floor, knees bent, hands beneath your knees for support. Keeping your chest lifted and shoulders back, engage your ab muscles and raise your lower legs until they are parallel to the floor (your knees should still be bent) and you are balancing on your sitting bones.
If this feels comfortable, begin to straighten your legs (stop if you feel any discomfort in your back) and stretch your arms forward. Hold for 5–15 breaths, then release. Repeat up to 5 times.
Cross-leg diagonal crunch
Lie on your back with your legs straight and feet on the floor. Keeping your torso still, lift your hips and move them a bit to the right; lower and straighten your legs again.
Bend your left knee and cross it over your right leg, placing your left foot on the floor near the outside of your right knee. Crunch up, then come back down.
Do 50 reps, then switch sides and repeat.
Tone-it V hold
Uses fast-twitch muscle fibers (the ones that contract during high-intensity moves and help improve muscle tone)
Sit with knees bent and feet on floor. Clasp underside of thighs with both hands, hinge back, and lift feet until lower legs are parallel to floor; release hands. Straighten legs and reach for your toes; hold for 8 breaths. Repeat 3 times.
“I’m all about this one-stop-shop move: It not only tones my entire core but also strengthens and sculpts my arms, butt, and thighs.”
Kneel on a mat on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders. Stretch your legs back one at a time to come into plank position (the “up” part of a push-up); engage your ab muscles. Your body should be long and straight; don’t let your hips sag or lift your butt too high. Imagine there’s a seat belt tightening around your waist, drawing your lower-ab muscles inward.
Press your hands firmly into the mat, and press strongly back through your heels. Hold for 1–2 minutes (or as long as you can), then drop back to all fours. Do 3 reps.
Stand with feet hip-width, knees bent slightly, hands crossed over chest. Squat down, pressing weight into feet. Make sure feet are pointing straight ahead and knees are over your toes; keep bum tucked. Return to standing.
Do 5 sets of 5 reps.
Lie on your stomach, stretch your arms overhead, point your toes, and lift your arms and legs about 6 inches off the ground. Hold for 1 count, imagining your legs being pulled out and back, away from your hips.
Next, circle your arms out to the sides and behind you. Exhale and reach your arms toward your toes, palms facing in (shown). Hold for 1 count, then bring arms back to starting position and relax entire body to ground. Repeat 6–8 times.
Lie on your back with knees bent to 90-degree angles. Straighten your arms by your sides, and lengthen your fingertips. Press the backs of your shoulders against a mat, and slide them down away from your ears. Focusing on the deep waist muscles, inhale and slowly move your knees to the right, then exhale and return to starting position. Repeat on the left; that’s 1 rep. Do 5–8 reps.
Plank on the ball
Kneel in front of a stability ball, draping your abs and hips over the ball. Place your hands on the ground in front of you and walk them out until the ball rolls beneath your thighs (as shown above).
Once your body is straight (with a slight arch in your back) and you’re stable, hold for 30 seconds. Focus on lifting belly button and squeezing thighs.
Jumping jack reach
While seated, hold the ball and jump legs apart, then together, then apart again. Stand and reach left hand to the right (use right hand to keep ball in place). Sit back down, jump legs together, and repeat sequence on the other side; that’s 1 rep. Do 4 reps, then do Basic Bounce for 1 minute. Repeat sequence 3 more times.
Standing side crunch
Stand holding ball overhead, elbows bent and out to sides, and feet shoulder-width apart. Lift right knee to side; pull right elbow down to meet it. Return to starting position; repeat on other side. Bounce ball for 1 minute. Repeat sequence 3 more times.
Basic pump (for abs)
- Stand with one leg forward and the hoop around your waist, holding it against the small of your back. Bend knees slightly, then spin the hoop by giving it a big push around in one direction. (Be sure the hoop is level.)
- Shift your weight between your forward and backward legs to move your hips forward and backward (as opposed to around), pushing and pulling to keep the hoop spinning.
Circles in the sky
For core, inner thighs, outer hips, butt.
Lie on your back with hands behind your head. Contract abs, lifting upper body slightly off the ground. Raise right leg 5 inches (or keep it on the ground if that’s too challenging) and left leg straight up toward the sky.
Keeping your core engaged and hips stable, trace 4 softball-size circles clockwise with your entire left leg; reverse, circling 4 times counterclockwise. Lower both legs, switch sides, and repeat.
Side incline with a twist
For triceps, biceps, core, waist .
Lie on your right side with forearm directly under shoulder, hand perpendicular to your body, and legs stacked. Engage your abs and the right side of your waist, lifting your hips so your body forms a straight line from head to feet.
Extend your left arm toward the sky, staying engaged through your core (shown). Now scoop your left arm in front of your body and reach under the space between your chest and the ground, twisting only from the waist up.
Come back up; repeat 4 times, then lower body to the ground. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Lie on your back with legs stretched out straight. Inhale as you bend your right knee and bring it in toward your chest; hug it tightly with both hands.
- Exhale as you use your left hand to gently press your right knee over to the left side, allowing your torso to twist. Stretch your right arm out to the right at shoulder height.
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