Crunches and sit-ups can be monotonous, and they probably remind you of elementary-school gym class. But they don’t have to be so boring. There are plenty of variations you can incorporate into your strength-training routine that target the muscles that make up your abs. Standard crunches work your rectus abdominis (front part of your abs), while side crunches recruit more from your obliques and reverse crunches target those hard-to-work lower abdominals. Even though doing endless crunches and sit-ups won’t get you those six-pack abs you’ve always wanted, they’re certainly one piece of the puzzle. And by switching up the variations, you can make sure that you’re never bored with your ab routine again.


1. Standard Crunch

Let’s start with the basics. It’s important to perfect proper form of the standard crunch before moving on to any of the other variations. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with your knees bent and pointed to the ceiling. Bring your hands behind your head so that your elbows flare out to the sides. Your hands can overlap and rest on your head, but they should never pull your neck up during the movement. Exhale, contract your abs and lift your head and shoulder blades off the ground. Your neck can curl slightly, but it shouldn’t strain toward your chest. Inhale as you lower back down so that your head is hovering just off the ground and repeat.


2. Weighted Crunch

Once you’ve mastered the proper form for the standard crunch, try adding weight to challenge your core even further. Start with a 10-pound medicine ball and work up from there. HOW TO DO IT: Start in the same position as the standard crunch and hold a weight at the center of your chest (but not resting on your chest). Curl up without letting your chin touch your chest. The weight might move forward (toward your midsection), but make sure that you’re holding it above you the entire time so that you feel the full weight. Lower back down with control for one rep.


3. Reverse Crunch

This variation targets your lower abs, so if you’re looking to eliminate that gut, pair this exercise with a healthy diet and a good cardio workout schedule. While you can’t technically spot reduce, you can lower your overall body fat, which will reveal your underlying muscle. HOW TO DO IT: Start on your back with your hips and knees bent at 90-degree angles. You shins should be parallel to the floor. Place your arms alongside your body with your palms facing down. Exhale as you contract your lower abdominal muscles to lift your butt and lower back off the ground. Inhale as you release back to the starting position. Make sure this move is focused on your abs and that you’re not pressing into the ground with your hands.


4. Raised Leg Crunch

Combine the lower-ab and stability work of a reverse crunch with the core challenge of a standard crunch. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back in the same starting position as a reverse crunch. Instead of lifting your backside off the floor, stay grounded throughout the exercise. Bring your hands behind your head and inhale to prep yourself. Exhale and crunch up without letting your chin drop into your chest. As you lower down, inhale and get ready for the next rep. For an added challenge, you can lift your butt off the ground as your head and shoulders come up — as long as you don’t rely on the momentum of the move to raise and lower.


5. Swiss Ball Crunch

Doing crunches on a Swiss ball is a great way to vary the range of motion you utilize. Be careful not to let you head or neck arch too far backward during the downward movement: Instead focus on letting your back and abs do all the work. HOW TO DO IT: Choose a Swiss ball that allows your knees to rest at a 90-degree angle. Support the middle of your back on a Swiss ball so that your head, neck and shoulders are hanging off. Contract your abs and raise up off the ball so that you’re almost sitting up straight. Lower back down slowly. Your upper back can curve down slightly along the edge of the ball as long as this doesn’t put strain on your neck or lower back. That’s one rep.


6. Weighted Swiss Ball Crunch

Swiss ball + medicine ball = super-amped-up crunches. Since this variation is advanced, make sure you’ve mastered the stability ball and weighted crunches first before you attempt this one. HOW TO DO IT: Hold a medicine ball directly over your chest and lie on a stability ball. Your knees should be at 90 degrees with your middle back supported by the stability ball. Contract your abs and raise off the ball, continuing to hold the medicine ball slightly away from your chest. Inhale and lower back down so that your head is past parallel with your torso.
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