Endless crunches aren’t just boring. At a certain point, they also become ineffective in your quest for six-pack abs. Most people don’t realize that without a strong core, it’s unlikely you’ll get washboard abs. And your core encompasses much more than just your abs. It includes your hips, low back and glutes — areas that crunches alone are missing. “The core is much more dynamic than the abdominals,” says Jared Meacham, fitness services director at Sky Fitness & Wellbeing in Tulsa, OK. It’s also the starting point for all of your body’s movements. Read on for the best 10 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 kid’s exercise will crush your core! 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, MA. HOW TO DO IT: Start with your glutes, hands and feet on the ground. 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 body line, walk by alternating steps with your right hand and foot and your left hand and foot.
2 TRIPOD CRAB HIP LIFT
Regular crab hip lift too easy for you? Try this variation. HOW TO DO IT: Make yourself a tripod: In the top of the crab position, reach one arm forward while maintaining the flat body position, then return the hand to the ground. Repeat this with each arm and leg. For an extra challenge, lift one arm and the opposite leg, touching your toe above your body.
3 SIDE PLANK
Side planks aren’t just for sculpting your obliques. When Matt Nichol, a former NHL strength and conditioning coach, tested athletes on the side plank, he found it could predict their injury rate. “Athletes who were unable to perform the side bridge for greater than one minute with perfect form were significantly more likely to be injured,” Nichol says. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your side with your 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 toe to shoulder. Use the minute-long version of the exercise as a test, but build your strength in the exercise with shorter sets.
4 TOE TAP
This Pilates move is much tougher than it sounds. Pilates classes are all about core control, says Elizabeth Burwell, a personal trainer and owner of High Performance in Greenville, S.C. So don’t be surprised if your midsection starts shaking during this exercise. HOW TO DO IT: 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 arch up and 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. Try for 10 or more reps. Too easy? Double up: Lower both legs together, keeping the same bend in your knee as you lower and raise.
5 BALL SLAM
Take out your stress and frustrations with this exercise. The ball slam uses the same muscles as a standard crunch, says Mike Wunsch, performance director at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, CA. “As you reach overhead, you go into extension of the hips,” he says. “And as you come down, you go into flexion.” But the difference is that this explosive move also involves your hips, back and shoulder, and can be an incredible stress reliever after a long day. HOW TO DO IT: Grab a medicine ball with both hands and stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees and elbows slightly bent. Hold the ball straight overhead, and then slam it down in front of you, bending forward slightly as you do. Retrieve the ball and repeat.
6 FARMER’S WALK
It might not look like much, but the farmer’s walk is an extremely effective exercise. You don’t realize it, but you’ve got to fire your entire torso to maintain a straight posture while carrying the heavy weights, says strength coach Mike Wunsch. HOW TO DO IT: To challenge the 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). Then all you have to do is walk. These one-sided carries create instability from side-to-side, which your core has to compensate for.
7 BEAR CRAWL
You’d be surprised how strong babies are. Just try to perform a fast, four-point crawl. Chances are, you’ll be worn-out and fittingly, crying for your mama. “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 fitness director Jared Meacham. Translation: Everything will work together, and work better together. HOW TO DO IT: Crawl with both your hands and feet in contact with the floor, your butt high in the air.
8 TRIPOD BEAR CRAWL
If the bear crawl gets too easy for you, do the same progression you did with the crab walk. HOW TO DO IT: Start in the same position as the bear crawl (hands and feet with your butt in the air). Now try touching your right hand to your left foot in the air, then your left hand and right foot, maintaining a rigid core throughout.
9 BALL CHEST PRESS
Take a note from Newton: Every action has an opposite reaction — and when you push a heavy ball away from your body into a wall, it gets pushed back. Your core is what keeps you from falling over. HOW TO DO IT: Stand about four feet from a sturdy wall with your knees slightly bent and 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 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
If slamming and passing weren’t enough, strength coach Mike Wunsch has his clients twist and throw, too. You’ll train your core both when releasing the ball and when catching it. HOW TO DO IT: Stand with a wall on your right side about four feet away, and the ball on your left hip, held with both hands. With knees slightly bent, twist through your torso to swing the ball around toward your right hip, releasing it so it flies against the wall around chest height. Catch the ball and rotate back to start. Repeat this sequence.