Last week I posted a blog about the best exercise you can do for your abs, and it got a lot of traction. I suppose everyone wanted to know what the #1 move is to get those visible midsection lines. Summer IS around the corner, after all!
In case you missed it, my top solution to getting that defined core (outside of proper nutrition, of course) is hitting the track. Yep, SPRINTS will get you the abs you’ve always wanted. It’s true! Give the post a read for more info on why sprints are so effective and amazing.
But what about your non-sprint days? What are the best core exercises to do then?
My answer *still* doesn’t involve any crunching.
Performing endless repetitions of crunches is actually probably one of the worst things we can do for our bodies from a postural standpoint… yet I *still* see so many women day after day come into the gym and waste their time crunching away.
Yes, doing high volume crunches will get us to “feel the burn,” but that burn doesn’t necessarily translate into any solid benefits. In fact, I’d actually argue that high rep crunches are pretty unsafe.
Picture somebody you know at work that has really bad posture. Think about how they sit at their desk all day. I’m willing to bet you are picturing somebody sitting hunched over with a rounded back and shoulders slumping forward. Not good!
Now picture this same person at the gym, doing 100+ crunches. Isn’t their chest being pulled toward their pelvis as they crunch? Isn’t the repetitive movement they are performing mimicking the exact same rounded back issue that you see at work every day, but now just over and over and over?
The crunches are worsening the problem.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time in my day or during my workout to do 100+ anything, nevermind an exercise that will contribute a bad back, a slew of other related problems, and a midsection I’m still not satisfied with.
For this you reason, you will never see me writing crunches into any of my client programs. Instead, I incorporate other movements that are more about strength, stability, and overall core performance.
It’s hard to limit my list to just a few favorites, because 1) like anything else wellness related, the core exercises I program for a client very much depend on the individual (ie I don’t program rollouts for those with lower back disc issues), and 2) there are a lot of “core” categories to choose from: anti-rotation, anti-extension, lateral stability, yada yada.
Below are four highly functional core exercises that I often program for clients.
The Pallof press is definitely up there for me because it does fall into so many of those core “categories” I mentioned above. At first glance, the move may not look like much, but your core has to work REALLY hard to resist turning toward where the band and/or cable is attached. Aka, anti-rotation. Oh, and hello, obliques!
To perform the exercise, position a cable or band at shoulder/chest height. Assume an athletic position with your feet shoulder width apart, chest out, and shoulders back. Hold the handle of the band or cable attachment to the middle of your chest for your starting position. It should touch your chest, and your elbows can angle down toward the ribcage.
CONTROL your movement. Slowly and steadily fully extend your arms, pause for a second or two, and then return back to the starting position. The more narrow the stance, the harder the exercise is. If your hips and pelvis keep moving, you’re likely using too much weight, and if you don’t feel those obliques, it’s probably not loaded enough OR your positioning is off.
Dead Bug Variations
Dead bugs are an interesting one because several people who love powering through heavier weighted lifts scoff at them at first glance. However, it’s precisely these people who need dead bugs because they have the most trouble with these types of small control and stabilizing core exercises! They are the people who most likely are engaging their lower back muscles for more hip dominant movements or sticking their ribs out when performing anything that requires the arms to raise overhead.
To perform the standard dead bug, lie on your back with your arms extended over your shoulders and your knees above your hips at a 90 degree angle. Tighten your abs, and press your lower back into the ground. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale, slowly extend your left leg to the floor as you bring your right arm overhead WITHOUT arching the back off the floor or moving the other arm and leg from their starting position. Slowly return to the starting position, and switch sides.
No matter which variation of dead bug you perform, the most important thing is to keep your low back pinned to the ground. I particularly like the band resisted dead bug for a little extra added challenge!
Rollouts are incredibly beneficial for anti-extension core stability, and honestly, they are one of the only exercises that make my abs sore, aside from sprinting of course!
To perform, start by kneeling behind a stability ball, ab roller, core board, or barbell. Inhale, and then exhale as you roll your body out. Keep your spine neutral: do not sag your hips, and do not keep your butt raised in the air. Keep your gaze down at the floor in front of you so that your neck remains aligned with your spine. After a pause in the stretched position, slowly roll back in.
Try 3-4 sets of 10 of these at the end of your workout… your abs will be shaking, I promise! These are definitely a more advanced core exercise, so if you are a beginner, I wouldn’t start with these.
Hanging Knee Raises
Hanging knee raises not only target those lower abdominals, but they really help strengthen your hip flexors and lower back. They also can increase stability in your upper back and shoulders, and your grip is most definitely getting a workout from these too!
To perform the exercise, grip a pullup bar or any sturdy fixture overhead, and hang with your legs straight down in front of you. Grip the bar so that you are hanging about shoulder width apart and your feet are not touching the floor. Slowly raise your knees up in front of you, keeping your legs together. Pause, and slowly lower back down to the starting position. Make sure to perform this movement slowly and prevent your body from swinging back and forth.
These are just four of my go to crunch free core variations, but there are a ton more to choose from. You’ll also find Turkish getups, chops, carries, single leg lowering, Frankenstein twists, body saws, stability ball pikes and knee tucks, slow mountain climbers, plank variations, and crawling in my client programs and my own fitness routine.
Of course, it’s important to also note that nutrition, hands down, plays the biggest part in how your core looks! But all these exercises can help enhance the choices you are making in the kitchen. 😉
Readers, let’s chat! Do you incorporate crunches into your fitness routine? What’s your favorite crunch free core exercise? Leave a comment to let me know!
Did this post resonate with you? Want more crunch-free core exercises? Then you may be interested in joining my FREE Facebook community, Empowered Together in Strength. Throughout the month of May, I am hosting a 31 days of crunch free core challenge. Every night around 8pm, I am posting a different core exercise, no crunches include. The members of my community are giving these a go and loving them, and I’d love to have you join the fun and learn more about effective core training. It’s completely free, so just request an invite here!