4 Ab Exercises That Work Better Than Crunches

Is your go-to abdominal exercise the crunch? It may not be the best choice to work your abs.

"Crunches are probably one of the least helpful abdominal exercises," says sports medicine specialist Robert Truax, DO.

The problem with crunches is that most people lock their feet under something stationary, bend their knees and use their hip flexors instead of their abdominal muscles to pull themselves up, Dr. Truax says.

Many people also forget to maintain a neutral back, which puts excessive force on the discs, ligaments and muscles in the spine, he says.

Four Killer Ab Exercises

Dr. Truax shares four of his favorite ab exercises that use multiple muscle groups in the abdomen, pelvis and hip areas:

  1. Pelvic Bridge Crunch – Lay flat on the floor with your knees bent and pelvis, mid- and lower-back in the air. Keep the spine in neutral while holding the "bridge" for one minute. Another variation involves lifting one foot off the ground as if you're marching while maintaining your balance on the stationary leg. If you're more advanced, try raising your hips, then bringing one knee up to meet the opposite elbow. Repeat on the opposite side.
  2. Plank – Support yourself on your forearms and the balls of your feet for one minute, keeping your stomach off the floor and your back straight. To challenge yourself, plant your hands directly under your shoulders and raise up like you're doing a push-up, continuing to hold the pose. To make your abs burn, hold the straight-armed plank while bringing your left knee under your body toward your right elbow, repeating on the opposite side. Another variation works the obliques, bring the left knee to the left elbow, then repeat on the right side.
  3. Stability Ball Rollout – Kneel on the floor or a mat and face a stability ball. Keeping your knees on the ground, place your forearms on the ball and roll forward as far as possible. Raise your body back up by pulling arms back until kneeling upright in the original position.
  4. Stability Ball Plank – Kneeling behind the ball, roll out until you are in a plank position with your toes resting on top of the ball. Hold the position before reversing the roll until you are again kneeling behind the ball. Vary this exercise by doing a dolphin plank or inverted "V" plank. Lie on top of the ball with your shins on the ball and your palms on the floor under your shoulders. Use your abs and legs to roll the ball to your middle while you lift your hips and keep your head down between your arms.

Robert Truax, DO is a family medicine and sports medicine specialist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Truax or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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