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4 Ab Exercises That Work Better Than Crunches

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boat pose for abdominal exercise

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

"If you're looking for the most impact, crunches are not the best choice" says sports medicine specialist Mario Gastaldo, PT.

There are a few problems with crunches, the main one being the excessive stress it can place on your lower back. Crunches also tend to isolate and work a relatively small region of your abdominal and core muscles, Gastaldo says.

Rather, the focus should be on exercises that target the core. The core includes all of the muscles that attach to the spine. Having a strong core comes with significant benefits, including a lower risk of injury, and improved mobility, posture and balance.

Four Killer Ab Exercises

Gastaldo 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. Side Planks – Lie on your side with your forearm on the floor, elbow under the shoulder, holding your upper body off the floor. With your knees bent, drive up though your bottom knee and brace your core. You should feel a burn along the side of your body in your hip and abdominal muscles and can hold this pose for a period of time. For a more advanced move you can lift the top leg off of your bottom leg and hold that position.
  4. Bird Dogs – Begin on hands and knees. Flatten your back into a neutral spine and gently brace your core muscles. Slowly lift the opposite arm and leg off the floor reach forward and kick back at the same time. Hold this pose for a few seconds. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.

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At University Hospitals, our fellowship-trained sports medicine specialists, primary care doctors, nutritionists, sleep experts and other health care professionals ensure the very best in health and medical care for active people. Learn more about sports medicine services at University Hospitals.

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