How to Do a Crunch-free Abdominal Workout

A defined six pack is perhaps the ultimate sign of a fit body. Most avid exercisers use crunches in an abdominal workout. However, to avoid the dreaded “exercise plateau” — when your body becomes accustomed to doing the same exercises over and over — it’s best to change your routine often to keep your muscles guessing. Adding crunch-free, core exercises to your abdominal workout will not only help flatten your stomach, but it will also increase overall body strength.

The Workout

For each of the following exercises, it is recommended that you complete 20-25 repetitions, unless otherwise noted.

Double Knee Drops

  1. Lie on your back and lift your legs up. Bend your knees until your legs form 90-degree angles. Keep your knees positioned directly over your hips.
  2. Extend your arms out to the sides, keeping them level with your shoulders. Then inhale as you slowly lower your knees to the right. Be careful to only lower your knees as far as you can while maintaining control of the movement with your oblique muscles.
  3. Exhale and squeeze through the waist as you return to your starting position.
  4. Then inhale and lower your knees to the other side to complete one repetition.

Hot Tip: Pump up the Intensity

To increase the intensity of this exercise, slowly extend your legs while your legs are dropped to the side and hold that position for a count of eight. Then return your legs to their original position by bending your knees and bringing them back to center.

Single Leg Drops

  1. Lie on your back and lift both legs straight up with your heels flexed toward the ceiling. Relax your arms on the floor above your head.
  2. Exhale, lift through your shoulder blades, and extend your arms up toward either leg.
  3. Slowly reach for the highest point you can manage on that leg. As you do this, lower your other leg until it is parallel — but still above — the floor. Hold your reach for a count of four or five seconds.
  4. Then alternate legs by lowering the lifted leg and simultaneously bringing up the opposite leg, and reaching for that leg. It is important to keep your legs straight and your shoulder blades lifted off the floor throughout the entire exercise. Also, focus on pulling your belly button down toward the floor throughout the movement.
    • As a beginner modification, you can do this exercise with your shoulders remaining on the floor.
  5. Repeat this move completing 20-25 repetitions with each leg.

Rock & Raise

  1. Lie on your back, placing the soles of your feet together. Your knees should be bent and pointed out to the sides. Keep your arms on the floor at your sides. Slowly lower your legs toward the floor.
  2. Then squeeze your abdominal muscles, lift your legs back up, and bring your knees to your chest. As you lift, focus on squeezing through the lower abs and lifting your hips off the floor. Your knees should remain pointed to the sides.
  3. Slowly lower back to your starting position to complete one repetition.

Double Leg Drops

  1. Lie on your back with both legs extended straight up and your heels flexed toward the ceiling. Your arms should remain relaxed at your sides. Keep your back on the mat and your belly button pulled down toward the floor.
  2. Inhale as you lower your legs until they are parallel to the floor, but do not drop them all the way down. Hold this position for five seconds.
  3. Exhale as you slowly return your legs to their starting position. The key to this exercise is to do it as slowly as possible. Concentrate on your breathing. If you feel your back lifting off the floor, try only lowering your legs to a 45-degree angle and then returning to your starting position.
    • Once you’ve mastered the double leg drops, try lifting your shoulder blades up off the floor while performing the exercise. You can place your hands behind your head to support your neck or, to further increase the intensity, extend your arms straight out in front of you.
    • To further increase the intensity of this exercise, add weights to the move. Using a five- or 10-pound free weight, extend both your arms and legs straight up. Then slowly lower them together, keeping your back flat on the mat. Again, the slower the better. Exhale as you return to the starting position.

Side Oblique-ups

This exercise targets the waist with varying levels of intensity.

  1. Lie on your right side, slightly rolled back on your hip and your legs extended straight out. You can place your right arm along the front of your body or extend it straight out from the shoulder for better balance.
  2. Place your left hand behind your head, pointing your elbow outward.
  3. Lift your legs off the floor and bring your left elbow toward your knee. You’ll want to squeeze through the waist, bringing your lowest rib toward your hip. This exercise can also be performed with bent knees to decrease intensity. Otherwise, concentrate on keeping your legs straight and feet together.
  4. Slowly lower back down to complete one repetition. One you are finished with your 20-30 reps, flip over and repeat the exercise lying on your left side.
    • For those who want to go a step further, add a weight to the left hand and extend it overhead with your palm facing forward. Inhale as you reach the weight overhead and slowly exhale into the lift, squeezing through the obliques. Using the weight will not only increase the intensity of the oblique workout, but it will also add shoulder and lat work to the mix.

Weighted Roll-ups

Using free weights during this exercise will help with balance. Focus on slow, controlled movements.

  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight out in front of you, holding five- or 10-pound weights in your hands.
  2. Inhale as you press your arms overhead. Exhale and slowly roll up one vertebrae at a time, keeping your arms extended forward until you reach an upright seated position.
  3. Then slowly roll back down, one vertebrae at a time.
  4. Repeat the move for 15-20 repetitions.

Moving Planks

This variation on the standard plank forces your core to work even harder by balancing the body through movement.

  1. Lie on your stomach, placing your hands directly under your shoulders.
  2. Lift into a push-up position, keeping your back flat. Pull the belly button up toward the spine to complete the plank position.
  3. Hold the plank as you extend the right leg up, bend the knee, and then pull the knee in toward your chest. Hold your knee in that position for 10 seconds before extending it back and returning to the starting position.
  4. Repeat 10-20 reps, alternating which leg is lifted. 

Getting Started

These crunch-free abdominal exercises are best used every other day, allowing time for the muscles to recover. As you get used to the moves, it’s important to take breaks and drink water throughout the workout. Remember, it’s more beneficial to perform five reps of an exercise correctly, than it is to do 25 with poor form. As with any exercise, if you are new to exercise or have physical limitations, check with your doctor prior to beginning an exercise program.

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