7 core-quaking exercises that will one-up basic crunches in a big way


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Photo: Getty Images/gradyreese

Often, the way we work out, it’s almost as if it could have an invisible meridian dividing the upper and lower halves (you know: arm day! leg day!). But central, quite literally, to everything is the core. Having a strong midsection can help with everything from posture to movement—and it’s not as though it takes an entire gym full of equipment to make this happen. In fact, there are plenty of abs exercises to do at home.

So, with the help of some of the industry’s most-loved trainers, ahead you’ll find a series of ab exercises that will help you workout the muscle group with a nine-move sequence. Keep on scrolling for the abs-strengthening workout that you can do anytime, anywhere.

Windshield wiper + cross mountain climber combo

Megan Roup, AKA the creator of The Sculpt Society, is a big fan of planks—especially when they involve extra movement. Place sliders under your feet in a plank, remembering to keep your hands under your shoulders, actively pull your navel to your spine with your hands pressed out to the floor. Start with the windshield wiper. “Sweep one leg up to the opposite hand and back,” Roup instructs. Repeat this eight to 10 times on each side before moving on to cross mountain climbers. There, in plank position, bend one knee across the body to the opposite shoulder. Again, repeat eight to 10 times before switching back to windshields.

Knee-to-elbow crunches

Crunch-like movements primarily activate the rectus abdominis muscles (those that comprise the ‘six pack’), and the bicycle rotation also helps strengthen the internal and external obliques,” Pure Barre manager of training development and barre kinesiologist Rachelle Reed, PhD says. To perform the exercise, she says to “take a seat and roll back, curling your chin to your chest. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows wide. Extend your legs on the diagonal, with your toes pointed. Pull the knees into the chest as you crunch upwards and close the elbows, then extend the legs as the elbows open wide again. Perform two sets of 15 to 20 reps.”

Forearm-to-straight arm plank

Another way to add movement to a plank is to alternate between holding yourself up with straight arms and bending down onto your forearms. Y7 founder Sarah Levey says the trick is to never let your hips sink or back arch during the process. “If you do, you will be using more of these muscles as opposed to the deep abs you want to be engaging,” she explains. To nail the proper form, she says to start in a plank pose and “consciously, without moving the hips, lower down to the forearms.” Stay there for 30 seconds before returning back to the starting straight-arm pose. “Make sure to put the same attention on the hip movement when coming back up,” she reminds. “Staying still through the core is what is going to work your abs and build stability.”

Straight-leg bicycle

If you prefer classic abs movements, try a straight-leg bicycle. Begin on your back and bring your hands behind your head to support your neck,” says Flywheel master instructor and creative director Kara Liotta. “Float your legs up to a 90-degree tabletop position with your knees over your hips and lift your head off the floor to engage your upper abdominals.” From there, she says to extend both legs straight and begin to rotate your waist so that your left elbow reaches for your right leg and your left leg lowers; and then your right elbow reaches for your left leg as your right leg lowers. “Keep moving side-to-side in an alternating motion. This is very challenging for your entire abdominal wall—top to bottom and obliques,” she explains. For best results, she suggests pedaling for 45 seconds before taking a 15-second recovery for a total of three rounds. “It’s very important to ground your lower back on the floor while doing core work,” she points out. “This may mean that you need to adjust your legs a little higher to keep it down.”

Forearm plank rock

Yup, another plank—it seems like these trainers are onto something. From neutral forearm plank position with your hands clasped, Liotta says to “begin to rock forwards and backwards by moving your ankles and activating your core.” Repeat the ebbing motion for one minute. “Be careful not to arch and dip into your lower back,” she warns, noting that it can lead to injury. “It’s helpful to think of pulling the tips of your hip bones up to your shoulders to get that slight tuck under of your tailbone. A modification is to place your shins down and just hold a modified forearm plank instead.”

Teasers

To try a teaser, lie back and extend your arms and legs out long. With straight legs and pointed toes, “slowly activate the core to roll the arms and legs up into a “V” shape,” she says. When rolling back to flat, remember to go one vertebrae a time so as to not injure yourself. Repeat the up and down process for two sets of 10 reps.

Since these can be pretty tricky, Reed offers two techniques as you progress in both strength and mind-muscle control. When you first begin adding this move to your workouts, try bending your knees at 90 degrees on the way up and use your thighs as support when pulling into the top of the exercise. Once you feel stronger and more sure of the movement, keep your feet and legs planted on the ground as you roll up and down. “With any core-focused work, prioritize proper form and alignment over big movements or momentum-based movement,” she reminds. “Take time to ensure you’re setting the position up correctly before beginning your movement, and stop to re-adjust your form if anything feels slightly off.”

Full-extension crunch

Get ready for a toughie, y’all. Start on your back with your hands behind your head to support your neck. “Float your legs up to a 90-degree tabletop position with your knees over your hips and lift your head off the floor to engage your upper abdominals,” Liotta instructs. “From there, pull both knees in as you crunch your upper body up toward your knees, and then extend both legs straight out on a low diagonal as you bring your shoulders back down onto the floor.” To help make the movement more manageable, she suggests exhaling as you curl up and pull your legs in, and inhaling as you lower your upper body and extend your legs. “The main thing to watch for is keeping your lower back on the floor and not arching into your lower back,” she says. “This is especially important when your legs are extended away from your body and you’re activating your lower abs. If you feel your lower back start to peel up a little, bring your legs slightly higher.”

If planks and your wrists don’t get along, modify—the right way—and try these four wrist exercises. 

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