What are the best abdominal exercises that are not just a variant of a crunch or a sit-up?
December 13, 2011 1:08 PM   Subscribe

What are the best abdominal exercises that are not just a variant of a crunch or a sit-up? For example, the plank. What are others?

With weights or equipment, or without; doesn't matter. What works the abs that's not just another boring crunch?
posted by Cool Papa Bell to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and please be as specific as possible. Don't just say "kettlebells" or "yoga" or "pilates." Looking for specific movements, which may be within these disciplines (or not).
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:09 PM on December 13, 2011

I don't know what this called, so I will attempt to describe it:

Lie on your back, legs out, arms at your sides. Keep your arms and hands relaxed and your lower back pressed to the floor throughout the entire exercise. Do not arch your back.

Raise your legs to about 45 degrees (flexed or relaxed ankles). Slowly lower them (keeping the knees straight). At this point you can do all sorts of variations -- lower them 6 inches every 10 seconds until they're an inch off the ground, lower and raise them over and over, hold them in a touch spot as long as possible, whatever. Just make sure your lower back stays pressed to the ground (no arching!), and you're not attempting to clutch the floor with your hands.
posted by brainmouse at 1:12 PM on December 13, 2011

Well, you need to work the abs two ways -- you need static strength to hold a position like the plank, and dynamic strength for things like sit-ups. A good progression for bodyweight static exercises would be plank, reverse plank, L-sit progressions (tuck, half, split, full), to V sit progressions. For dynamic strength using bodyweight, hanging leg lifts, sit ups, and v-sit-ups would be a good selection.

If you're just looking for better posture via strong stabilizing abs, overhead squat a barbell.
posted by bfranklin at 1:14 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bicycles! (Not the two-wheeled conveyance, but the exercise named after it.)
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:15 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Peacock yoga asana
posted by rainy at 1:16 PM on December 13, 2011

If you've got an exercise partner, you should definitely try Throwdowns and Armadillos.

In Throwdowns, one person will be lying on the ground, flat on his back. The other person will be standing directly over the prostrate person, feet at about one inch from the lying person's waist on each side, facing the prostrate person's feet. The person lying down is going to want to grip the standing person's ankles, then raise their feet up to the standing person's chest, with as little knee bending as possible. The standing person is going to throw the lying person's legs down as hard as possible; their goal is to make the lying person's feet hit the ground. The lying person, in turn, is doing everything in his power to prevent his feet from touching the ground, and is also trying to kick the standing person in the chest on each upswing. Throw down 20 times, then trade positions. Repeat twice, so that each person has been thrown down 60 times.

In Armadillos, Person A lies on the ground, on her back, with her feet tucked up to her butt, her knees pointing up and her arms crossed across her chest. Person B stands at Person A's feet, facing Person A. Person A then pulls her knees up to her chest (her feet have now left the ground) and curls her head up to her knees, as tightly as she can (in the manner of a frightened armadillo!). Person B grips Person A's knees, and very slowly pulls her knees towards her (Person B); Person A, remaining as tensed as possible, is trying to keep her head as close to her knees as possible, such that, as Person B continues to pull Person A's knees, she (Person A) will slowly be raised up into a sitting position. When she's been pulled all the way up, Person A lies back down, and the process is repeated another 9 times. After she's done her tenth, Person A will switch places with Person B. It's really awful, and a lot harder than it sounds.
posted by saladin at 1:19 PM on December 13, 2011 [7 favorites]

Landmines are great for your obliques. (And fun too!) Note, you don't need the fancy pivot device. Putting one end of the bar into a corner works just as well.
posted by rabbitfufu at 1:20 PM on December 13, 2011

Hanging Leg Raises/Knees-to-elbows/Toes-to-bar:

Hang from a pull-up bar, then raise your knees up & touch your elbows. When the becomes too easy, try touching your toes to the bar. Works your shoulders, abs, lats, and promotes hamstring flexibility.

Overhead Squats, as mentioned before. Best core movement evar.

Planks are awesome too.
posted by jpeacock at 1:27 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Get an inflatable exercise ball and do a plank with your forearms resting on it. Now move the ball in circles, alternating directions.

Get on your hands and knees and raise diagonally opposite leg and arm without shifting your pelvis at all--then move that leg and arm in squares through the air, again while keeping your pelvis perfectly still.

This one sounds super easy but is surprisingly hard, for me at least: Lie on your back with your knees bent. Pretend there is a pencil poking straight up from your belly button. Now lower one knee to the side and bring it back up again, without letting the pencil make any mark at all. Alternate sides doing this.
posted by HotToddy at 1:31 PM on December 13, 2011

Russian twists, where you either have feet on the ground or up in some version of a V sit, leaning back, and twist to either side with a medicine ball. Great for the obliques. And many of the above - honestly, I kind of Love throwdowns, which isn't something I usually say about abs!

Pilates classes can be mined for many more.
posted by ldthomps at 1:31 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

The best exercise I've come across for one's abdominals are squats.
posted by dfriedman at 1:32 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Trunk Pike on an exercise ball is kind of like doing an upside-down crunch while in plank position.
posted by aimedwander at 2:03 PM on December 13, 2011

I like leg raises. I do mine on the floor, don't bend my knees (makes it harder/more effective), and make sure to set my back a la pilates rules (keep lower back grounded). I'm also a fan of standing torso twists done with proper stance and back setting (keeping the lower lumbar curve in tact the entire time, with no bouncing) as opposed to oblique work on the floor just because for me it seems to cause less back trouble.
posted by ifjuly at 2:11 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not just squats but Overhead Squats that work your core to help with stability. I've done them with nothing but the bar for weight.

It's a good one to do, whilst the Gym Rats are racking up some enormous load for their warmups.

Also remember the Gym Jones One Piece idea. I do things like planks myself, but it's usually to work on a problem area, or to fit in with other PT stuff, or to avoid injury and stuff like that.
posted by alex_skazat at 2:28 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Rodrigo Lamaitre> I love the ab roller and use it in combination with a number of pilates moves, planks and crunches. It's a pure power tool.

I agree -- but I have found the variant that allows you to use either your hands or your feet to be better. You can strap in your feet and do wheelbarrows, crunches from the pullup position, or just walk on your hands. Pretty much anything you do with it on your feet will bestow benefits to your abs, because at the very least, you are isometrically training those muscles.

If you're super cheap, you can work your abs and obliques with the human flag. Actually, this works your obliques more, but many ab exercises won't work these muscles directly.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 2:30 PM on December 13, 2011

Front Squats. I used a heavy sandbag (about 90 lb.) for these, the bulk of which forces the weight out further in front of the body than it would normally be for a barbell front squat. Go down low for these.
posted by Homo economicus at 2:33 PM on December 13, 2011

crunches from the pullup position

Sorry, that should be "from the pushup position". You position yourself like the woman shown in the link, then bring your knees towards your chest, then back to the start. If you move your knees towards your armpits, you will work the obliques on one side (obviously, you alternate sides).
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 2:34 PM on December 13, 2011

My personal trainer has me do a lot of the ones mentioned above, but no one has mentioned tiger crawls yet. They're great, I usually do 3 sets of up the gym and back.

I don't know the name for this exercise, but I'll describe it. Get on the floor in an extended push-up position - hands on the floor under your shoulders, arms and legs straight. You're going to move laterally across the room, keeping your arms and legs straight, keeping your core tight - if you're traveling to the left, move your left hand and foot over, then your right ones. When you get to the end of the room, go back the other way.
posted by hootenatty at 4:06 PM on December 13, 2011

Oh man, if you're gonna swing that far afield than yeah, nthing overhead squats (make sure the bar is directly above your shoulder blades, which probably means farther behind your head than you think). The bonus is you will feel like a total balancing badass; not many people do them at the gym so you may get some looks.
posted by ifjuly at 4:10 PM on December 13, 2011

Like a few other people have said, you don't really need to 'target' abs in the crunches pilates core sort of way that a lot of trainers insist. You can increase strength in your core by doing "full body" movements like olympic lifts.

Quite simply, no one that can lift a respectable amount in any flavor of squat or deadlift has a weak core, because you can't effectively perform those motions without one.

That doesn't mean you have to become a powerlifter. Even a moderate amount of weight will work your core when you try to stabilize it at shoulder height.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 6:56 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

That said, if you have access to a pullup bar or a dip station that has forearm pads (like this one) i'm extremely partial to hanging leg raises, because you can weight them, so you can make it harder again as you get stronger.

It's a pretty straightforward: hang, and bring your knees to your chest. When you can do 3x8 of those, try doing them into a pike position. When you can do 3x8 of those, put a 5lb dumbell or medicine ball between your ankles. You get the idea.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 7:01 PM on December 13, 2011

+1 on the ab wheel recommendation(though admittedly it's not for everyone). The first time you try it, the only thing more painful than your anterior chain musculature will be the stinging regret at having wasted all that time doing lesser exercises.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 7:20 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

200M shrimping across a room - alternate sides and try to throw your hands towards your feet
L-pullups - regular pullups but keep your legs parallel with the ground
Knees to elbows - as mentioned, hang from a pullup bar and bring your knees to your elbows, or bring your legs and body straight up if strength permits. Do these slow and do not use momentum.
Burpees with proper form
posted by benzenedream at 9:03 PM on December 13, 2011

Don't do crunches or sit ups. They're bad news for your spine.

Don't forget that you can do plank variations. You can start your plank and then rock gently. You can start your plank and move your feet from side to side (one foot at a time). Plank and alternate lifting your legs. Plank plank plank :)
posted by Aleen at 9:17 PM on December 13, 2011

May not be what you want but zercher squats kick the crap out of my abs.
posted by WickedPissah at 9:35 AM on December 14, 2011

Slight derail perhaps: you don't necessarily need to target abs perhaps, but that doesn't mean it's never a good idea. I actually do powerlift and that's WHY I started doing ab exercises--squatting became troublesome once it got heavy enough that some strength imbalances became evident (I have much stronger legs than core). Some of the ab stuff mentioned here is precisely why I was finally able to increase my core strength enough to go up in compound lifts. There are times it's a good idea, and the OP didn't mention why they want ab exercises, just that they do. They probably have good reasons, it doesn't need justifying necessarily.
posted by ifjuly at 10:55 AM on December 14, 2011

Work up to a front lever! (two links in there)
posted by that's candlepin at 1:23 PM on December 14, 2011

It is unfortunate that exercise has become one of 'those' parts of the internet, like dieting, health or self-help, where search results are dominated by SEO finesse pushing pure unsubstantiated bullshit and quackery. You need to find ways to cut through that.

Look for science instead (I like to put 'journal' in as a search term):

Core Muscle Activation During Swiss Ball and Traditional Abdominal Exercises

or I use google scholar:


Sometimes it is also useful to use 'meta-analysis' as a term so you can get a synthesis of lots of studies (if you think the solution to the problem of bad science is to have lots of bad science!). Using that technique I found:

Electromyographic Studies in Abdominal Exercises: A Literature Synthesis

Alas, I don't currently have access to journals so I can't tell you what they say...

I do recall reading that hanging leg lifts were the most effective, or at least the hardest, stomach workout but I can't recall the source and for all I know it could have been Men's Cosmo....er... I mean Men's Health.
posted by srboisvert at 5:30 AM on December 15, 2011

A lot of the good ones are already mentioned, I'll just add: the Janda sit-up!
posted by dubitable at 5:34 AM on December 15, 2011

What about a spider man pushup?
posted by MechEng at 6:11 AM on December 15, 2011

A good quick routine that you can do at home. (previously posted on ask me)
[this is where i found the spider man pushups]
posted by MechEng at 6:16 AM on December 15, 2011

While you may consider some of the abdominal exercises from the P90x workout videos to be variants of crunches, I have found the routine to be quite intense and satisfying. It takes about 15 minutes and includes many of the exercises mentioned above. Part 1 Part 2
posted by kumbu5tion at 5:02 PM on December 17, 2011

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