I’m always surprised by the amount of people tirelessly doing crunch after crunch at the gym. Not to mention the excessive sit up challenges you see going around online. And all in the search of abs and core strength.
But are these exercises the most effective way?
There are exercises that are better alternatives to crunches and sit ups! In fact, I’d go as far as suggesting that both exercises are a thing of the past! In this article, I will be sharing with you 10 better options for working your core.
What is Core Strength?
Your core is more than 6 squares of artistically placed muscle down the middle of your stomach. You know, the ones you feel burning when you do crunches and sit ups? Those squares are the very tip of the iceberg.
The sections of your abdominals responsible for uniting your body in movement, and acting as your body’s number one stabilizer, lie way deeper under the surface! To develop true core strength, you need to be targeting your transverse abdominis, as well as your internal and external obliques. You can read more about these muscles, here.
The bad news is, developing an active, strong core takes more than a few crunches. The good news is, you can read on to learn about 10 exercises that will do the trick!
10 Better Alternatives to Crunches and Sit Ups
Below you will find a list of 10 exercises that are substitutes for crunches and sit ups that you should consider doing. Each exercise has a link to a video clip showing you how to do it! It’s important to get your technique right to avoid injury.
1. Alternating Leg Lowers
This exercise is a unilateral exercise, meaning you get to work one side at a time. This is great for achieving balanced strength and coordination through both sides of your body. Alternating leg lowers target your lower abdominal region and external obliques, as well as increase your spinal stability.
To do this exercise, lie on your back and start with both legs up, knees bent at 90-degrees. Straighten your right leg and lower it towards the ground, keeping your core engaged. Then bring it back up to starting position and repeat on the left side.
The amount of reps you do would be in accordance with your core strength. Aim to do 16 to 30 alternating reps. If you feel any lower back strain during this exercise, you know you’re overdoing it.
2. Dead Bug
The dead bug is a fantastic exercise for targeting the deepest of your core muscles. These are known as the transverse abdominis – they create a protective layer around your spine.
This exercise is done for time instead of repetitions. A good starting place would be to attempt to hold the dead bug position for 30 seconds and build up to holding for 60 seconds.
To perform this exercise, lie on your back with your arms and legs extended above you. Your legs and arms should be straight and hip width apart. Flatten your back against the floor and draw your belly button into your spine. You should then feel tension through your deep core, specifically the lower and outer parts.
Make sure you keep your breathing regular throughout holding this position! If you need more of a challenge, you can lower your legs slightly – if you are able to keep your back flat on the floor!
The plank is a well-known exercise, and for good reason. It delivers many benefits if done correctly and regularly. This exercise works your whole mid-section, as well as the rest of your body!
You need to maintain your spine’s neutral line when you are in plank position to protect your lower back. Prop yourself up on your elbows and toes, holding your body in a strong, straight line. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds!
4. Side Plank
The side plank is a variation of the standard plank. It offers a great unilateral workout for your internal and external obliques. It also increases your shoulder stability!
To begin with, lie on your side, propped up on your elbow. Make sure your body is in a straight line, legs stacked on one another. From here, push your hips up and hold for 30 to 45 seconds on each side.
If you want to make this exercise harder, try lifting your top leg, so your body forms the shape of a star. Not for the faint-hearted!
5. Flutter Kicks
This exercise looks easier than it is, so don’t be fooled! Flutter kicks incorporate a series of quick and small movements to activate and work your lower abdominals.
To do this exercise, lie on your back with your hands underneath you (under your buttocks) to support your lower back. Straighten your legs, point your toes and do little kicks up and down. You should do the reps alternating from left to right.
A good starting point would be to try 20 alternating reps and build up to doing 40 or 50.
6. Russian Twists
Any exercises with the word ‘Russian’ in it, you now are going to be brutal! Russian twists can be done with or without added weight, depending on your level of core strength and stability. You will feel this exercise through the middle of your trunk, specifically deep in your sides.
Start by sitting on the ground with your ankles crossed. From here, lift your feet off the floor so you’re balancing on your tailbone. Keep your back neutral, and start twisting through the core from left to right.
If you wanted to use added weight, hold a dumbbell or medicine ball between your hands and attempt to tap it on the ground on either side of your body. The objective is to get as much twist through your core as possible.
This is a great exercise to do for higher repetitions. Try 30 reps, each twist to the left or right is 1 repetition.
7. Renegade Row
The renegade is a weighted exercise and does require a substantial amount of core strength to perform safely. For this reason, this is not a beginner exercise. The renegade row, as the name suggests, mimics the row movement, but in plank position. This exercise is especially effective for developing core stability.
Grab two dumbbells of an appropriate weight and go into standard push up position with a hand on each dumbbell. Your arms should be straight, your back strong and neutrally positioned, and your feet shoulder width apart.
Brace your core, and row one of the dumbbells up to your ribs. Try to not to rotate through the hips as you lift the dumbbell off the ground. Do these in alternating reps – one row on the right, one row on the left. You could do this exercise for a small amount of heavy reps or a greater amount of lighter weight reps.
The renegade row makes for a great finisher exercise at the end of your workout.
8. Single Arm Farmers Carry
One of my personal favorites! The single arm farmers carry is a great dynamic, conditioning exercise. This is a weighted exercise, and you should be using the maximum amount of weight you can manage whilst maintain correct posture.
To perform this exercise, you only need one dumbbell/kettlebell and a bit of space. Hold the weight in one hand on a fully extended arm by your side. Counteract the weight of the dumbbell by maintaining a straight, neutral posture, i.e. not leaning to one side.
With an engaged core, walk 20m to 40m and then switch hands and repeat. This exercise is best done in 3 or 4 sets back to back.
9. Weighted Side Bends
A chronically underrated exercise, in my opinion! The weighted side bend is a great movement for creating strength and mass through your external obliques. It is easy to perform, yet very effective.
To perform this exercise, you need a weight. It could be a dumbbell, kettlebell, or even a weight plate. Again, you should be using a weight that is heavy, within reason. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, a weight in one hand. From here, lower the weight down your side without moving your hips.
All the flexion and contraction should come through your side (your obliques). Lower the weight down with your core, pull it back up to starting position with your core! Try 15 to 20 repetitions on each side!
10. Roll Outs
Ok, so this exercise comes last for a reason! You shouldn’t be attempting it unless you have mastered the others in this article. This is an advanced exercise and is not suitable for the beginning of someone’s fitness journey.
You do need an ab roller to do this exercise, or a barbell and weight plates.
Start kneeling, with your hands on the roller. You should be in a contracted semi-crunch position to begin with. From here, maintaining this position, roll the roller or barbell away from your knees.
The further you roll out, the more tension you will feel on your core. The hardest part of the exercise is rolling yourself back in, which you should be doing 100% with your core. So, make sure you don’t roll out further than you can manage to return from, safely.
Start with mastering 1 or 2 repetitions and build up from there.
So now you know of 10 exercises are great substitutes for crunches and sit ups. There is so much more involved in training your core than doing those two exercises. I hope you will attempt all the exercises in this article! The results will speak for themselves.
An added benefit is that all these exercises can be done anywhere, anytime, and all you need is a pair of dumbbells and an ab roller!
If you’re in search of some weights to do these from the comfort of your home, you can check out these great dumbbells here, and a good value for money ab roller, here.
Share your favorite core exercises with our readers in the comments section below!