The 25 Best Exercises to Tone Your Abs (and None of the Moves Are Crunches) from The 25 Best Exercises to Tone Your Abs (and None of the Moves Are Crunches)

The 25 Best Exercises to Tone Your Abs (and None of the Moves Are Crunches)

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The 25 Best Exercises to Tone Your Abs (and None of the Moves Are Crunches)

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Well-defined abs is what every person you see working out wants. The only factor that guarantees this “Holy Grail” of fitness is a healthy diet. Trainers like to say that muscles are made in the gym but six-packs are made in the kitchen. Certain exercises, however, can help tremendously. Crunches have fallen out of favor with many trainers and doctors. The exercise puts too much pressure on your neck and lower back. The abs are tense the entire time which doesn’t make your body move better. Back pain can occur from too much flexion in the spine and from the many repetitions.

The Hollow Body Hold

Jill Brown, personal trainer and a fitness instructor recommends the Hollow Body Hold as one of the best alternatives to planks and crunches. It is similar to the boat pose in yoga, except the lower back is connected to the floor. Your back is on the mat, legs are lifted, head and shoulders are off the floor, and you’re looking at your feet. “This is very effective and much safer than crunches,” Brown adds. You burn calories much faster.

Lifting weights with one arm

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“I’m not a fan of side bends,” Shane McLean, certified personal trainer at Balance Guy Training, says. Many trainers do not do them and won’t ever recommend the exercise to clients. “But I like lifting with one arm at a time.” When you work one hand, arm or a leg at a time, the opposite side has to stabilize so you don’t bend, which means your side muscles are hard at work, he adds.

Running

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One of the biggest benefits people don’t associate with jogging is toned abs. There are four types of abdominal muscles – the rectus abdominis (the 6-pack muscle), the internal obliques (inner sides), external obliques (outer sides) and the transverse abdominis. The last one – the muscle that creates the lines of definition on the side of your core – is the deepest of the four. Nothing targets that muscle like running.

The Hundred

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This is a classic Pilates exercise that is often used to warm up [See: What stretches you should never do before a workout]. The Hundred is also similar to the yoga boat pose but it's a bit easier, Brown says. Lie on your back with your knees bent and up in the air. Your arms should be reaching up. As you move them back down to the floor, lift your head and roll up so your shoulder blades are just off the mat. Count to 10 and do 10 more reps (reaching 100 beats).

Leg lowering

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Passive leg lowering is used as a functional move by many physical therapists. McLean says he likes it for the warm-up part of training. Lay on your back, raise both legs; keep them straight; lower one down to the ground. Do each leg 8-10 times. You can see the Passive Leg Lowering move in this video. Double leg lowering is the same move, except you lower both legs at the same time. It’s intense. See the exercise here.

Burpees

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Burpees are one of the best exercises out there but they can be very difficult. This is not a reason to skip them. Do all movements that put together the burpee separate and slower. Begin standing, do 2-4 squats, and then place your hands on the ground or on an elevated step or box. Walk – don't jump – your feet back until you are in a plank position. Hold for 5 seconds and complete 2-4 push-ups. Hold plank again. Walk or step your feet wider than your hands and hold the low squat position (hips down chest up).

Irregular Plank Hold

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If you want abs like Gwen Stefani in 28 days, you should incorporate planks into your routine. They are fitness instructors’ favorite high-intensity core exercise because the plank is an extremely effective isometric move. You use your own bodyweight to maintain the stability of your entire core, which is exactly what the core muscles are supposed to do, and prevent back pain. The ways in which you can do planks vary tremendously but the effect is the same – killer abs.

Pilates Corkscrew

The corkscrew is a typical Pilates move. It works like a charm by strengthening the obliques, core and legs. Start by lying on your back. Pull your knees towards the chest. Reach them up to the ceiling and squeeze your glutes. Move them to the right as you lift your hips up off the floor. Go back and then move the legs to the left and up. Your shoulder should be grounded. Repeat 10-15 times.

The Dead Bug

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The dead bug exercise is for beginners, Brown says. It’s used a lot in physical therapy and by people who have a weak core, she adds. You should be lying on your back; your hands should be reaching up or you can leave them by your side. Bring your knees up forming a 90-degree angle. Start the exercise by extending one leg – straighten the knee and hip. Maintain this position for a few seconds, switch legs and repeat.

Chin-ups and pull-ups

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“People don’t really realize it but both chin-ups and pull-ups work the core,” McLean says. “I did chin-ups yesterday and my abs are sore today,” he adds. You have to keep your core tight and engage the back as you descend from the bar – the slower the better. The body should be in a straight line. Don’t lift your legs or swing.

V-Sit Hold

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Begin lying on your back with your arms extended over your head. [See: Best Core Exercises You're Not Doing...But Should] Keep your core tight and engage your abdominal muscles to lift your upper body off the ground while also lifting your legs, reaching your fingers towards your toes. Pause for a beat and then slowly return to the starting position.

Mountain Climber

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This is an awesome exercise for balance, quickness and coordination. It is a full body exercise, primarily used for cardio, which also builds strength. It’s also a plyometric move that strengthens multiple muscle groups – core, lower and upper body. The torso won’t drop towards the ground because the obliques, abdominals and the muscles around the hips are all engaged. Place your hands on a medicine ball for a bigger challenge.

Hanging Ab Machine

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This is the only machine Brown recommends for ab exercises. [See: What exercises personal trainers won't do] “It’s harder than crunches and safer for your back when done properly,” she adds. It’s important to not swing back and forth. Stabilize your spine as you pull your knees towards the chest. Press your back against the pad and use your abs to raise your legs and knees.

Deadlift

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Activate your core while you perform squats, presses or deadlifts and you will have sore abs for a couple days. The deadlift is a very effective exercise for losing fat because it’s intense. Do it properly: Hold a bar or dumbbells at hip level; lower the bar as you move your butt back and keep your back straight at all times, then return to the original position pushing your hips forward to stand up. 

Seated Figure 8

The muscles will definitely get a workout as you’re boosting overall strength. Simply pass a medicine ball or some kind of load from one hand to another under your legs. This exercise also benefits the shoulders.

Scissors

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This is a great exercise that works lower abdominals. Lie on your back with arms at your side; pull navel into the spine; lift both legs up at once until they are perpendicular to the floor; slowly lower back down. Do not let your back arch up off the floor. Add a scissor kick vertically and horizontally up a few inches (legs stay straight and move up and down or side to side and crisscross each other). Repeat at least 15 times.

Russian twist

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Russian twists are a great bodyweight exercise that is far more superior and intense than crunches. [See: 15 Exercises that Doctors Would Never Do] It targets your oblique muscles. It’s ideal for people who are new at working out and want to target their core. Sit on the floor; bend your legs at the knees. Assume a V-shape form. Fully extend your arms. Twist your torso to each side and keep your arms parallel to the floor as you hold a medicine ball. Move your hands to the opposite hip but don’t let your shoulder blades drop.

Leg raise

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Knee raises are harder than crunches and safer for your back when done properly. It’s important to not swing back and forth. Stabilize your spine as you pull your knees towards the chest. Press your back against the pad and use your abs to raise your legs and knees.

Knee Tuck

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This exercise targets your abs and shoulders. Start in downward facing dog pose. Lift your left leg up in the air behind you as high as you can. Begin to tuck your right knee in towards your chest as you slowly come forward with the rest of your body. Slowly reverse the movement to return to the starting position. Repeat for 10 reps with your right leg and 10 reps with your left leg. Perform 3 sets with 30 seconds of rest in between each.

Bicycle

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The Bicycle works all four abdominals. Lie on your back with arms overhead. Pull navel into the spine and at the same time, lift arms and legs straight up into the air to touch. Try to keep your back flat and not rounded. Repeat up to 10 times.

Yoga

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The most important thing in trying to get a 6-pack is to remember that you cannot spot reduce, Brown says. “But that doesn’t mean you cannot burn off belly fat.” This is where core exercises and yoga come inLosing belly fat involves losing fat in general, and yoga involving aerobic activity will do the trick. At the very least yoga helps with fixing your posture, which gives the illusion of a flatter belly.

Pike

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The pike workout targets all four abdominals. Lie on your back with arms overhead; pull navel into the spine and at the same time; lift arms and legs straight up into the air to touch; try to keep your back flat and not rounded. Repeat 8-10 times.

Reverse push-up

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All forms of pushups are really good for the abs, McLean says. “You may feel pain in a different place, not necessarily in the core, but you are definitely working it,” he adds. “Anytime you’re in a push-up position, you’re basically in a plank.” Reverse push-ups are harder because your legs push the body forward, which means the core has to work harder to slow the move.

Overhead circles

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Any rotation exercises work the obliques “pretty good,” McLean says. [See: Workouts Top Trainers Do When They Only Have 15 Minutes] You stabilize your core as you are moving your hand carrying a medicine ball or another load in circles above your head. The arms are getting a workout too. Make large circles, but keep your torso still, in both directions 8-10 times. Do at least 3 sets.

The Bird Dog

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It may not look like much but this exercise will really work out your core. [See: The 25-Minute Home Workout to Flatten Your Stomach] Start by getting on all fours. Your back should always be straight. Reach out with one hand and extend the opposite leg. Engage your abs to maintain balance. Hold for a few seconds and switch. Repeat each side about 15 times.