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So you’ve been at the gym, doing crunches like it’s high school gym class all over again, and the results have been—well, disappointing. Sound familiar? That’s because when it comes to ab exercises, crunches are pretty basic, boring stuff. But you’re not a beginner, and your workouts should never be boring.
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The solution? It’s time to push your abs to exhaustion—and fight the flab—with new ab exercises that are anything but routine. And it’s not just a six-pack you’ll get: Maintain strong abs, and you’ll help prevent back pain, boost your agility, and increase your flexibility, says Tom Holland, exercise physiologist and author of Beat The Gym: Personal Trainer Secrets Without the Personal Trainer Price Tag.
But no matter how tough these exercises get, always remember the golden rule of ab workouts quality over quantity. If you’re still cranking out 2,000 fast-paced crunches a day, you’re wasting your time (and maybe even hurting your back). Instead of ripping through the motions, slow down and focus on getting the most out of each rep, Holland says. With slow, concentrated effort, you’ll be building up to 30-second sets of quality moves—and admiring those washboard abs you’ve always wanted—in no time.
1. SPIDERMAN PLANK CRUNCH
Start in a traditional plank position with your forearms on the ground and your body perfectly straight. Bring your right knee forward towards your right elbow, then return to the plank position. Repeat by bringing your left knee toward your left elbow. That’s one rep. Alternate sides for a total of 10 complete reps.
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Holland says: “The plank is pretty much one of the only exercises where you’re getting your entire core. You’re working the front and back of your abdominal area at the same time without any equipment. You’re getting your rectus abdominis, your obliques, and your lower back. It’s so simple and effective that you can do it anywhere.”
2. CABLE ROTATION
Stand holding a cable with both hands out in front of you at just under shoulder height. Keeping your arms fixed and straight and your abs engaged, rotate your upper body to the left, then back to center, and then to the right, and then back to center. That’s one rep Alternate sides for one set of 10 complete reps.
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Holland says: “This move really targets the obliques and is sports-specific, so it’s great for golfers, tennis players, baseball players, and people who do racquet sports. Make your exercise as close to the movement that you’re going to do in your sport and you’ll get the biggest gain.”
3. BICYCLE CRUNCH
Lie on your back with your hands behind your head, and your legs raised and bent at 90 degrees. Alternate sides by bringing your right elbow towards your left knee then your left elbow towards your right knee, building up to 60 seconds. Try and hold the crunch for a two-count on each side to force a slower, concentrated movement.
Holland says: “With this movement, you’re targeting all three key areas at the same time. It combines a regular crunch, the side-to-side motion that targets the obliques, and the reverse crunch that hits the lower abs.”
4. CROSS CRUNCH
Lie on your back with arms and legs diagonally out so that your body forms an “X.” Keeping arms and legs straight, bring your right hand towards your left foot, then your left hand towards your right foot, lifting your head, neck, and shoulders off the ground. That’s one rep. Aim for one complete set of 10 reps.
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Holland says: “It’s a simple exercise, and you’re safe and supported on the ground. With the legs coming off the floor, you’re getting your lower abs. And because you’re coming at an angle, you’re hitting your obliques and your rectus abdominis, too.”
5. SWISS-BALL ROLLOUT
Kneel on a mat with your hands on a Swiss stability ball. Keeping your back straight and your abs engaged, roll the ball as far away from you can, then slowly roll back to starting position. Aim for two sets of 10 rollouts.
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Holland says: “This move is like the ab wheel, but it’s much safer and easier on the lower back. It targets your rectus abdominis because you’re staying in one plane. If you want to add another element, rolling out at a 45-degree angle to the left and right challenges the obliques.”