Abdominal crunches get too much credit! People think of them as the ultimate exercise for building more muscular abs and core. Still, crunches mainly work the two superficial rectus abdominal muscles and do little to strengthen the other muscles that make up your core. David Reagan, an Atlanta trainer, says balanced core strength is essential for athletic movements and functionality in daily life. If you’re stuck in a crunch rut, it’s time to break out of it with five exercises that work your core better than crunches.
Single-Arm Kettlebell Training
Single-arm kettlebell training is an underappreciated approach to building core strength. Every time you pick a kettlebell up, you activate your core muscles. The Turkish Get Up is one of the most challenging and most core intensive exercises you can do with a single kettlebell. It’s a strenuous exercise, not one to tackle as a beginner. Here’s how to do one:
Kettlebell swings, both single-arm and two-arm, are also effective core strengtheners and one of the best ways to improve your hip hinge, a movement that, when you master, helps you get more out of other strength training exercises. Swinging a kettlebell using proper form also works your glutes for a little extra booty action.
Planks and Their Variations
Planks are an isometric exercise that improves core strength. A standard plank is also one of the safest exercises for your back muscles since you’re not flexing your spine. Planks also provide more balanced abdominal strengthening because they work all the abdominal muscles, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and the deeper transverse abdominis that crunches don’t. Plus, planks work more than your abs. They also target your back muscles, including the muscles that support your spine.
Ab rollouts are an excellent exercise to strengthen your core. Many athletic training and physical therapy professionals use ab rollout exercises in rehabilitation programs for lower back patients. This exercise increases the spine’s range of motion while strengthening the posterior chain muscles, which is crucial for athletic performance of all types.
How to Do Ab Rollouts:
- Invest in an ab wheel, a device that’s a wheel with a handle on each side.
- With the ab wheel on the floor in front of you, place your hands on each side and roll the wheel out in front of you until your body is parallel with the floor.
- Pause for one or two seconds and return to the starting position.
- Keep your core tight, and the movement controlled throughout.
- Aim for 5 repetitions initially and work up to 10 or 12.
Bird Dog Exercise
The Bird Dog exercise is an equipment-free exercise that gives your core and glutes a workout. Like planks, it’s an exercise you can do without flexing your spine. That’s a bonus if you have a history of lower back pain. All you need is a mat to get started. Here’s how to do one:
- Get down on your hands and knees on the mat so that your body forms a square.
- In this position, extend your right leg behind you and your left arm straight in front of you.
- Hold for a few seconds, and return to the starting position.
- Repeat by extending the opposite arm and leg simultaneously.
- Hold and return to the starting position.
- Keep switching sides until you complete 5 repetitions on each side. Work up to 10 on each side.
Other Compounds Strength Training Exercises
Did you know that some strength training exercises that aren’t designed for your abs give your core a workout? Compound, or multi-joint exercises, engage your core muscles. Some trainers even believe you don’t need focused abdominal and core exercises if you do compound strength exercises. The most effective ones for working your core muscles include:
- Bent-over Rows
Plus, you work other muscle groups when you do these exercises. Include various compound exercises in your workouts to boost your core strength.
The Bottom Line
If you have a healthy back and spine, there’s no reason to give up abdominal crunches, but they’re not as effective for working your entire core as exercises like kettlebell swings and planks. Keep them part of your routine, but replace some of your crunch time with more core-focused movements. You can also vary the way you do crunches by doing them on a stability ball. The ball’s instability will force you to work your core muscles more than doing crunches on a flat surface. For maximum core strength, don’t depend too much on ab crunches or sit-ups. Do these exercises along with a variety of dynamic movements to stay fit and functional.
About David Reagan
David Reagan is a NASM Certified personal trainer from Atlanta specializing in weight loss, personalized workout plans, bodybuilding, and nutrition. David guides his clients every step of the way to make sure they are focused and motivated to move past the obstacles. Reagan knows that trying to achieve the perfect weight while battling personal issues and professional challenges can be overwhelming. Thanks to his personal experience, goal-oriented mindset, and professional certification, Mr. Reagan ensures that his clients exceed their expectations.