No matter how many coaches tell us that crunches are bad for us, that they stress the neck and back causing pain without any real gain, many people continue to do them. Crunches are, after all, as American as the proverbial apple pie. People still shoot for those sculpted flat abs, and firmly believe crunches are the way to get there—in fact, they are not. You can get the abs you desire without ever doing one crunch. Try this series of five moves instead. They’ll not only help flatten your abs, but ensure you don’t walk away from your workout needing ice packs.
1. Roll-ups: To perform this move, lie on your back with your arms straight out above your head and your legs straight to elongate the body. Then slowly lift the arms from above the head until they are straight up toward the ceiling and begin to lift the upper torso, starting with the head and curling the spine as you move up. Continue to slowly lift off your mat—vertebrae by vertebrae—until you are completely off the mat. Straighten the spine and lift the arms straight up above your head.
2. Reverse Crunches: In this move, the lower abs (the ones that make up that belly pouch that’s so darn hard to get rid of) are targeted. It begins with lying on your back with the hands bent behind the head as you would typically place them for a crunch position. The legs are then lifted slowly towards the ceiling, lifting the lower body off the ground. Be sure to use only the stomach muscles instead of swinging the legs to gain lift.
3. Plank: A plank starts while lying on your stomach. Using the same motion as when doing a push-up, raise your body until the arms are completely straight. Suck in the stomach and use those muscles to keep balanced. Then hold for a count of 10. You can repeat again. This move works the entire core.
4. Waist Whittler: Resume the plank position, twist the hips until one side touches the mat, then twist again and tap the other side on the mat. The waist whittler works the obliques.
5. Candle Stick: The final move is called the candle stick. Position yourself on your knees with your arms stretched above your head. Place the palms of your hand together, so that the body becomes the candle stick and the arms become the flame. Move one leg out to the side for balance and lean your body on the side with the bent leg. Do one set to one side, then repeat on the other.
These moves all play a role in toning the stomach by working different abdominal muscles. Remember to always stretch first and, as always, check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine.