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No-Crunch Ab Exercises

By Staci Amend
September 10, 2014

Is there any exercise move more dread-inducing than the sit-up? Everybody, even those lucky few who have washboard abs, seems to heave a collective groan when it’s crunch-time. Fortunately, building core strength is a lot more complex than contracting your central stomach muscles (rectus abdominis) OVER and OVER again.

Why? The area that we commonly call “the core” simply refers to your body’s center of gravity, which for most of us is right below the belly button. The core muscle group’s primary function is to stabilize the spine while we’re performing any upright activity, whether it’s as simple as walking, or as complex as completing an obstacle course. In order to strengthen this area, then, it’s important to use ALL the muscles required for these activities—integrating the hips, trunk and shoulders as well as your abdominals. Here are three exercises that do just that… without making you suffer through a single sit-up!

1. Bird-dog
Start on your hands and knees on a carpet or exercise mat, with your hands and knees directly under your shoulders and hips. Engage your core, tightening it as if it were a corset. Keep your spine in a neutral position, being careful not to let your back sway. Keeping your shoulders and hips parallel to the floor, slowly lift and extend your left arm and right leg until they are parallel with the floor. Mentally zip your belly button to your spine. Hold for 10 seconds, then slowly lower. Repeat on other side. Start with 10–15 reps and work up to more.

2. Plank
Start by lying on your belly on a carpet or exercise mat. Position your palms flat on the floor, right below your armpits. Activate your palms and fingers, “corset” your core as in previous exercise, and straighten your arms to bring yourself up to the top of a push-up position. Your hands should be directly below your shoulders, and your feet should be hip-width apart. To keep the shoulders from hunching up around your ears, consciously wrap the shoulder blades onto the back. Keep your spine straight and your hips level. Start by holding for 15-second intervals, and gradually work your way up to one-minute intervals.

3. Side plank lifts
On an exercise mat or carpet, lie on your right side with your legs straight and your feet stacked directly on top of one another. Bend your right elbow and place it directly under your shoulder. Align your head with your spine, and keep your hips and right knee in contact with the exercise mat. Slowly lift your hips and knees off the mat, while the side of your right foot stays in contact with the mat. Keep your head aligned with your spine and your right elbow positioned directly under your shoulder. Slowly lower to starting position. Start with 10 reps on each side and work your way up to 15–20.

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