Not only are sit-ups boring, but if you have lower back pain traditional core exercises can actually negatively impact the spine. To top it off, sit-ups train and strengthen only one part of your abs, your rectus abdominis, also known as the desired six-pack muscles, which run from the bottom of your chest to your public bone. If you focus on this area alone you won’t be hitting the deeper layer of muscle that wraps around your torso or the obliques, which run down your sides. Skipping out on the rest of your core will not only lessen the impact of your washboard abs, but neglecting these muscles can lead to dysfunction and even injury.
Avoid any undue back pain or injury, get the abs of your dreams, and avoid set upon set of traditional sit-ups by simply mixing it up a bit. With a little time and some dedication, a rock solid core is within reach with these killer ab workouts.
1. The plank
It may not seem like much at first glance but the plank is one of the best ways to build your core. The key to a plank that works is to ensure your spine is neutral. More often than not your back will start to sink or your hips will jut up toward the ceiling. Not only will having an improper form make you susceptible to injury, but it will literally be time wasted as your core doesn’t get the full impact of the exercise. By holding your body in one natural line, you are using your core strength to keep your body straight. Start by holding for 30 seconds and increase until you’ve reached a full minute. Once you’ve mastered the standard plank for a minute or more without too much quivering and grunting, you can take it up a notch by lifting up one limb and holding. Start by lifting one foot off the ground so only your hands and one leg are in contact with the floor. Once you’ve mastered that, try lifting one arm off the ground.
2. Bicycle crunch
Like the basic sit-up or crunch, the bicycle crunch targets your rectus abdominis or six-pack muscles, but it doesn’t stop there. The twisting motion of the exercise hits your internal and external obliques so effectively that a study done at San Diego State University ranked this as one of the best abdominal exercises you can do. To start, lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground. Contract your core muscles, put your hands behind your head, and lift your knees to a 45-degree angle. Move your legs as if you were pedaling a bicycle and alternately touch your elbows to the opposite knees as you twist back and forth.
3. Suitcase squat
Not only will your glutes and quadriceps feel the burn, but your abs will be stimulated as you use your core strength to brace and keep your spine from moving. To do this exercise, you’ll need one dumbbell or kettle ball. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold the weight in one hand. Reach your other arm straight out and slowly lower down into a deep squat. As you lower down, focus on keeping your shoulders and hips straight or flat, not allowing the weighted side to drop lower than the side without the weight. You will burn more calories, get a full body workout, and see deeper results with this abdominal squat.
4. Russian twist
To start, do a weight-free twist variation of the Russian twist that uses only your body weight. Lie down on the floor and place your feet under something that will not move or have your partner hold them down to the ground. Bend your legs at the knee and elevate your upper body so that it creates an v-shape with your thighs. Stretch your arms out in front of you, perpendicular to your torso and clasp your hands. Twist to the right until your arms are parallel with the floor and hold before moving back to the starting position. Then, move to the opposite side, hold, and return to the start. To increase the burn, hold a weight over your abdomen and twist with the weight or try lifting your feet off the ground to get more work out of the rectus abdominis.