If you’re actively trying to live up to your New Year’s Resolution by doing hundreds of crunches or buying products that “target belly fat” you might want to read on. I personally hate crunches because of how ineffective they are compared to other core workouts. My opinion has always been that if I’m spending 1 hour at the gym every day, I want that hour to be as effective as possible. One person’s 45 minute workout can be more effective than another person’s 2 hour workout depending on how they treat their time. Not only are crunches far from the best core workout (in my opinion) but by the time you’ve made them an effective workout you’ve spent a good deal of time (figure 5 sets of at least 20-25 reps). So you might be asking yourself why I’m anti-crunch and you might even be arguing with me in your head that I’m wrong. I encourage you to consider how our core is designed. Our core is meant for stability and rotational movement. In daily activity our core is used when we rotate our torso or hips, when we’re thrown off balance (or to keep us in balance), and to keep our body stable. Nowhere in our day to day activities are we confronted with the task of having to do 100 crunches, so why would that be the best way to train our core? These methods below are exponentially more effective at providing a more effective core workout to really sculpt your midsection.
1. Stability Exercises
These are probably my personal favorite exercises because they’re the most engaging and entertaining to me. I love anything that involves balancing on a bosu ball, stability ball, medicine balls or TRX. If you don’t have access to any of that equipment you can train for stability by performing an exercise with one leg off the ground. You may not get a shredded 6 pack from these exercises alone but they provide a great foundation for you to advance from AND they serve a purpose in your daily activity. I also love stability exercises because you can progress easily by decreasing your stability, adding weight, increasing the time of each set, or adding in new challenges. You can regress easily by increasing your stability, decreasing your time of each set, and keeping the exercise basic. Here are some great stability exercises you can use:
Stability Ball Plank (Plank with your feet on a stability ball)
Bosu Ball Plank (Plank with your hands on a stability ball)
Double Bosu Ball Plank (Plank with your hands on one bosu ball and your feet on another)
Stability Ball & Bosu Plank (Plank with your hands on a bosu ball and your feet on a stability ball)
Medicine Ball Push-ups (Perform as many pushups as possible with your hands on medicine balls)
Medicine Ball Push-ups on All Fours (Perform as many pushups as possible with your hands and feet on medicine balls)
Perform 5 sets of any of these exercises for 30-60 seconds each. When one exercise becomes easy over time, progress to the next exercise or make your current exercise more difficult by adding weight or a challenge.
2. Rotational Movements
Because our core is engaged when we rotate our torso or hips it’s important to train for those motions in our routine. Try adding a few of these rotational exercises to your ab routine and see how they stack up compared to crunches.
Half Kneeling Medicine Ball Lateral Toss
Stability Cable Chop
Rotational Overhead Medicine Ball Slam
This is how athletes are trained to build their core strength because Performance Coaches know that crunches don’t add up to better performance on the field or court. EXOS calls this Pillar Training but you can call it working smarter.
3. Slow Down and Breathe
This is a common mistake I see a lot of people do when they’re working their core. 100 poor quality sit-ups will not get your further than 50 slow and controlled sit-ups. Slow down your movements, focus on really engaging your core, and most importantly breathe. In fact, for many core exercises, the slower you go the better. Powerlifters, mixed martial artists, and other athletes use breathing techniques for specific movements like deadlifting, swinging a tennis racquet, or throwing a punch. It’s important that you focus on how you’re breathing (or not breathing) during your exercises to make the exercise more effective. Inhaling is going to tighten up your core making it more stable in exercises like squatting or medicine ball pushups. Exhaling is going to loosen your core by decreasing pressure. Try it now in your chair. Inhale and tighten your core and record how that feels, then exhale while keeping your core tight and record the difference. It’s important that you catch yourself holding your breath during exercises or breathing wrong entirely (exhaling when you should be inhaling and vise versa).
I hope you found this helpful and if you have any questions or comments feel free to start a dialogue!
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