What ab exercises are better than crunches?

Crunches can be great but the best way to lose ab fat is to incorporate ab exercises that work the entire body.

  • Med ball diagonal wood chop
  • Prone pull ins on the stability ball
  • Single leg plank raises
Dr. Mike Clark, DPT
Crunches are a great exercise, and if you are looking to strengthen your abdominals, they are one of the best. But, when it comes to ab exercises the best choices for you depend on the goals of your training program. Looking for a six-pack? If you are looking for well-defined and toned abdominals, then no single exercise will do it all, various exercises, performed together, will get you there. If your goal is to lose weight and fat, improve athletic performance, or prevent injury then the best ab exercises are those that improve the stability of your midsection. These exercises are characterized as those that involve little to no movement of your spine when you perform them. They engage and challenge multiple muscle groups at once and are generally performed for higher repetitions, increasing the amount of calories you burn as well as the endurance and resilience of the area around the hips, abs, and lower back.
Two of my favorite abdominal endurance exercises (shown below) are the Plank and Side Plank. Perform 10 repetitions of each – holding each repetition for 3-10 seconds.[media id="DEV__4c7e6dc17b07c9_75824660" title="Plank"]
It depends. The goals of your training program will dictate what ab exercises are most effective, because different exercises work better for different goals.  For example, crunches are great for increasing ab strength, size, and tone,  but are not great for improving stability or power of the core. To improve stability of the core, exercises that employ little to no movement of the spine such as the prone-iso ab (plank) should be used instead of crunches. To improve power production of the core/ab muscles, exercises that involve explosive movements through dynamic ranges of motion such as the medicine ball pullover throw would be more ideal than the crunch.
Beth Oliver

Crunches use predominantly the rectus abdominus, which is the largest and most external of the abdominals. Exercises that factor in more of your body weight as well as the transverse abdominum and the obliques are more effective. For example, a forearm plank with alternating knees to elbow or a hanging knee lift with a twist.

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

Well we think ab exercises that you can do anytime are better than crunches (but doing crunches isn’t bad by any means).  Curious how to incorporate them into your day?

Sitting at your desk right now (or at least, sitting somewhere)? Sit up as straight as the Queen of England and suck your belly in.  Don’t forget to breathe, though. 

Want to try some chair crunches? Sit up straight, put your arms to your side, and grip the bottom of the chair.  Make sure your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are bent over the toes.  Press your legs together as if they were stuck together with Super Glue.  Now, lift your knees straight up, keeping the bottom of your feet parallel to the ground.  Exhale while you life your knees, and inhale as you bring your feet back down to the floor.  Do this 10-12 times. 

And believe it or not, moving your arms behind you might be better at making your trunk muscles contract than stomach exercises.  So give it a try: Stand with your back to a wall, arms at your sides. Turn one palm against the wall and push it into the wall (keep your arm straight). Hold for a few seconds, release, and repeat. 

I also like leg lifts.

A combination of exercises such as crunches that work the rectus abdominis, and exercises like Plank Hold's or Plank Hold's with movement are great to target deeper into the transverse abdominis. Try doing a Plank Hold with your forearm's on a stability ball and move your forearms forward and back for 5-10 repetitions while keeping your body straight.

Suspended crunches on the TRX are also great!

Oxygen Magazine has some great exercises for crunchless ab workouts. See link below:

Not a huge fan of crunches because of the repeated spinal flexion. Which in my opinion, can contribute to upper cross syndrome or forward posture and also additional wear and tear on the spinal discs that may contribute to chronic low back issues. There are many ab exercise substitutions that are safer and more effective.  Although an occasional crunch won't kill you, the following core exercises are much safer on the spine and more effective for strengthening the core.
Here's a “Magic 4 for Core" that’s demonstrated by leading back expert Dr. Stuart McGill in the video link below.
“Magic 4 for Core"
  1. Pot Stir or Stability Ball Circles
  2. Side Planks
  3. McGill Ab Isometrics
  4. Bird Dogs
Kyle True, DC
Chiropractic Medicine

To crunch or not to crunch? That is the question. The answer is NO! Crunches cause over 3300 N or around 730 lb pounds of compression on your spine! (That is just one crunch) Considering if someone was to do crunches, they do anywhere from 80-300, (you do the math) that is absolutely detrimental to your spine and its intervertebral discs (the spaces b/w the vertebrae that act as shock absorbers and make spaces for your spinal nerves to exit). Repeated crunches can ultimately lead to disc bulges, herniation and disc genic spondylitis. 

Try incorporating a stability ball into your ab workout. Planks are great exercises for your abdominals that cause below than normal stress onto your lumbar spine. Practicing "bracing" (preparing for someone to punch you in the stomach) is a good exercise to do before moving out of bed, picking a box up, bending over to open the dishwasher. This allows your core musculature to contract and help stabilize your spine and prepare itself for the load that you are about to administer on it. 

We first have to ask: What is your goal? The abs exercises you do will be selected based on what you are looking to accomplish. If fat loss is the goal then exercises including planks, bridges, and cable rotations are some of my favorites. 

Here is the Cable Rotation Exercise

[media id="DEV__4c7e54da442d56_20929606" title="Cable Rotation - M"]

Another great way to incorporate abdominal exercises into your routine is to perform exercises on one leg. For example:

Single Leg Squat to Row

Keep your belly button drawn in and feel your core activate with this exercise! Also a great calorie burner! The more muscles groups you get involved the better, when it comes to weight loss or general fitness!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.