If the path to a flatter stomach were paved with crunches, every man with a gym membership would sport a six-pack. “But crunches only flex your trunk,” says Todd Durkin, author of The IMPACT! Body Plan. “To sculpt a stronger, more chiselled core, you need to train it the way it functions.” Or, more specifically, all the ways it functions. The more than two dozen muscles between your hips and shoulders are what allow you to bend and rotate your torso.
They also stabilise your spine as you mow the lawn, carry groceries, do push-ups, go for a run and otherwise go about the motions of daily life. That’s why trying to build a solid centre with only crunches, which target your rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscle), is like trying to build powerful legs by focusing only on your quads. The result is all show and no go. Update your ab routine with the following six moves. “They’ll challenge your core from every angle, making you stronger in everything you do,” says Durkin. They’ll also give you something to bare at the beach which is your six-pack.
How To Do It: Lie on your left side, right arm extended so it’s perpendicular to the floor. Prop yourself up on your left forearm and raise your hips so your body is straight from ankles to head [A]. Lower your left hip [B], and then raise it again until it’s in line with your body. That’s one rep. Continue lowering and raising your hip for 20 reps, and then hold the up position for 10 seconds. Repeat on your right side.
Why It Works: Durkin says the best ab exercises train your core to stabilise your spine. The hip-up does exactly that while sculpting your obliques and increasing your rotational control and stability, which greatly support your six-pack.
How To Do It: Lie on your back with your legs straight, arms extended behind your head, and hands grasping something that won’t move, such as a pair of heavy dumbbells [A]. Raise your legs, butt and lower back until they’re perpendicular to the floor [B]. Your weight should rest on your upper back. Keeping your body as straight as possible, brace your core and take five to 10 seconds to lower your body. That’s one rep. Do five to 10.
Why It Works: “Your muscles can handle more weight on the eccentric, or lowering, phase of a lift,” says Durkin. Slowing the pace of that phase forces your muscles to work harder, accelerating your gains around your six-pack region.
How To Do It: Get on all fours and lift your knees a few centimetres off the floor so your weight is on your hands and the balls of your feet [A]. Keeping your arms straight and legs together, hop and rotate your knees and feet to the right [B]. Now hop and rotate your knees and feet to the left [C]. That’s one rep. Keep hopping back and forth for 20 reps.
Why It Works: The inspiration for this exercise might come from skiing, but it’s also an effective way to prepare for many summer sports, including tennis, cricket and golf. The reason: “it trains your abs, lower back and hips to work together to rotate your body from side to side,” says Durkin.
Three-Point Core Touch
How To Do It: Assume a push-up position [A]. Now quickly move your right leg forward so your right heel lands outside your right hand [B]. Pause and return to the push-up position. Now quickly move your right leg forward so your right foot lands outside your left hand [C], and then return to the push-up position. That’s one rep. Do five to 10, and repeat with your left leg.
Why It Works: “This one move will target muscles in your hips, groin, lower back and often-neglected lower abs,” says Durkin. The result is not only more core strength but also greater total-body stability.
How To Do It: Lie on your back with your legs straight, elbows at your sides, and arms bent 90-degrees. This is the starting position [A]. Lift your shoulders and back off the floor as you pull your left knee toward your chest and drive your right arm forward (as if you’re running) [B]. Return to the starting position. Repeat with your right knee and left arm. That’s one rep. Do 20.
Why It Works: Sure, this exercise works your rectus abdominis just as crunches do. “But pumping your arms and legs also builds explosiveness and coordination, which is fundamental to athleticism,” says Durkin.
How To Do It: Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, palms down. Raise your legs so they form a 45-degree angle with the floor [A]. Now make big, looping circles with your legs, first to your right [B] and then to your left [C], forming a sideways figure eight. That’s one rep. Do 10.
Why It Works: Doing smaller loops challenges just your rectus abdominis, while larger ones hit your entire core. “Work on it until you can create big, sweeping loops,” says Durkin. “The bigger the figure eight, the more you activate your obliques and the muscles in your hips and lower back.”