Beware the crunch: Ab exercise alternatives

Fitness & Sports Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Nov 8, 2021

There have long been common misunderstandings with regard to training the abdominal region. The abdominal region consists of various muscles including the transverse abdominal, internal obliques, external obliques and the rectus abdominis.

The common misunderstanding is that the only way to develop those “ripped” abs people rave about is by adopting various forms of crunches. The basic crunch is accomplished by lying supine while hyperflexing the spine to contract the muscles of this region. While there is significant muscular contraction that results from this movement, there is a red flag you should know about.

The danger of crunches

The hyperflexion of the crunch motion results in flexion of the lumbar spine, which compresses the lower back region. The structure of the lumbar vertebra are designed to enable sufficient stability in the lumbar spine and, therefore, not designed to flex the amount seen in abdominal crunches. This hyperflexion of the lumbar spine places significant stress on the vertebral discs and can result in significant injuries.

Crunch alternatives to work your ab muscles

Replace traditional crunches with these other abdominal exercises to develop and strengthen the abdominal region in a safe and healthy way. Click the following links for a video demonstration of each abdominal exercise.

Front plank with reach out

Click for a video demonstration.

Position your feet shoulder-width apart and your forearms on the floor. While keeping the core tight and preventing rotation of the hip, reach a single arm straight out and hold for 2-3 seconds. Place the arm back down and repeat with the other arm.

Side plank


Click for a video demonstration.

Lie on your side with your forearm on the ground directly below your shoulder. Stack your feet so they are directly on top of each other and then, by activating your core, lift the hips off the ground to straighten the body. Be sure to keep all muscles of the core and gluteus region tight to keep good stability.

If you have difficulty doing this exercise, then try it braced on your knees instead of your feet.

Single leg lowering

Click for a video demonstration.

Lay supine on your back and lift both legs to extend them straight up. Lower one leg until the foot is 2-3 inches above the ground. Return the leg back to starting position and repeat with the other leg. Keep your feet dorsiflexed (pull your toes towards you) during the entire movement.

Stability ball knee tuck


Click for a video demonstration.

Elevate feet on top of the ball while you stay in a pushup position with hands planted on the ground. Keep the core tight and slowly tuck your knees towards your chest until your toes are on top of the ball. Extend the legs back to the starting position and then repeat.

Half kneeling cable chop


Click for a video demonstration.

Kneel next to the high rope on a cable machine. Position your inside leg in front with your other knee planted on the ground—make sure it is cushioned. Keeping good tall position, pull the cable to your chest and then turn and rotate, pressing the cable down and to the side while keeping the abdominal muscles tight the during the entire movement.

Glute-bridge march


Click for a video demonstration.

Start by lying supine on your back with knees bent and heels planted into the ground. Push through your heels while tightening your glutes to elevate your hips. Then bring a knee toward your chest. Reverse the move and then repeat using the other leg. Be sure to keep your hips elevated the entire time while keeping your glutes tight.

TRX mountain climbers


Click for a video demonstration.

Place your feet in TRX strap handles and then elevate into a pushup position with your hands planted on the floor shoulder-width apart. Be sure to squeeze your abdominal muscles during the entire movement. Flex one knee and bring it towards the chest while keeping the other leg completely extended. Reverse movement and then switch legs.

Stability ball roll-outs


Click for a video demonstration.

Start tall kneeling with both your knees cushioned on the ground and keep the body straight. Extended your arms onto the ball and then slowly roll down the ball, keeping your core muscles tight and also making sure your body stays straight the entire time. As you reach your maximum distance onto the ball, exhale and roll back to your starting position.

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