25 Ways to Tone Your Abs Without Crunches

Aug 30 2014 - 10:22am

Let's be honest: crunches aren't the most exciting of exercises. And they're not always the most effective way to tone your abs [1] anyway. If you're bored with your sit-up routine, here are 25 fun and effective moves to mix up your workout and tone your midsection!

— Additional reporting by Emily Bibb

Source: Thinkstock [2]

Lying Overhead Reach

Work your shoulders and your abs with this exercise.

Use five- to 10-pound weights.

Source: POPSUGAR Studios

Overhead Circles With Medicine Ball

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Ball Pass

Source: Megan Wolfe Photography [3]

Tabletop to Reverse Pike

This exercise not only tones the arms, but will get your mid abs burning.

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Seated Russian Twist

Source: Megan Wolfe Photography [4]

Flutter Kicks With Resistance Band

  • Sit on a mat or carpeted floor. Loop one handle of the resistance band on either foot. Hold on to the middle of the tube with both hands and lie on your back.
  • Draw your navel toward your spine and press your low spine into the floor to protect your lower back, then lift both legs up so they are almost pointing straight up toward the ceiling.
  • Holding the band securely, scissor your legs up and down one at a time, starting with the left leg. Move slowly and point your toes. Each time your right foot lowers down counts as one set. Complete 10 to 15 sets.
  • To make this move more difficult, lower your legs so they are about six to 10 inches above the floor. Make sure to keep your abs scooped when you work with your legs close to the ground. Scissor your legs for another 10 to 15 sets.

This is a great low ab exercise.

Photo: POPSUGAR Studios [5]

Elbow Plank

Planks are great for working the abs, and the elbow plank is harder on the abs than the traditional plank in push-up position.

  • Start face down on the floor resting on your forearms and knees.
  • Push off the floor, raising up off your knees onto your toes and resting mainly on your elbows.
  • Contract your abdominals to keep yourself up and prevent your booty from sticking up.
  • Keep your back flat — don't let it droop or you'll be defeating the purpose. Picture your body as a long straight board, or plank.
  • Hold as long as you can. Aim for 20-30 seconds in the beginning and work your way up to one minute, as you get stronger.
  • Repeat three times.
Source: Megan Wolfe Photography [6] at J+K Fitness Studio [7]

Leaning Camel

  • Stand on your knees with your toes tucked. If this hurts your knees, fold up a mat or towel and kneel on that for a little cushioning. Your thighs should be parallel.
  • Hold a dumbbell comfortably with both hands in front of your chest. I use an eight-pounder.
  • Take a breath in and as you exhale, use your quad muscles to lower your torso behind you. Don't arch your back as in Camel [8]pose, but instead keep your torso in one straight line. As you inhale, return your torso back to the starting position.
  • Repeat for a total of 15 times. Complete a total of three sets.

This exercise works the entire abdominal wall and give the quads an active stretch to boot!

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Dead Bug

The name may make you laugh, but this stability exercise fires up the core, working both the front and back of the body.

  • Lie on your back with a neutral spine and your hips and knees at right angles with your palms pressed into your thighs just above your knees.
  • Pull your abs to your spine keeping your ribs and pelvis still as you lengthen your right arm and leg out until they are almost parallel to the floor. Keep your torso and spine completely stable as the arm and leg move.
  • Return to the starting position, and repeat on the left side to complete one rep.
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Standing Ab Rollout

  • Place your palms on the ball, and stand with your legs wide, about three or so feet apart. Walk the ball out so your back is straight and your hips are in the same line as your ankles.
  • From here, lean your body forward, allowing the ball to roll down your forearms. Stop once your elbows reach the ball and you're balancing on your tiptoes.
  • Then use your core and legs to get your body back to the starting position. Keep your abs engaged throughout this move.
  • Complete three sets of 12 to 15 reps.
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Pilates Corkscrew

  • Lie on your back, and pull your knees into your chest. Reach your legs up to the ceiling, and tightly squeeze them together, focusing on connecting your inner thighs.
  • Reach the legs over to the right, allowing the hips to lift away from the floor.
  • Reach the legs back to center but still engaged, ensuring that the lower back remains on the floor.
  • Reach the legs over to the left, grounding the shoulders and allowing the hips to move first, the rib cage if possible next. Pull the legs back up in toward the body. This counts as one rep.
  • Repeat 10 times.

This classic Pilates moves strengthen your obliques, core, and legs, while stretching your hips away from your ribs.

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Plank and Rotate

Twisting in a plank position fires up the core and works those love handles.

  • Begin in a plank position holding a five-pound dumbbell in each hand, keeping your wrists stiff to protect the joints. Open your feet a little wider than hip distance.
  • Lift your left hand to the ceiling, twisting through your entire torso. Your pelvis will rotate, but keep it level.
  • Bring your left hand back to the floor, and repeat this action on the other side to complete one rep.
  • Do 10 to 15 reps to complete a set.

Use five- to eight-pound dumbbells.

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Single Leg Forward Reach

Similar to yoga's Warrior 3, this exercise fires up your core by challenging your balance. As you move in and out of the pose, you will be working the back of your body too.

  • Stand with all your weight in your left foot, abs engaged and chest lifted.
  • Reach your torso forward as you lift your right leg behind you. Reach your arms overhead for balance as your torso and leg come parallel to the floor.
  • Hold this position for a moment, and reach through your right heel to engage the back of the right leg.
  • Moving in one piece, lower your right leg toward the floor as you return to standing upright, resting the right foot lightly on the ground. This completes one rep.
  • Do 10 reps before switching sides; and do two to three reps.
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Twisting Wood Chop With Medicine Ball

  • Start with the feet a little wider than hip distance apart. Twist to the left raising the ball over to your left shoulder.
  • On an exhale pull your abs toward your spine and "chop" the ball down diagonally across your body toward the outside of your right knee. Imagine you're chopping some wood at this angle and the ball is your axe — the move is a bit percussive.
  • Focus the on the rotation initiating in your torso.
  • Control the ball back up to the starting position. This completes one rep.
  • Remember you are moving with force but also control. Don't give into the momentum of swinging the ball around. Do three sets of 15 reps on each side.
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Scissor Abs

  • Lie flat on your back. Extend your arms so they're against the sides of your body with your palms pressing into the floor, or bend your elbows and place your palms under the back of your head. Bend your knees and draw them into your ribs. This will make it easier to pull your navel in toward your spine and actively press your lower back flat on the ground.
  • Lift both legs straight up toward the ceiling, continuing to engage your abs and pressing your lower back into the ground. Keeping your core strong, slowly lower your right leg down toward the ground until it is a few inches above. Then slowly scissor your legs, lifting your right leg back up as you lower your left leg down toward the ground.
  • You may not feel this until you do it for a while, so repeat this move for a total of 20 to 30 times on each leg (or more if you're still not feeling it).
Source: Megan Wolfe Photography [9]

Side Bend With Dumbbells

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart holding five- to 10-pound dumbbells at your sides.
  • Bend sideways to the right, squeezing your waist on the right side. Keep your neck as neutral as possible, looking forward not down.
  • Pull the left ribs down to return to standing upright. This focuses the work on the left obliques.
  • Repeat for a total of 12 bends to the right, then switch sides. Do three sets.
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  • Get on all fours, with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Remember to keep abs engaged and keep your back flat.
  • Reach out with your right hand and extend your left leg out behind you.
  • Round your back and head to connect your right elbow with your left leg under your body. Extend right hand and left leg back out.
  • Repeat for a total of 15 times, then switch sides.

See the quadruped in action here [10].

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Ball Pike to Plank

Make sure the ball is sized to your body; you should be able to sit on the ball with 90-degree angles at your hips and knees.

  • Start in a plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders and your shins on the ball.
  • Do not allow your lower back to arch. Keep your feet, pelvis, and shoulders in one long line.
  • On an exhale, pull your abs deeply to your spine and use your abs to fold your body in half, pulling the ball forward toward your hands as your pelvis moves up in the air.
  • Your toes will move onto top of ball and your back will become perpendicular to the floor like a handstand. Allow your head to fall between your arms, keeping your neck long and in line with your spine.
  • Lower yourself back into a plank position and do not allow your pelvis to sag below your shoulders.
  • Do 10 reps for two to three sets.
Source: Megan Wolfe Photography [11]

Alternating Two-Point Plank

  • Start in a plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders and your feet in line with your hips. Lift your left leg off the ground so your heel is even with your pelvis.
  • Keeping your torso steady, reach your right arm forward. Really brace through your abs by pulling your navel to your spine. Hold this position for about three seconds. It's harder than you think!
  • Return to plank, then switch sides lifting your right leg off the ground and reaching your left arm forward. Hold for three seconds and return to plank. This is one rep.
  • Do two to three sets of 10 reps each.
  • Source: POPSUGAR Studios

Exercise-Ball Reach With Weights

  • Lie with your head and upper back supported on an exercise ball. Push your pelvis toward the ceiling and feel the backs of your hamstrings working to help keep you stable. Holding one 5- to 8-pound dumbbell with both hands, reach your arms toward the ceiling with your elbows almost straight, arms parallel, and your hands directly over your shoulders. Inhale to prepare.
  • Exhale and stabilize your center and reach your arms back until your arm is almost parallel to the floor. Nothing in your torso should move, just your arm floating back toward your ears.
  • Inhale and bring arms back to starting position.
  • Reach 20 times to complete a set. Do two to three sets.

This exercise works the upper abs as they stabilize the ribcage.

Source: Megan Wolfe Photography [12] at J+K Fitness Studio [13]

Side Elbow Plank With a Twist

  • Come into a side plank on your right side, with your feet stacked one on top of the other and your weight on your right elbow with your fingers reaching away from your body.
  • Place your left arm behind your head, and inhale to prepare.
  • Exhale and pull your navel to your spine to engage your deep abs and rotate your left ribcage toward the floor. Stay there for a second and deepen your abdominal connection pulling your navel in toward your spine even more.
  • Return to starting position and repeat seven more times for a total of eight reps, then switch sides. Repeat series again on both sides.

This move works the obliques and helps tone the love handles.

Photo: POPSUGAR Studios [14]

High Curl

  • Sitting up, place an exercise ball between your upper thighs. Pull behind your knees with your fingertips as you inch your heels closer to your seat.
  • Roll your lower back down toward the floor, and use your abs to lift your chest closer to the ball.
  • Complete 15 to 20 reps.
Photo: Jaime Young

Medicine Ball Alphabet

To start: Grab a medicine ball that's between five and 15 pounds. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, making sure your knees are not locked. Then try one of these two variations.

  • For stability: Start with the ball at chest level, and slowly write the cursive alphabet in front of you. While your arms move around in all sorts of angles, you need to use your abs to keep your torso still. Think of keeping the area between your ribs and pelvis solid. For a more advanced version, try this move while standing on a BOSU [15].
  • For mobility: Start with the ball at chest level, but increase the range of motion of your arms making your alphabet larger, using your torso and rib cage to write the letters as well. Keep your abs engaged the entire time. For more of a challenge, try this version in a squat or a lunge.
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Wood Chop With Cable Pulley Machine

  • Attach the double rope handle onto the cable. Set the weight to 15 pounds.
  • Stand your left side toward the machine about two feet from the machine. Grab the handle and open feet to a stable and wide stance.
  • Exhale, pull abs to spine, and rotate torso to pull cable down to the outside of your right knee while simultaneously bending it. Imagine you're swinging an axe across your body.
  • Keep your arms straight, and do not round your back.
  • Reverse the motion, controlling the weight on the cable as you return to the starting position. This completes one rep.
  • Do 12 reps on each side for three sets.

This move is great for the obliques.

Source: Megan Wolfe Photography [16] at J+K Fitness Studio [17]

Kettlebell Windmill

  • Begin standing with your feet slightly wider than hip distance apart.
  • Rotate your left toes outward and raise your right arm above your head, keeping your eyes trained on the weight.
  • Shift your hips to the right. Don't let your pelvis swing behind you as you move into the sassy position.
  • As you shift your hips right, your weight will shift to the right, too. You should feel about 60 percent of your weight in your right foot.
  • Lower your torso toward the floor, so the kettlebell hovers just off the floor.
  • Keep your body as flat as possible, with the ankles, hips, and shoulders in one plane. This position feels a lot like a tight Triangle pose in yoga.
  • Keep your torso still as you bring your left hand to your left shoulder in a biceps curl.
  • Keeping your left arm bent and your right arm pointing to the ceiling, come to standing position. Imagine your waist doing all the work to move your torso upright.
  • Shift your pelvis back to center once again to distribute your weight evenly between both feet.
  • Complete the rep by bringing your left arm overhead, working your shoulder. Lower your left arm down to return to starting position, and repeat.
  • Do three sets of eight to 10 reps on each side.

Follow our step-by-step tutorial of the windmill [18] to learn the subtleties of the exercise. Don't worry if you don't have kettlebells — you can use dumbbells, too.

Photos: Susi May