21 Sit-Ups You Won't Totally Hate
Last Updated: May 26, 2015
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Crunches and sit-ups can be monotonous, and they probably remind you of elementary-school gym class. But they don’t have to be so boring. There are plenty of variations you can incorporate into your strength-training routine that target the muscles that make up your abs. Standard crunches work your rectus abdominis (front part of your abs), while side crunches recruit more from your obliques and reverse crunches target those hard-to-work lower abdominals. Even though doing endless crunches and sit-ups won’t get you those six-pack abs you’ve always wanted, they’re certainly one piece of the puzzle. And by switching up the variations, you can make sure that you’re never bored with your ab routine again.
Let’s start with the basics. It’s important to perfect proper form of the standard crunch before moving on to any of the other variations. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with your knees bent and pointed to the ceiling. Bring your hands behind your head so that your elbows flare out to the sides. Your hands can overlap and rest on your head, but they should never pull your neck up during the movement. Exhale, contract your abs and lift your head and shoulder blades off the ground. Your neck can curl slightly, but it shouldn’t strain toward your chest. Inhale as you lower back down so that your head is hovering just off the ground and repeat.
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Once you’ve mastered the proper form for the standard crunch, try adding weight to challenge your core even further. Start with a 10-pound medicine ball and work up from there. HOW TO DO IT: Start in the same position as the standard crunch and hold a weight at the center of your chest (but not resting on your chest). Curl up without letting your chin touch your chest. The weight might move forward (toward your midsection), but make sure that you’re holding it above you the entire time so that you feel the full weight. Lower back down with control for one rep.
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This variation targets your lower abs, so if you’re looking to eliminate that gut, pair this exercise with a healthy diet and a good cardio workout schedule. While you can’t technically spot reduce, you can lower your overall body fat, which will reveal your underlying muscle. HOW TO DO IT: Start on your back with your hips and knees bent at 90-degree angles. You shins should be parallel to the floor. Place your arms alongside your body with your palms facing down. Exhale as you contract your lower abdominal muscles to lift your butt and lower back off the ground. Inhale as you release back to the starting position. Make sure this move is focused on your abs and that you’re not pressing into the ground with your hands.
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RAISED LEG CRUNCH
Combine the lower-ab and stability work of a reverse crunch with the core challenge of a standard crunch. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back in the same starting position as a reverse crunch. Instead of lifting your backside off the floor, stay grounded throughout the exercise. Bring your hands behind your head and inhale to prep yourself. Exhale and crunch up without letting your chin drop into your chest. As you lower down, inhale and get ready for the next rep. For an added challenge, you can lift your butt off the ground as your head and shoulders come up -- as long as you don’t rely on the momentum of the move to raise and lower.
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SWISS BALL CRUNCH
Doing crunches on a Swiss ball is a great way to vary the range of motion you utilize. Be careful not to let you head or neck arch too far backward during the downward movement: Instead focus on letting your back and abs do all the work. HOW TO DO IT: Choose a Swiss ball that allows your knees to rest at a 90-degree angle. Support the middle of your back on a Swiss ball so that your head, neck and shoulders are hanging off. Contract your abs and raise up off the ball so that you’re almost sitting up straight. Lower back down slowly. Your upper back can curve down slightly along the edge of the ball as long as this doesn’t put strain on your neck or lower back. That’s one rep.
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WEIGHTED SWISS BALL CRUNCH
Swiss ball + medicine ball = super-amped-up crunches. Since this variation is advanced, make sure you’ve mastered the stability ball and weighted crunches first before you attempt this one. HOW TO DO IT: Hold a medicine ball directly over your chest and lie on a stability ball. Your knees should be at 90 degrees with your middle back supported by the stability ball. Contract your abs and raise off the ball, continuing to hold the medicine ball slightly away from your chest. Inhale and lower back down so that your head is past parallel with your torso.
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Make like a frog (well, kind of) for stronger abs. This variation will not only challenge your balance and stability, but also target your lower abs and strengthen your entire core. HOW TO DO IT: Start seated with your knees bent out in front of you. Lean back slightly so your torso is at a 45-degree angle to the floor and your shins are parallel to the floor. Keep your abs engaged as you straighten your legs and simultaneously bring your arms out to the side. Bring your arms and legs back in to the starting position. Continue pulsing like this as you hold your core steady.
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This crunch variation is popular for a reason -- you can challenge your balance and coordination while targeting your mid and lower abs and obliques all at the same time. You might also feel this one in your hips and thighs. HOW TO DO IT: Start lying flat on your back with your hands behind your head. Contract your lower abs to raise your legs a few inches off the ground. Twist your torso and bend your left knee so that your right elbow crosses your body and reaches toward your left knee. Now switch and twist to the other side so that your left elbow reaches toward your bent right knee. Keep alternating sides without tucking your chin toward your chest.
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Target you obliques (the muscles along the side of your torso) with this crunch variation. There are two methods of side crunches, so choose the one that doesn’t hurt your lower back. HOW TO DO IT: Start in the classic crunch position on your back with your knees bent. If your lower back is flexible and strong enough, you can drop your knees to one side. If not, stay in the standard starting position. Contract your abs and lift your head and shoulders off the floor, twisting to the side of your bent knees (or just twisting to one side if your knees are straight up). Lower back down and complete all reps on one side before switching sides.
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Sit-ups look deceptively easy, but they can be quite challenging to do properly. If you can’t do a full sit-up on your own, have a partner hold down your feet while you perform all your reps. HOW TO DO IT: Start exactly as you would with a crunch, but this time, instead of only lifting halfway up, your goal is to raise from lying down to sitting up in one fluid motion. Don’t let your chin tuck into your chest, and only use the strength of your abs to pull you up to a seated position. Think of your torso as one straight plank from hips to head that raises and lowers like a lever.
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You hips are going to need to be flexible for this variation. But even if they aren’t that flexible to begin with, you can still get the benefits of this variation and work up to full flexibility over time. HOW TO DO IT: Begin seated in a butterfly position -- knees bent and open toward the floor with your feet together close to your groin. Lower yourself down so that your back is flat on the floor and your arms reach overhead. Reach up and forward as you pull yourself back up to seated with the strength of your abs.
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RUNNING MAN SIT-UP
Channel you inner MC Hammer for this variation inspired by the ’80s dance move. It’s a bit like if the bicycle crunch got together with a standard sit-up. HOW TO DO IT: Lie flat on the floor with your hands behind your head. Exhale as you curl up, twisting your torso and bending your right knee so that you left elbow crosses over your right knee. Drop all the way back down to the start before repeating on the other side.
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DRAGON FLAG SIT-UP
Think you’ve got what it takes to master this insanely hard variation (that’s also a favorite of Bruce Lee)? Though in the real version of the dragon flag you should raise and lower your entire body from shoulders to feet as a single plank, you might need to modify until you build up core strength. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on a bench with your arms bent and your elbows by your ears so that you can grip the top of the bench. Contract your abs and raise your legs up until your upper body naturally curls with it. If your ab strength allows, keep raising until your feet are over your shoulders. Then lower your entire body down in a straight plank until you’re back to the start. You may need to roll your back out some of the way if you’re unable to do the full version.
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REVERSE CRUNCH PULSE
Haven’t had enough lower-ab work yet? Try this reverse-crunch variation. You can do it either with legs straight up or legs bent at the knees with shins parallel to the floor. HOW TO DO IT: Begin lying on your back with your legs up in the air, perpendicular to the floor. Keep your arms down along your side with your palms facing down. Squeeze your lower abs and raise your butt and lower back off the floor with quick pulses. Try not to rely on momentum, but focus on only using your lower abs.
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Get all of your abdominal muscles fired up with this variation. You might also feel it in your hips and thighs. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with your arms by your side. Take a big inhale, and then on your exhale, engage your core and lift both your torso and legs straight off the ground and reach for your toes. You body will resemble a V. Lower back down with control, keeping your core tight and your legs straight.
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MEDICINE BALL V-UPS
If regular V-ups weren’t challenging enough for you, try adding a medicine ball into the mix and you’ll really start to feel your abs fire up. Just make sure you don’t let the added weight compromise your form. HOW TO DO IT: Do everything exactly the same as a regular V-up, but start by holding a medicine ball in front of your chest. As you lift up, reach the medicine ball toward your toes, then bring it back into your chest as you lower down -- but don’t let it rest on your chest.
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STABILITY BALL BACK CRUNCH
It’s important to balance out all the abdominal work you’ve been doing by flipping your crunch and turning it into a back extension on the stability ball. HOW TO DO IT: Face the stability ball, plant you feet on the floor and rest your hips and stomach on the ball. Bring your hands behind your head and engage the muscles up and down your back to raise your upper body off the ball. Slowly lower back down to the start. Be careful not to strain your neck or lower back as you do this exercise.
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Trust the people who gave the world kettlebells to know their intense exercises. You’ll need to maintain your balance the entire time while twisting from side to side. HOW TO DO IT: Begin seated and leaning back slightly, then lift your feet a few inches off the floor. Either hold your hands in a fist at the center of your chest or extend your arms out in front of you for an added challenge. Keeping your core engaged, twist your upper body to the right without lowering your feet or arching your back. Hold for a second before twisting back the other way. Continue alternating sides without compromising your form.
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WEIGHTED RUSSIAN TWIST
Take your Russian twists from the last slide to the next level by adding a medicine ball. HOW TO DO IT: Do exactly what you did for the standard Russian twists, but this time hold a medicine ball at the center of your chest. Twist from side to side, allowing the medicine ball to add resistance without letting it pull your back out of proper alignment. The further away from your body you hold the medicine ball, the greater challenge it will be to your abs and upper body.
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After just a few reps of these crunches, you’ll really start to feel the burn -- especially in your lower abs. See how long you can go, keeping your legs perfectly straight and your back flat on the ground. HOW TO DO IT: Start lying on your back with your hands underneath your tailbone for support, or simply keep them by your side. Contract your abs and raise your legs a few inches off the ground. Keeping your back flat on the ground, raise one leg up toward your chest (or as high as you can while keeping it straight). If your hands are by your sides, you can choose to grab ahold of the raised leg before releasing it back down. As one leg lowers, raise the other one. Continue to switch off.
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SIDE PLANK CRUNCH
This variation combines the stability challenge of a plank with the contraction of a crunch while targeting your obliques. HOW TO DO IT: Start in a side-plank position either balancing on your hand or your forearm. Keep your body in one straight line from your feet to your shoulders. Raise your top arm up toward the ceiling. Next, bend your top knee and top arm so that your knee meets your elbow halfway. You should really feel this in your obliques. Lower your leg down and return your arm to the start. Continue with all reps on one side before switching to the other.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
How many of these sit-ups have you tried? Which ones are the best? Which are the worst? Which ones did we miss? Tell us some of your favorite crunch and sit-up variations in the comments section below!
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