Regardless of what type of training you do, repeating the same workouts over and over can become boring very quickly. Not to mention, your progress will stall. But by varying your workouts, you're more likely to stick with your regimen over time, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
Take your ab workouts, for example. There are a lot of great ab exercises out there, but a lot of them tend to be robotic and monotonous. Like the sit-up: You roll up then lower down, only moving in one (not very functional) direction.
But your ab muscles are incredibly dynamic. And if you're stuck doing crunches and planks on loop, you're missing out on the ab-sculpting (and boredom-busting) benefits of these other exercises — some of which you may never have even heard of!
1. Dead Bug
The dead bug exercise — despite its odd name — requires balance, coordination and lots of ab strength. It not only works your rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscle), it also works the obliques and transverse abdominis, according to an April 2015 study published in the Zahedan Journal of Research in Medical Sciences.
- Lie on the floor on your back with both arms reaching up toward the ceiling. Lift your feet off the ground so your legs are bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Slowly and with control, extend your right arm over your head and extend your left leg out straight. Lower your limbs as far as you can while keeping the lower back on the ground.
- Exhale as you return to the starting position, then repeat with the left arm and right leg.
2. Bird Dog
Another exercise with weird name but serious ab-strengthening benefits, the bird dog exercise doesn't just work your abs; it targets your obliques, glutes, hamstrings and back, according to a November 2013 report in Sports Health.
- Start on all fours with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- On an exhale, reach your right arm straight out in front of you. At the same time, kick your left leg straight back.
- Return your arm and leg to the starting position.
- Switch sides, reaching your left arm out in front and kicking your right leg back.
3. The Kettlebell Drag Plank
You already know planks are great for building core strength, stability and balance. But just holding the position for 30 to 60 seconds seems like you're there forever. Add a cross-body kettlebell drag to target more of your obliques.
- Begin in a forearm plank, elbows directly below your shoulders, and toes, hips and head in a straight line. Position your feet wider than hip distance to form a stable base, and keep your hips low.
- Place the kettlebell just behind your right hand.
- Engaging the glutes, low back and abdominal muscles, reach the left arm across the chest to grab the kettlebell, dragging it on its side by the handle under your body.
- Pause when the kettlebell is just behind the left hand, stacked below the shoulder.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
4. Captain's Chair
If you've never incorporated the captain's chair at your gym into your ab workout, now is the time to start. In 2011 research from ACE, it was named the second most effective exercise for your rectus abdominis and the most effective for your obliques.
- Climb up into the chair with your back pressed against the backrest, arms and elbows on the armrests (to support your body weight), hands gripping the handles and legs extended straight down.
- From there, pull your knees up toward your chest, engaging your abdominal muscles in the process.
- To finish the move, extend your legs back to the starting position and repeat.
5. Dumbbell Pullover Crunch
No captain's chair? Try this move instead. It's a combination of a leg raise and crunch to work the upper and lower region of your abs.
- Holding a dumbbell against your chest, lie down on a bench. Raise your legs in the air with your knees bent at a 90 degree angle. Grip the dumbbell with two hands under the weight, instead of the handle.
- Press the dumbbell up toward the ceiling until your elbows are locked out and the dumbbell is over your chest. Reach your arms backward with the dumbbell in your hands until your arms are parallel with the floor.
- While lowering your arms, lower and straighten out your legs until they're parallel to the ground.
- Raise them back toward the starting position.
- Perform a crunch by rolling your hips back until your butt is off the bench. At the same time, roll your shoulders, head and neck off of the bench.
- Lower back to the start and repeat.
6. Side Plank Knee Crunch
This exercise will challenge every muscle on the side of your torso, from your shoulders to your hips. According to a September 2011 study in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, the side plank is also one of the best exercises out there for your gluteus medius on the side of your butt.
- Start in a side plank on your right side with your right hand under your right shoulder and your feet stacked on top of each other with your left foot on top. Your left arm should be raised straight up toward the ceiling.
- Lift your right foot and bend your right knee to bring it up as your bring your right elbow down to meet it. Use your obliques on your right side to crunch your top elbow and knee toward each other.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
- American Council on Exercise: Why is it important to vary my workout routines?
- Zahedan Journal of Research in Medical Sciences: Comparison of Abdominal and Lumbar Muscles Electromyography Activity During Two Types of Stabilization Exercises
- Sports Health: Core Stability Training for Injury Prevention
- American Council on Exercise: ACE-Sponsored Study Reveals Best and Worst Abdominal Exercises
- International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: Electromyographic Analysis of Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Maximus During Rehabilitation Exercises