If you're under the impression that building your core muscles requires hundreds of crunches, leg lifts and bicycles, you're sorely mistaken (pun most definitely intended). In fact, you could probably never do another crunch and still build strong abs.
Here's why: Ab-specific exercises isolate the six-pack muscles. But so-called compound movements fire up more muscles throughout your entire core, including the ones on the back and sides of your midsection, according to the American Council on Exercise, for more bang for your ab-workout buck.
So next time you find yourself dreading yet another set of crunches, try these five moves instead, says Cameron Yuen, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City.
1. Single-Leg Deadlift
- Begin standing on your right leg with a slight bend in your knee, holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in your left hand.
- Hinge at the hips and push them backward as you extend your left leg behind you.
- Keeping your back flat, lower the weight toward the ground as you extend the left leg.
- Drive through your stationary right heel to return to standing.
- Switch sides and repeat.
This isn't a traditional ab exercise but seriously works the core, as you have to stabilize yourself on one leg with a weight in front of you, Yuen tells LIVESTRONG.com.
As you return to standing, keep your core braced and avoid rounding your back.
Read more: What Are the Benefits of Deadlifting?
2. Single-Arm Bent-Over Row
- Start with your feet in a staggered stance, with your left leg bent and the right straighter out behind and to the side of your body with a dumbbell in your right hand.
- Hinge at your hips and place your left forearm and elbow on your left knee for stability.
- Row the weight up to chest height, keeping your back flat and elbow close to your body.
- Bring the weight back down.
- Repeat on the other side.
Avoid twisting your body as you lift the weight. Keep your hips square and torso parallel to the ground.
3. Single-Arm Dumbbell Chest Press
- Begin lying on a flat bench with your feet on the ground, back rooted into the bench.
- Hold a dumbbell in one hand and keep the other hand out to your side for balance.
- Press the weight straight up over your body before lowering the weight back to chest height.
- Repeat on the other side.
For this chest press, you'll likely need to use a lighter weight than you think, Yuen says. "By keeping all the weight on one side, you have to brace your core to prevent rotation and extension of your body."
4. Standing Paloff Press
- Attach a resistance band to a sturdy post (like the inside of a squat rack).
- Hold the end of the band near your sternum and take a few steps away to build up resistance.
- Turn your body so your right side is toward the post and maintain a slight bend in your knees.
- Brace your core and press the band straight out in front of you.
- Pause for a moment, then bring your hands back to your chest.
- After you perform your reps, be sure to switch sides.
This exercise will work all of your core muscles with extra emphasis on your obliques, which you'll need to keep engaged to resist rotating your body toward the pull of the band.
5. Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing
- Begin standing with your legs slightly wider than hip distance and a kettlebell on the floor in front of you.
- Shoot your hips back and, with a flat back, bend forward to grasp the kettlebell with one hand.
- Swing the kettlebell first between your legs, then up in front of your body to chest-height with your arm straight. (You can keep your free arm out to the side for balance.)
- Complete your reps, then repeat on the other side.
"As you propel the kettlebell forward during the swing, resist the tendency to let your body rotate with the swing arm," Yuen says. "Instead, keep your posture square throughout the entire movement."