Hate planks and crunches? Good news: You don't necessarily need to do them. Functional exercises that target your entire core are the most effective way to strengthen your midsection and define your abs.
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Whether you're working toward six-pack abs or a stronger core and better balance, the key is consistency. And if you don't enjoy your workouts, you won't do them. While most ab workouts consist of planks and crunches, they aren't the only way to tone your midsection. Far from it.
"You want to incorporate functional core exercises," says Grayson Wickham, DPT, CSCS, founder of Movement Vault. And core strengthening does more than just give you an envious torso, it also helps support your back to prevent and relieve back pain, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
"Having a mobile and stable core will decrease injury risk and increase performance," Wickham says. "When you have a stable core it provides a solid and stable center for the rest of your body to move from."
“You can have the strongest abdominal and core muscles, but if they are covered in layers of fat, they will not be visible," Wickham says. "The key to being able to see your elusive six pack is to dial in your nutrition."
Also, find healthy ways to keep your stress in check. “When your stress levels are high, your cortisol levels increase. Cortisol is a stress hormone that will lead to an accumulation of belly fat,” he says.
Check out more of our 20-minute workouts here — we’ve got something for everyone.
Try This 20-Minute Ab Workout if You Hate Planks and Crunches
The following workout is an AMRAP workout, which is an acronym that means "as many rounds as possible." Wickham, who created the following workout, says this type of HIIT exercise is an ideal way to trim your torso — no planks or crunches required!
Do: each of the following five exercises. Rest 60 to 90 seconds before repeating the entire set of exercises. Continue for 20 minutes.
Move 1: Windshield Wiper
- Lie on your back with your lower back pushed into the ground.
- Place both arms by your side at about a 45-degree angle.
- While keeping your legs straight, lift your legs upward as far as possible.
- Next, while trying to keep both of your shoulder blades on the ground, slowly move your legs and feet to one side of your body.
- Once you have rotated as far as you feel comfortable, rotate your legs and feet to the opposite side. Make sure to keep your core muscles engaged, and your arms pressed firmly into the ground the entire time. That's one rep.
Start by performing this exercise with your knees bent, especially if you have a previous back injury or back pain. Work your way up to performing this with straight legs as your core strength improves.
Move 2: Hollow Hold Leg Raise
- Lie on your back with your lower back pressed into the ground.
- With your arms straight out in front of your chest, press a kettlebell or dumbbell upward, lifting your head, neck and shoulder blades off the ground.
- Keeping your legs straight, lift both legs up as far as possible.
- At the top, contract your core muscles as hard as possible and hold for 5 seconds.
- Slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position.
This exercise can also be performed with bent knees, without a weight or with your head on the ground to make it less challenging.
Move 3: Crawl Hold Row
- Start in a crawl position on all fours with your knees bent at about a 90-degree angle and lifted a few inches off the ground.
- Next, grab a dumbbell or kettlebell with one hand and lift it off the ground by pulling your elbow up and close to the side of your body.
- Slowly lower the weight back down to the ground.
- Do all 8 reps on one side before repeating on the other.
Tighten your core and keep your back straight throughout this exercise. If you can’t perform 8 reps without your back sagging, decrease the weight or don't use any weight at all.
Move 4: Banded Chop-Up
- Start by tying a resistance band low on a secure structure.
- Walk sideways away from the object, increasing the tension in the band.
- Start in a mini squat with your knees slightly bent and your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Next, keeping your arms straight, rotate at your hips and your torso while chopping your arms up and across your body diagonally.
- Slowly return back to the starting position.
- Do all 10 reps on one side before repeating on the other.
“All of this motion should be coming from your core and hip muscles. Your shoulders and arms are doing very little work,” Wickham says.
Move 5: Tall Sitting Pike Hip Lift
- Sit with your chest held high and both legs straight out in front of you. Press your palms or fingertips into the ground to create tension and stability.
- Next, keeping your legs together and straight, lift both legs as high as possible without leaning backward.
- Move your legs to one side and touch both heels down for a split second.
- Lift your legs and arch them over to the other side. That's one rep.
You can place an object like a kettlebell or water bottle directly in front of you and move both of your legs over this object to give you a target.