Although you could stay in a sweaty gym and crunch and twist your way to strong abs, where's the fun in that? Instead, take up a sport that provides the spirit of play and competition with the happy side effect of a rock-hard abdomen.
Performance in any sport benefits from a strong midsection, but not all sports actively train your abs as you're playing. Certain sports build ab strength and have moves you can translate to everyday workouts.
If these sports are not for you, consider golf, soccer, surfing, basketball or weight lifting, as alternative sports that also build strong abs.
From simple tumbling runs to challenging holds on the uneven bars or rings, gymnasts use their abs in just about every move. Visit your local gymnastics studio to build strong abs while you balance on the beam, hang from bars and flip over the vault. Or, just steal these moves for your own workout:
Parallel Bar Leg Raises
Use a classic set of parallel bars as found in a gymnastics studio, or a set of triceps dip bars on a pull-up apparatus.
Stand between the bars and hold on to them with an overhand grip. Engage your abdominal muscles as you prop yourself up on your hands with your legs dangling.
Keep your arms straight and feet together as you raise your legs up until they are parallel to the floor. Pause momentarily.
Return your legs to a hanging position using control to complete one repetition. Work your way up to 10 or more repetitions.
Keep your shoulders relaxed as you prop up on the bars.
Hollow Body Rock
This move holds your abs in a tense position for an extended period of time, which builds serious strength.
Lie extended long on the floor, arms by your ears.
Pull your belly button in toward your spine and lift your head, shoulders and legs up off the floor to create a crescent or banana shape. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds; once you can hold 30 seconds or longer, add a subtle rock front to back to increase the challenge.
Release to the lying position to finish the exercise.
Spiking and digging a volleyball require quick position changes and keep your abs fired. Playing on sand also provides instability, which calls for even more abdominal activation. Set up your own net and train, or use these moves.
Side Plank with Rotation
Build strong oblique muscles, those at the sides of your abdomen, as well as stabilizers with a rotating plank.
Get into a side plank position propped onto your right forearm and feet. Keep your hips lifted and abdomen pulled in tight.
Extend your left arm above your left shoulder, fingers pointing to the ceiling.
While keeping your hips elevated, pull the left arm in front of your chest and under your right armpit. Twist your body so that your shoulders square to mat.
Un-thread your arm and return it to the reaching position. Complete 10 to 15 with the left arm, then switch sides.
Medicine Ball Partner Toss
The medicine ball is considerably heavier than a volleyball, but tossing and catching increases reaction time and abdominal activation.
Grab a partner and sit across from each other on the floor, knees bent. Face each other with your feet about 18 inches apart. Both partners draw the belly button in to increase core engagement.
One partner holds the medicine ball at his chest and explosively tosses it to partner two, who catches it with bent elbows and immediately throws it back.
Continue to pass for 30 to 60 seconds.
Begin with a fairly light ball of 6 to 8 pounds and work your way up to a heavier ball over time.
The power to paddle through water comes directly from your core, especially strong abs. Your deep transverse abdominis muscle keeps you stable as you drive the oar and your obliques work during rotation. To build abs like a kayak-er, do the following moves three to five times per week.
Medicine Ball Rotations
Rotating a heavy medicine ball trains you in a way similar to cutting a paddle through water.
Sit on you butt with your knees bent and feet planted. Hold a medicine ball in both hands in front of your chest. Lean back until you feel your abs engage.
Twist to the right, moving your whole torso, and not just the arms, with the medicine ball. Keep the ball in the center of your torso as you rotate.
Twist to the left. Move slowly and deliberately as you alternate side to side for 30 to 60 seconds.
Increase the intensity of the move by lifting your feet off the floor and balancing on your sits bones.
Use an exercise bench for your crunches rather than a traditional gym mat. The narrower surface forces you to balance and deal with instability.
Lie on your back on a flat, padded workout bench. Slide your butt down so it's supported, but just at the edge of the seat. Lift your knees to a 90-degree angle and place your hands gently behind your head.
Keep your legs over yourhips as you crunch your head, neck and shoulders up off the bench and contract your abs. Pause for a count or two.
Lower the head back down to complete one repetition. Keep tension in your abs as you complete 10 to 15 total reps.