What's so bad about basic crunches? "They don't challenge your deep core muscles, which provide support for a body in motion," explains celebrity trainer Kira Stokes, creator of The Stoked Method and Stoked Series classes. Here, five nontraditional moves from Stokes to build a better core.
C-Curve Hold With Pulses
This move works the entire rectus abdominis, giving you that six-pack you're after.
How to do it: Sit with knees bent and feet flat on the floor; lower down to elbows (A). Tuck tailbone, pressing lower back firmly into the floor, and draw naval toward spine. Lift elbows, reaching hands forward; place them lightly on sides of thighs. (B). Pulse upper body up an inch and down an inch. Continue for 3 sets of 45-second intervals. To make it even harder, release your hands from your thighs while pulsing.
Plank Knee Tuck
This hits the transverse abdominis, aka your body's natural girdle, to nix slouching and stabilize the spine. Also tones the low abdomen (read: belly pouch).
How to do it: Start in plank position with toes pressing into gliders or a towel (A). Draw navel toward spine and engage glutes; tip hips up slightly higher than shoulder level. Exhale; slowly pull knees in until they are about 2 inches in front of hips (B). Inhale and reverse back to start. Do 3 sets of 45-second intervals.
Standing Oblique Crunch
This move targets the obliques (the muscles that let you twist your torso), stretching and strengthening them to whittle your waistline into that coveted V shape.
How to do it: Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart; extend right leg out to the side. Tuck tailbone, engage glutes, and draw navel toward spine as you tilt to the left, right hand reaching overhead toward left shoulder (A). Exhale while crunching to the right, bringing right elbow and right knee together (B). Inhale; return to "A." Do 3 sets of 45-second intervals per side.
RELATED: 20 Ways to Do a Plank
Side-Lying Swivel Crunch
This will get your whole core involved. The payoff: better balance, more graceful posture, and a lower risk of injury. It's especially good for the obliques, which means a slimmer middle.
How to do it: Lie on left side with left forearm on the floor and hips and feet stacked. Extend right arm overhead, squeezing glutes and drawing navel toward spine. Contract abs and lift legs about 3 inches off the floor (A). Roll onto left glute and lift legs to about a 45-degree angle while bringing right hand to touch left shin (B). Return to "A." Continue for 3 sets of 45- to 60-second intervals per side.
Bird Dog Crunch
This increases stability and strength in the abs and lower back. It may feel like more of a balance move, but each time you bring your elbow to your knee, you're sculpting your core, too.
How to do it: Start on all fours with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips; gaze toward the floor to keep head and neck in a neutral position. Draw navel toward spine and, maintaining a flat back, extend right arm and left leg straight out (A). Bring right elbow to left knee (B); hold for 1 to 2 seconds, then return to "A." Do 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps per side. To make it harder, in the extended position, pulse ar and leg (hello, glute challenge!) up twice.
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