Question: "What are the best ab exercises that don't involve doing a sit-up?"
Christian Agudelo, ACSM - CPT
The sit-up has been the staple ab exercise for many years. It has been used to measure strength and overall fitness in schools and certain physically active jobs such as the military and police. However, the sit-up is an ab exercise that requires a lot of control and proper form to be effective. The majority of individuals do not know how to properly engage the sit-up and therefore will put added stress to their spine during flexion. Also many do not have the core strength to engage their abdominal muscles properly during the sit-up and will pull from the hips to execute the maneuver. There are many other far more superior ab exercises that can be accomplished that are not only safer but more effective to achieving a strong core.
Plank- The plank is a very simple and extremely effective core exercise. Because of the stabilization component of the plank your body is put into a position where it immediately engages your entire core. It is a full body exercise and it allows for many different variations based on your strength level. It also keeps the spine neutral and minimizes the risk for injury.
Side Plank- The side plank is a variation of the traditional plank in that you can put the focus on the oblique (the love handle area) by creating a safe and simple stabilization movement. Because the spine is again kept in a neutral position, the side plank is a great exercise to target a certain area of your core without risking back injury.
Reverse Crunch- The reverse crunch is a lower abdominal exercise that is also safe and effective. This is a very simple exercise but it is great for beginners who haven’t been able to fire their lower abs. Because you are lying flat on your back your spine stays neutral and safe. And since you are keeping your knees bent and raising and lowering in a controlled movement you minimize the risk of using your lower back and can focus solely on the lower stomach muscles.
Rollouts- The rollout is a great exercise to really engage the core. It looks similar to the ab wheel exercise from the past. The rollout can be used with either a stability ball or for more effectiveness you can scale up to using a barbell with added weight for more resistance. Because the rollout keeps your spine neutral you again minimize the risk for injury. The best part about this exercise is you can start in the basic position with your knees down and using a stability ball and as you get stronger you can scale up and add resistance on a barbell.
Hanging Leg Raises- The hanging leg raises is probably the best lower ab exercises you can perform. It is more of an intermediate to advanced exercise so always start with the reverse crunch to build some lower ab strength before moving on to the hanging leg raise. The hanging leg raise provides great stabilization of the core. Because you are hanging from a bar you are not only focusing on lower body control but you also need to focus on upper body control as to
Earvin Bahena, NSCA - CSCS
A sit up is one of the most common exercises to do in order to develop and strengthen your abdominal muscles. When done incorrectly this exercises can do more harm than good and there are more effective exercises to work the core. Here are some of those exercises and how they are effective.
- Dead Bugs: The dead bug exercise is one of the easiest, yet most effective exercises in order to engage and work the core. By lying flat on your back and positioning your legs bent in the air and arms overhead you are able to perform a tight contralateral movement which will be felt in your abdomen.
- Plank Variations: There are many forms of planks that will help work the core; the two I believe are the best are the standard plank and the side plank.
- Plank: One of the best isometric core exercises, the forearm plank will strengthen not only your core but your whole body as well. Maintaining proper form and a flat stabilized back you will work on your core conditioning along with core strength.
- Side Plank: Side planks are very effective at working the side part of your abs, also known as your oblique muscle. It is also very useful as a way to see if you have any unilateral difference in your core that need to be worked on.
- Slams: A more dynamic effective core exercise is the overhead slams. As you put the dynamax ball over your head, you are engaging your core to keep your body upright and then you release the ball down and brace your core. At all times you are engaging your core during this workout
- Stability Ball Exercises: As you start to master the planks and side planks you will work towards different variations of effective core exercises and using the stability ball will help you get there.
-Stability Ball Roll Out: This exercises is another way to contract the core by stabilizing your body. As you lean and shift your weight forward onto the ball, you are keeping your body straight by engaging your core and holding that position throughout the reps.
- Stir The Pot: Similar to the roll out, you are engaging your core to keep your body stabilized on the ball but you are adding a twist to it. By rotating to both sides of the ball you are using every inch of your core to ensure you are not falling off the ball since you are moving in different movement planes.