10 Flat Stomach Alternatives to Crunches

The 10 exercises that will give you flat abs without doing a single boring crunch

Ben Greenfield,
August 1, 2011
Episode #057

It would seem that the almighty crunch is the gold standard for getting a flat stomach. Ate too much? Just do a few hundred extra crunches. Not sure what ab workout to do at the gym? Drop and crunch! Want to have a six-pack like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky? Crunch, crunch, crunch. But are crunches really the best way to get a flat stomach, a six-pack, or a strong core? In this article, you’ll find out why crunches may not be the best ab exercise and learn 10 alternatives for a flat stomach workout.

Why Crunches Don’t Work

Imagine your spine is a credit card. In the same way that repeatedly flexing and extending a credit card will eventually lead to wearing out of the card, repeatedly performing the crunching motion can put a lifetime of damaging strain on your back.

The reason for this is that each of your spinal discs is only able to support a limited number of bending motions over the course of your lifetime before you get a bad back, low back pain, a disc bulge, or a disc herniation.

Because it involves lying in your back and repeatedly bending and extending at the spine, the crunch motion is a big culprit when it comes to placing excessive strain directly on the portion of the low back that has the most nerves and is most susceptible to this wear and fatigue. You’ve probably been taught that if you’re going to pick a heavy object off the ground, and you don’t want to hurt your spine, you should “bend at the knees, and not at the back.” But anytime you do a crunch or a sit-up, you’re bending at the back – over and over and over again!

10 Flat Stomach Alternatives to Crunches

In the episode How To Get A Flat Stomach, you learned that bending and extending at the spine only works one part of your abdominal muscles – the rectus abdominis. But to have a truly flat stomach, you also need to work the 3 other sections of your abdominals: the external obliques, the internal obliques, and the tranversus abdominis. Each of the following 10 crunch alternatives allows you to avoid the excessive bending and extending of your back while also working most of these muscles. For these exercises, choose a weight that allows you to do 10-15 repetitions – doing 25, 50, or 100 repetitions of an abdominal exercise does not get you good results, because if you can do that many repetitions, then you’re not using a high enough force to stimulate a significant muscle fiber response.

As you read each entry, click on the name of the exercise to see a video of me demonstrating it.

Crunch Alternative #10 - Cable Torso Twists

Hold a cable (or elastic band) at arm’s length and twist your body. To do this exercise properly, imagine your bellybutton pointing straight forward, then rotate your bellybutton approximately 30 degrees. You don’t have to rotate far to feel this one, and rotating too far can actually hurt your back!  Use a weight that allows you to do 10-15 reps.

Crunch Alternative #9 - Woodchopper

The woodchopper is similar to the cable torso twists, except this time you hold a dumbbell, medicine ball, elastic band, or cable and rotate with extended arms from above your shoulder, down and across your body to the outside of your hips – as if you were holding an axe and chopping a block of wood. Imagine Paul Bunyan hoisting an axe overhead, then swinging it down across the body.

Crunch Alternative #8 - Front Planks

There are many variations of front plank exercises, but they all involve a starting position with your elbows bent and your body in an extended, belly-down position supported by your forearms and your feet. You can simply hold this position, or you can tap your feet or alternate between reaching with each arm.

Crunch Alternative #7 - Side Planks

Side planks are similar to the front planks, but instead, simply support yourself on one arm, so that your bellybutton is turned to the side. From this position, you can also do more advanced exercises like raising a dumbbell with your non-support arm or rotating with your non-support arm.

Crunch Alternative #6 - Stability Ball Plank

Are you seeing a pattern here? The reason the planking motion is such a great alternative to the crunch is that is uses all the abdominal muscles, but doesn’t require bending and extending. If your forearms don’t like the front plank position, the stability ball plank is a great option. Simply put your legs up on a stability ball, and support the rest of your body in a pushup position with your hands. Make the exercise more difficult by placing your toes instead of your legs on the ball.

Crunch Alternative #5 - Stability Ball Knee To Chest

Once you’ve mastered the stability ball plank position, simply move from that position by pulling your knees to your chest, then extending back into a plank position.

Crunch Alternative #4 - Stability Ball Pike

When the stability ball knee to chest exercise gets easy, move to pikes, in which you start in a stability ball plank position and then pull your butt up towards the sky while keeping your legs completely straight.

Crunch Alternative #3 - Bridge

As you work your abdominals, you need to also maintain your low back strength, so that you don’t create muscular imbalances. Perform a low back strengthening bridge by lying on your back on the ground, then thrusting your hips towards the sky. For more advanced variations, try a single leg bridge or a stability ball bridge.

Crunch Alternative #2 - Med Ball Side Throws

Let’s finish with two of my favorite and most “violent” abdominal exercises. Grab a medicine ball, which is one of those small but deceptively heavy balls you can find at the gym, and then head to an area where you have a solid wall and no people around. Twist your body to one side and then twist back and actually throw the ball against the wall, catch and repeat. Once you’ve completed a series of throws for one side, face the other direction and complete another set of throws for the opposite side.

Crunch Alternative #1 - Med Ball Slams

Hold the medicine ball overhead, then slam it into the ground as hard as you can, while keeping your abs tight and breathing out. This exercise is also a fantastic way to let off steam after a hard day at work.

If you have more questions about the crunch, or these alternatives, share them on the Get-Fit Guy Facebook page!

Flat Stomach image courtesy of Shutterstock