10 Flat Stomach Alternatives to Crunches

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

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read
Episode #57

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.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.