Crunch fatigue is real, for a few reasons. One: Crunches don't encourage your abdominal muscles to work through their full range of motion. So even if you're doing a hundred crunches a day, you might be disappointed to learn that you're not going to get as strong of a core as you'd like.
And two: When done improperly, crunches are taxing on your neck and back. Many people tend to put their hands behind their nape and pull their neck into flexion without engaging the abs to lift. This will put a lot of stress on your spine and lead to unnecessary aches and pains in the long run.
Luckily, so many other ab exercises are safe and effective—plus they help bolster your core better than crunches. When you mix and match them, you can create a routine that will help to strengthen different layers of your core, a.k.a. the group of muscles that support your spine and your pelvis. Having a strong core means you'll have better posture, more balance, and less joint pain.
Not sure how to vary your ab routine to get the best results? No worries: We've rounded up some of the best core moves you can use to create circuits that will have you feeling the burn in all the right places. Just pick five exercises from this list, switch them up every week, and your workouts will become more interesting and challenging.
Equipment: Yoga mat, towel
Reps and sets: Aim for 10–20 reps slow and controlled reps per exercise—except for the plank and hollow holds. Hold those for anywhere between 20 seconds to 1 minute. Perform up to 3 sets.
How to do it: Roll up a towel (or grab an AbMat) and place it under your lower back. Sit in a butterfly position with the soles of your feet touching each other. Initiate the movement by lying your back on the floor. Inhale. As you exhale, brace your core and lift with your abs. Touch your hands to your feet and repeat. Try and keep the soles of your feet glued together.
Pro tips: Placing a towel beneath your lower back will support your spine as well as allow your abs to do most of the work instead of your hips. In addition, it puts your abs in more of an extended position at the start which allows you to flex them through their full range of motion.
How to do it: Lie on your back and raise your legs up until they are perpendicular with your torso. Pull your navel toward your spine and lift your hips a few inches off of the floor. Lower the hips down to the ground and restart the motion. Keep your hands planted beside your torso, and flex your feet towards your face.
Pro tips: To make this move harder, try completing each rep without letting the hips touch the ground.
How to do it: Start on your back and raise your legs until they are straight above your hips. Glue your lower back to the floor by bracing your abs. Then lower your legs as far as you can while keeping your lower back connected to the ground. Once you’ve found a challenging height raise your feet an inch. Start making small kicks up and down with your legs. Breathe in and out through your nose as you complete the reps.
Pro tips: Keeping your lower back attached to the floor is key to maximizing the effects of this movement as well as protecting your lower back. It’s okay to raise your feet a bit to keep that connection, but just make sure the exercise is still challenging.
How to do it: Lie on your back and squeeze your abs as if you’re dropping your bellybutton to the floor. Raise your legs slightly while keeping your lower back connected to the ground. Scissor your right leg over your left as you scissor your left leg over the right. Then continuously keep switching until you have completed your reps. Try to keep your toes pointed as you move.
Pro tips: Once again, really focus on keeping your lower back engaged with the ground. If this is tough, lift your legs slightly higher.
How to do it: Begin on your back with your legs straight in front of you. Sit up and touch your heels as you bring your knees towards your chest. Then lower yourself down as your legs straighten back to the floor. Sit up again to start another rep.
Pro tips: To make this move more challenging, lower your legs and torso as low as you can without touching the floor before you sit back up. To make it easier, keep your knees bent throughout the movement.
How to do it: Lie down and begin with your arms straight above your head. Inhale and draw your bellybutton in towards your spine. As you exhale, sit up and bring your straight legs up to meet your arms. Lower down and repeat.
Pro tips: If this is too challenging, prop yourself up on your forearms for a little assistance. From here, bend your knees and bring them up to 90 degrees. Lower your torso to the floor as your straighten your legs out. Then crunch up and bring your knees in toward your chest.
How to do it: Start on the ground with your head facing the ceiling and your legs straight out in front of you. Brace your core by gluing your lower back to the floor. As you maintain that engagement, lift your legs about a foot off of the floor. Pulse your feet up and down. Each “up-down” equals one rep.
Pro tips: Keep your lower back in contact with the floor! If you are having trouble doing this, you may need to raise your feet a bit higher until you can keep that core engaged.
How to do it: Lie on your back and bend your knees. Lift your knees up until they are directly above your hip bones. Then crunch up and bring your shoulders off the floor. Drop your chin to your chest. Lengthen your arms toward your hips with your thumbs facing toward the ceiling. Drive your lower back to the floor. From here, straighten your legs to the ceiling, then draw your arms toward your ears. Lower your legs to the floor until your start to feel your lower back lose contact with the ground. When you reach that point, lift your legs slightly to find your sweet spot. Hold this position for 20 seconds up to a minute. Make sure to breathe!
Pro tips: If this movement is super tough, it’s okay to hold the position with your knees bent and shoulders lifted off of the floor. As you get stronger in this position, you can work on straightening your legs and getting them closer to the floor. The key is to keep that lower back flat on the floor. Once you find where your sweet spot is, you don't have to think so much about getting into the position.
How to do it: Prop yourself up on your right forearm for a side plank hold. Then lower your right hip to the floor. Engage your abs to lift again. Complete your desired reps and do the same on the other side.
Pro tips: Make sure to keep your hip bones are stacked on top of one another and that you are not leaning forward or backward. Make sure the elbow on the ground is directly beneath the shoulder. You can place the opposite arm on the hip or straight in the air.
How to do it: Begin on your back with your legs pointed towards the ceiling. Crunch up and aim to touch your toes. Lower down and repeat the movement. Flex your toes towards your face to engage your lower ab muscles.
Pro tip: It’s okay if you can't touch your toes for this one. Just try to get as high as you can. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees slightly.
How to do it: Lie on your stomach, then lift yourself up onto your forearms and toes. Keep your elbows directly beneath your shoulders. Draw your shoulders away from your ears. Squeeze your abs and glutes and keep your hips, neck and spine in one straight line. Aim to hold for anywhere from 20 seconds to a minute. Hold and breathe in and out through your nose.
Pro tip: Refrain from hiking your hips up towards the ceiling. If this is too difficult to maintain, drop your knees down to the floor and hold this position.
How to do it: Lie on your back and bring your arms up until your wrists are directly over your shoulders. Bring your legs up until they are right over your hips. Keep your legs straight. Squeeze your bellybutton in towards your spine. To initiate the movement, drop your right leg and your left arm toward the floor. Draw them back up toward the ceiling to reset then lower your left leg and right arm to the floor. Always keep the nonworking leg and arm pointing towards the ceiling. Do the same amount of reps on each side.
Pro tip: This move takes a bit of coordination, so if you are having trouble isolating your arms and legs, slow the movement down. Take a second to think about which leg and arm you are lowering and which need to stay up in the air. Like most of the other moves on this list, it’s vital to keep your lower back connected to the ground. If you feel yourself arching, don’t drop your arms and legs as low.
How to do it: With your back to the floor, raise your legs until they are completely vertical. Crunch up toward the ceiling, then lower yourself down. Flex your toes towards your face to engage your lower ab muscles. Repeat to complete another rep.
Pro tip: This crunch is great because because it does not put as much torque on the spine. To avoid putting stress on your neck, do not try to curl your head to your legs with your arms. Instead look towards the ceiling and focus on lifting your shoulders and chest up to your knees.
How to do it: Start in a forearm plank position. Before you begin the movement, make sure your elbows are below your shoulders and that your hips aren’t hiked up into the air. Squeeze your glues and your abs. Next, rotate your pelvis down to the left, then toward the right. Whatever your desired rep scheme, make sure you perform the same amount on each side.
Pro tip: Inhale before you initiate the plank roll and then exhale as you try to get your hip as close to the ground as possible. Make sure to tighten your obliques (your side abs) on the way down.
How to do it: Relax on your back and bring your knees up to 90 degrees. Put your hands behind your head. Then lift your chest toward your knees and your knees to your chest. Reset and repeat for your chosen amount of reps.
Pro tip: This is another great crunch variation that engages the deeper ab muscles without so much wear and tear on the spine. Avoid pulling your head in toward the knees. Instead, lift the shoulders to keep your neck safe and pain free.