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Paige Waehner

Exercises of the Week: Functional Ab Exercises

By November 13, 2012

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We often focus so much on getting six pack abs (which, frankly, are simply not in the genetic cards for most of us), we forget the importance of a strong core in daily life. Yes, we want our abs to look good but if you want a strong, stable spine, you need more than crunches.

In fact, you may want to forget entirely about crunches since they aren't very functional. Think about it - how many times do you crunch your abs in the average day, beyond your workouts? Now, think about how many times you do rotational movements - Twisting to put on your seatbelt, turning around in your chair to answer the phone, turning around in the car to shout, "You will stop hitting your sister or I will pull this car over!"

Those twisting motions are part of every day life, so it's important to work those 'sidd-to-side' muscles to keep you strong and injury free. Below are some of my favorite rotational exercises:

Seated Torso Twists: Sit with knees bent holding a medicine ball or weight (mine is 4 lbs, but you can use a heavier one if you like). Lean back, keeping the back straight and rotate to the left, taking the medicine ball towards the floor. Come back to center and rotate to the right, repeating for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps.

Seated Rotations: Sit tall on a ball or chair and hold weight (I'm using 8 lbs) at chest level, shoulders relaxed. Keeping the hips and knees facing forward, rotate the torso to the right as far as you comfortably can. Focus on squeezing the muscles around your waist. Rotate back to center and then to the left, keeping the movement slow and controlled. Continue alternating sides for 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps.

Woodchops: Attach one end of a resistance band to a sturdy object and hold the other end, taking a few steps away to create tension on the band. Rotate the body, keeping the arms straight and bringing them across the body in a diagonal. Rotate the hips and knees as you turn to avoid injuring the joints. Rotate back and repeat for 10-16 reps before switching sides.

What are your favorite functional ab exercises? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

April 27, 2010 at 5:48 pm
(1) Brad says:

The seated torso twists are even better when you lift your feet off the floor for maximum ab engagement. Planks are also excellent for core. Everyone loves to plank…right? (marching beat like the Spam song) Plank, plank, plank, plank…plankity plaaaaank, wonderful plank!

April 29, 2010 at 6:17 pm
(2) tim says:

i have done more crunches on the ball than is humanly possible by most people. i still have a gut. the only reason i still do them is because the gym rats drop their jaw. i can do 1000 non stop

May 3, 2010 at 10:44 am
(3) Staci says:

I just wanted to thank you for these great alternatives. I had some major surgery on my backside 9-9-09 and I still cannot handle much pressure on that area. My ab workouts have totally suffered but this has given me some other things to do that keep me off my back. Thank you again!

May 3, 2010 at 5:49 pm
(4) Ross says:

If you spent the time doing burpees that you spent on crunches, then you probably would have a much sexier gut.

None of these exercises will yield great results because they are just too light and lack intensity.

May 3, 2010 at 8:41 pm
(5) Patti says:

What can you do if you are 54, 180 pounds, 5’8″, have already sustained a knee injury in karate class because you are too impatient? Menopausal weight gain (50 pounds in a year and a half) is not coming off no matter what I do. I cannot do many exercises using any kind of pressure on the knee. And home aerobics are just not enough.

May 3, 2010 at 11:48 pm
(6) Kim says:

You can do all the crunches every which way but if you have inches of fat on top you will not see a change. You need to incorporate proper nutrition with your workouts to see results. P90X has done it for us and you don’t have any gym fees!

May 4, 2010 at 5:30 pm
(7) Tanya Stroh says:

Thanks for the great “crunchless” ab exercises! I wanted share one of my favorites too – “Legs In & Out.” You can do them on the floor, a bench or even a Bosu! Here’s the video demonstration! https://www.tanyastroh.com/TS/member/index.php?n=PGEOW&e=20387D

May 6, 2010 at 3:43 am
(8) ANJU says:

Hi, i am not comfortable with crunches,so always thinking how to replace it,so im going to try these crunchless.Please give some tips for fat on chin and back of neck.


November 26, 2012 at 8:49 pm
(9) Bethany says:

These look great! And there’s not too many of them so I can fit them into my busy schedule. How many times a week should we do these?

November 26, 2012 at 10:13 pm
(10) Judith says:

Check out this video from Dr Stuart MCGill for the New York Times.

He explains how crunches can damage your spine and shows 4 exercises to build strength and stability in the core.


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