If you're a long-time exerciser, you've likely done hundreds of reps of hundreds of different exercises, but I'll bet there's one you've done more than any other: Crunches. Whether at home or at the gym, in fitness classes or with workout videos, there's a good chance most of your workouts ended with at least one version of them - On the floor or on the ball, with your legs up or legs down - all in the name of flat abs. The problem is, while we feel like we've really worked our abs, we've often missed out on more functional core training by focusing so much of our energy on crunches.
Yes, crunches do work the 'six-pack,' that elusive rectus abdominis that often hides behind an annoying layer of fat and, yes, there was a time we thought the only way to burn that fat was to crunch it into submission.
However, now that we know crunches do nothing to remove belly fat, it's time to look at a new way of working our abs with exercises that are more effective, more functional and, even better, get us off the floor.
Stand Up For Your Abs
Doing ab exercises on the floor makes sense: To work your muscles, you have to be in a position where your muscles work in direct opposition to gravity. For the ab muscles we're most concerned with (the rectus abdominis), that means lying down (on the floor, a ball, etc.) and crunching the shoulders towards the hips, with gravity adding resistance in just the right direction. In fact, I have an entire article describing the 10 Most Effective Ab Exercises and all but one are done lying down including bicycles, ball crunches and vertical leg crunches, just to name a few.
The study behind these exercises suggest these moves are the best for recruiting all those muscle fibers in your abs but, with the shift towards functional training, we now understand that we need strong abs, not just while lying on the floor, but for all the movements we perform each day.
We also know that working the body as a whole is a lot more effective than trying to isolate different muscle groups (like crunches do). What that means for your abs is that, while crunches and other floor exercises still have a place in our training routines, standing ab work can add a new depth and dimension to your workouts, giving you more than just strong abs, but a strong core.
Standing Ab Exercises
Adding more standing exercises can give you a well-rounded ab routine that makes you strong in every position, whether you're standing, sitting or lying down. The best standing ab exercises will involve moving your body through multiple planes of motion and include movements like bending, rotating and bracing your core. It's also a good idea to include a mixture of both standing and floor exercises to hit all the core muscles for a strong, fit torso.
The following are just a few examples of standing exercises that target all the muscles of the core, including the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, the transverse abdominis and the lower back muscles. Many of these exercises will also challenge your balance and stability, both of which require heavy core involvement:
- Reverse Woodchop
- Horizontal Woodchop
- Medicine Ball Side Bends
- Overhead Squats
- Medicine Ball Circles
- Static Lunges with Med Ball Rotations
- Figure 8s with a Med Ball
- Standing Side Crunch
- Standing Crossover Crunch
For a complete workout incorporating many of these exercises, visit my Standing Ab Workout.
Integrated Core Training
Keep in mind that you don't have to train your abs separately. Core training happens during almost every workout, especially weight training. Any exercise that requires you to stabilize your body as you lift weight will involve your core, particularly if you're doing compound exercises, moves that involve both the upper and lower body at the same time. Some examples include:
Add more core challenge to your workouts by trying the above exercises or combining your own moves together. You can also do exercises on the exercise ball, while standing on one leg or on an unstable surface (like a BOSU). Not only will your abs be stronger and better able to handle all of life's movements, you won't have to do a single crunch.