Sick of Crunches? 12 At-Home Exercises to Target Your Abs
Strengthening your core is about more than losing weight or getting defined muscles. A strong core can improve the way the rest of the body works and help balance and stability. Working out the abdominal muscles is an essential component of increasing core strength. (It's important to work out the back and hips, as well, to prevent injuries.) These 12 simple ab exercises go beyond crunches or sit-ups and include a few variations to increase or decrease difficulty. They can all be done from the comfort of home -- no equipment or gym membership necessary.
Many ab exercises focus on outer abdominal muscles, but the ab vacuum works the inner abdominals, which can lead to a tighter core and help support the back. Start by kneeling and placing your hands on the ground below your shoulders. Keep the back straight and look slightly forward. Exhale heavily through your mouth and suck in your stomach as if you're lifting your belly button to your back. Try to force all the air out of your lungs. Hold your breath and the position for five to 15 seconds. Inhale through your nose while slowly lowering your belly. Take one resting breath in through your mouth and out through your nose, then repeat. This exercise can be done while standing, sitting, or lying down.
There are several variations of the plank, a standard and effective core exercise, with the "high plank" being one of the most common. Lie on the ground facing down and lift the body as if doing a pushup -- with hands and toes supporting the body, keeping the hands below the shoulders, arms fully extended, and toes below the ankles. (Spreading your fingers can help maintain balance.) Hold the position while focusing on keeping your back straight, your core pulled back toward your spine, and your glutes engaged. You can make the plank easier by resting on your elbows or knees (or both). Make it more difficult by adding alternating leg raises.
Start in a sitting position with your heels on the floor and knees bent. Keeping the core engaged, lean back to a 45-degree angle. Holding your hands behind your head and keeping the elbows wide apart, twist slowly from left to right. To increase the difficulty, clasp your hands above your head and try to keep your palms together. Lower your hands to tap the ground on one side, bring your hands back above your head, and lower and tap the ground on the other side.
Like the Russian Twist, V-sits start with sitting down and bending your knees at a 90-degree angle. Raise your feet off the ground while leaning back slightly so your body creates a V. Extend your arms toward your feet to help maintain balance. Hold the position and return to the start, then repeat. For a harder variation, get into the V position and lower your body toward the ground while straightening and lowering the feet to about a 45-degree angle. Don't let shoulders or feet touch the ground. Return to the V position and repeat.
Start the same way you would for the Russian Twist or V-sits -- lying on your back with knees bent and feet on the ground. Lift both feet off the ground so your knees are almost above your hips. Exhale while lowering one foot to tap the ground; then raise it and tap the floor with the other foot. Make this exercise easier by leaving one foot on the ground and toe tapping with the other, or harder by tapping and raising both feet at the same time.
Lie on your back and extend your arms over your head. Keep your legs together and exhale while lifting your torso and arms into a sitting position. Try to keep your arms above your head on the way up, and end with your hands reaching out parallel to your legs. Reverse the motion slowly until you're lying down.
Lie on your back with legs bent at a 90-degree angle, keeping your feet on the ground throughout the exercise. Raise your shoulders off the ground using your core and lift your arms so your hands are above your shoulders. Start to move as if climbing a rope.
If the goal is to have clearly defined abs -- perhaps the often sought-after six-pack -- you may need an exercise of willpower rather than strength. Although increasing core strength can help define abs, you'll need to get into an athletic body-fat range first. For men, that's about 6 percent to 13 percent; for women, it's 14 percent to 20 percent. Working out can help burn calories, but a diet plan often needs to be incorporated as well.