What’s the very best exercise to get strong, flat abs? If you answered, “crunches,” you’re wrong.
Crunches and situps may be the most popular movements for your middle—but they’re not the most effective and can be downright dangerous.
Research from top spine specialist Dr. Stuart McGill shows that crunches are one of the main causes of back injuries in athletes. According to McGill, bending your back puts a huge amount of pressure on discs and threatens to throw your spine out of alignment.
So what should you do instead? McGill recommends stabilization exercises that help you maintain a neutral (i.e., straight) spine. These eight moves will help you run faster and more efficiently, while avoiding back pain and whittling a chiseled belly.
The core is commonly the weakest area for many runners- but it can make a big difference in speed, form, and performance. Train it before you head out for a run or during your strength training workout, not at the end. It is a priority, so prioritize it.
Perform all exercises as a circuit. Once you finish the Forward Ball Roll, rest for 1 to 2 minutes and repeat if desired. Complete 1 to 3 circuits total.
Active Leg Lowering
Lie on your back with legs pointed up to the ceiling. Place your fingers just inside your hipbones. Think about keeping your abs engaged, and feel the muscles contracting with your finger tips as you lower your right leg until it’s just an inch or two off the floor. Hold for two seconds, then return to the start. Repeat with the left leg. With each rep really focus on keeping your core tight. Complete 8 to 12 reps on each leg.
Position yourself on your forearms and toes. Your back should be in a straight line and abdominals drawn in tight. Don’t let your back arch or your bottom rise. Hold for 15 to 60 seconds.
Get into a plank position with back straight and core tight. Rock forward on your toes until your chin is over your fingertips. Hold for a beat, then return to the start position. Complete 8 to 12 reps.
Get into a plank position with back straight and core tight. Keeping your body still, reach your left hand toward the wall in front of you. Return to the start position and repeat with the right arm. That’s one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps total.
OPTION: You can also do this with your knees on an exercise ball and your palms (instead of your forearms) on the ground.
Get into a pushup position with your feet on a ball, body in a straight line. Keeping your torso completely stable, bend your knees to tuck the ball in underneath you, then straighten your legs back out. Complete 8 to 12 reps.
Squat With Offset
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a weight in your right hand. Keeping your body upright, resisting the weight pulling in one direction, lower yourself into a squat position. Do not let your back round, and keep your knees tracking over your toes. Use your glutes to raise into the start position. Complete 8 to 12 reps on each side.
Stand up straight holding one dumbbell with both hands. Keeping the arms straight, swing the weight in a controlled motion up across your left shoulder. Swing it back toward your right hip as you bend your knees into a squat position. Continue this chopping movement for 8 to 1 2 reps then switch sides.
OPTION: Complete the same movement using a weighted pulley machine.
Forward Ball Roll
Position yourself on your knees with your forearms on an exercise ball. Your shoulders and arms should make a 90-degree angle with your body and your hips should make a 90-degree angle with your legs. Slowly open each of those angles to stretch out as far as you can go maintaining a neutral spine. Return to the start position. Complete 8 to 12 reps.
TIP: Kneel on a folded exercise mat to protect your knees.
*Photography by James Farrell. Hair and Makeup by Christie Caiola