There’s a reason sit-ups top the list of ab exercises to get your spare tire under control. They work the major rectus abdominis muscle (aka core strength). Sit-ups are challenging to do but easy to understand. They involve no machines or special devices.
And yet … there’s no way around it. Sit-ups are boring. Up, down, up, down — the exercise gets really old, really fast. They are also good but not perfect: All that rounding of the spine places stress on the lower back which can cause injury over time. Moreover, the exercise works your abdominals in two planes of motion, but does not engage your obliques or transversus abdominis, limiting the true amount of core strength you can build.
Not to worry, flat abs were not built by sit-ups alone. There are plenty of other moves out there that can give you the muscle tone you want without the monotony you dread. Here are 12 ab exercises to try instead of sit-ups.
Sit-Up Alternative #1: Crunches
The cousin of full sit-ups, crunches involve lying on your back, feet either flat on the floor or elevated in the air with knees bent. Perform small contractions of your abdominal muscles to raise and lower your torso a few inches. You can do these with hands by your sides or behind your head for support. Aim for 100 crunches.
Sit-Up Alternative #2: V-Holds
A key part of core strength is balance. In this exercise, start sitting with your knees bent, feet flat on floor. Place one hand behind each knee. Slowly lean back, lifting your feet off the floor so that they hover a few inches off the ground. When you find the sweet spot where you are balanced between your raised legs and backward-leaning torso, stop. Try to extend your legs into a straight position, so that your body forms a V shape. Hold for 10 counts.
Sit-Up Alternative #3: Bicycle Crunches
An oldie but goodie, the bicycle move is great because it engages your oblique muscles as you twist your torso from side to side. Start by lying on your back, knees bent, feet in the air. Bend elbows and place your hands behind your head. Start circling legs in a bicycle-like motion, bringing opposite elbow to knee. Do this for one minute.
Sit-Up Alternative #4: Inverted Hinges
Start in an extended push-up position, legs and arms straight. From here, hike your hips toward the ceiling, keeping your back flat and legs straight. Keep going until your body forms an inverted V shape, with your butt as the apex. Hold here for five counts, then slowly stretch back out in a controlled manner. Do 10 inverted hinges.
Sit-Up Alternative #5: Planks
From an extended push-up position, drop down so that your weight is supported by your elbows, which should rest beneath your shoulders. Hold this position, back straight, for one minute.
Sit-Up Alternative #6: Side Plank
From the front plank position, shift your weight so that you are resting on your right arm. Twist your entire body so that your left shoulder points toward the ceiling and your legs are stacked on one of top of the other with your left side on top. Maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your feet. Hold for one minute, then rotate to the other side and repeat.
Sit-Up Alternative #7: Crunch Pulses
Start sitting on the floor, knees bent, feet tucked under a sofa or chair base for support. Stretch your arms in front of you and slowly lean your torso back until your upper body creates a wide V shape with your legs. Stop in this position and begin to make small pulsations back and forward with your upper body. Do this for one minute.
Sit-Up Alternative #8: Twists
Begin this move in the same wide V shape as above. Instead of pulsing up and down, swing both arms over to your right side and twist your torso to follow. Begin to “pulse” in this position, making small twists to the right and back to center (as opposed to up and down). Do 10 times, then rotate arms and torso to the left side and repeat.
Sit-Up Alternative #9: Leg Raises
Lie on your back, legs straight. Tuck hands under the small of your back for support. Keeping your legs straight and together, raise feet off the floor toward the ceiling. In a controlled manner, lower legs back to the floor without arching your back. Do 10 times.
Sit-Up Alternative #10: Barbell Roll
Lay the bar on the floor and add 45-pound weights to it (don’t worry; you won’t be lifting these). Now get on your knees, grab the bar at a 60-degree angle and roll the bar out slowly until your elbows are beside your ears. Maintaining control, roll the bar back up. Repeat 5 times.
Sit-Up Alternative #11: Around the World
From a hang (on a pull-up bar) slowly lift your legs to your right, up, and draw a circle in the air in a counter-clockwise motion. Now reverse it and make a circle in a clockwise motion. Repeat five times.
Sit-Up Alternative #12: Windshield Wipers
Start lying on your back, feet in the air, legs straight. Place arms out to either side of support. In a controlled manner, drop both legs over to the right, reaching for the floor. Keep hips still and facing up toward the ceiling. Bring legs back to the centerline, then drop them over to the left side. Repeat this side-to-side motion (like a set of windshield wipers) 10 times.
Sit-Up Alternative #13: Flutter Kick
Start again on your back with legs extended and heels about six inches off the ground. Place your hands by your sides or under the small of your back for support. Begin to scissor your legs up and down, as if you are doing the backstroke in the pool. Kick for 20 seconds, rest 10, then do 20 seconds more.
Sit-Up Alternative #14: Reverse Crunches.
Once again on your back, knees bent at 90 degrees, raise your feet several inches off the ground. Contract your abs and hike your hips off the floor, keeping your spine rounded. Raise knees high toward the ceiling. Relax and repeat as many times as you can.