19 Exercises to Tone Your Abs Without Crunches

Crunches are okay for beginners but once you have sufficient abdominal strength to do 20 or more, they become pretty pointless. So what then?

Stuck in a crunch rut doing 100s of crunches? When people think abs, they think crunches. But guess what; crunches aren’t the most effective exercise you could be doing. Here’s why it might be time to consider a change:

  • If it takes you 30, 40, 50 or more reps to reach the point where it starts feeling challenging, you’ve wasted a whole lot of time. Why? Because only the crunches that feel difficult are giving your abs a serious workout. In other words, you want your ab moves to be challenging so you don’t have to do 100’s of reps to feel the burn.
  • Some experts believe that high volumes of repetitive spinal flexion can cause damage to your lumbar spine and intervertebral discs.

So make a change and check out some of these non-crunch ab-kicking alternatives.


From simple to hard-core, these 19 abtastic alternatives to crunches will seriously work your abs and associated core muscles. Don’t do all in one workout.

Choose a couple of exercises. Perform those moves for about a month and then replace them with new ab exercises to spice up your workout and keep on getting maximum results.

1. Turkish get ups

Oddly named but very effective, this ab exercise also works just about every other muscle in your body. How’s that for workout efficiency?

  • Lie on your back with your legs straight and your free arm out to your side at around 45-degree. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell at arms’ length over your chest. Keep your arm vertical and your eyes fixed on the weight.
  • Roll onto your side and sit up so you are resting first on your elbow and then on your hand. Bend your uppermost leg and place your foot close to your butt. Push down through your bent leg and lift your hips up and off the floor into a sort-of staggered stance side plank.
  • Step back and through with your straight leg and into a kneeling lunge. Push off the floor with your hand to get upright. Stand up with your feet together.
  • Reverse this process and kneel, lean and then lie back down – remember to keep your arm vertical the whole time.

2. Stability Ball Mountain Climbers

A variation on the plank, this exercise uses a whole lot of instability to really work your abs hard.

  • Place your elbows on a stability ball and walk your feet back into a plank position.
  • Pull one knee at a time up and into the ball, returning to your starting position between reps. Continue alternating legs for the duration of your set.
  • Make this exercise more demanding by adopting the push-up position on the ball or raising your feet on a bench.

3. Suitcase Deadlift

Deadlifts are usually associated with leg and back training but this variation gives you an excellent ab workout too!

  • Stand side on to a heavy dumbbell or barbell set to around mid-shin height. Squat down and grab it with your nearest hand.
  • Without leaning sideways, stand up and then set the weight back down –just as if you were picking a suitcase up off the floor.
  • Do an equal number of reps on each side.

4. Pallof press

It’s safe to assume that this exercise was named after some guy called Paloff! Whoever he was, he came up with an awesome ab move.

  • Stand side on to a shoulder-high pulley machine. Hold the handle in both hands close to your chest. Alternatively secure a resistance band or cable to something stable (a floor lamp is not stable!) at sternum/ shoulder height.
  • Extend your arms but do not allow the lengthening lever pull you toward the pulley machine – keep your abs braced and your shoulders and hips square. Bend your arms and repeat.
  • Inhale as you push your hands away and exhale as you relax between reps.

5. Pot-stirrers

This exercise is like a plank plus!

  • Place your forearms on a stability ball and clasp your hands together. Walk your feet back so your body is straight.
  • Once in this plank-like position, circle your arms on the ball clockwise and anti-clockwise.
  • This movement will unbalance you and make your abs work harder. Do not let your lower back become excessively arched as this can lead to back pain and injury.

6. Step-Through

The step though hails from the world of Jujitsu and is a great pulse-raising ab exercise that works your legs and shoulders to.

  • Get down and into a squat position. Place your left hand on the ground and swing your left leg and hip up and through.
  • Return foot back to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.

7. Stability Ball Lying Twist

In this exercise, your abs work hard to keep your spine properly aligned while your obliques or waist muscles turn your spine from side to side.

  • Lie on a stability ball so the ball is supporting your head and shoulders. Push your hips up so your body is straight. Your knees should be bent to 90-degrees, shins vertical.
  • Clasp your hands together and straighten your arms so they are over your chest.
  • Keeping your hips still, roll over onto your left shoulder and then your right. Keep alternating sides for the duration of your set.
  • Hold a weight in your hands or narrow your stance for a harder workout.

8. Single-leg glute bridge

Yes it sure does lift your buns and tone your thighs, but this exercise also really works your abs.

  • Lie on your back with both your legs bent, hip with apart, and feet flat close to your butt. Place your arms straight by your side, palms facing down.
  • Engage your core and lift on leg up and push hips up into a bridge position.
  • Lower hips onto the ground and repeat with other leg.

9. Dumbbell Side Bend

Like side planks, this exercise works your abs one side at a time along with your obliques. Don’t hold a dumbbell in each hand when doing this exercise. Use just one dumbbell and focus on one side at a time.

  • With a dumbbell in ONE hand, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your back straight, lean over to the side and lower the dumbbell down the side of your leg as far as you feel comfortable.
  • Return to the upright position and repeat.
  • On completion, change arms and do the same number of reps on the opposite side.

10. Ab Rollouts

If you’re looking for a more advanced ab move, this is it. You can also do this exercise using a good old-fashioned ab wheel but to save you buying one, the barbell version works just as well.

  • Use an ab wheel of load up a barbell with two 10kg/25lbs plates and place it on the floor. Kneel down and grasp the wheel or bar with an overhand shoulder-width grip.
  • With straight arms, with control slow roll the the wheel away from your body, lowering your chest down toward the floor. Keep your core engaged!
  • Pull the it back toward your legs and kneel back up.
  • For a seriously hardcore ab workout, do this exercise from standing position.

11. Bird-Dog Exercise

Not the toughest ab exercise, but still a very good one! Your abs work with your lower back to keep your shoulders and hips square as you move your leg and arm.

  • Kneel on all fours with your shoulders over your hands and hips over your knees.
  • With your abs braced, extend your left arm and your right leg out as far as you can without further extending your spine.
  • Lower your limbs back to the floor and repeat on the opposite sides. Continue alternating sides for the duration of your set.

12. Seated Russian Twist

This simple exercise is surprisingly challenging and can be made even more so by holding a weight in your hands.

  • Sit on the floor with your legs bent and back straight. Sit up so your body is inclined to around 45-degrees. Extend your arms in front of you.
  • Pulling your belly button in, engage your core.
  • Without sitting up or leaning back, turn your upper body to the left and right.

13. Planks

Planks work your abs and core isometrically which means that while there is a lot of tension in the working muscles, no actual movement occurs.

  • Lie on your front with your legs extended and your elbows and forearms on the floor. Clasp your hands together.
  • Lift your hips so your weight is supported on your arms and feet only – your shoulders, hips and feet should form a straight line.
  • Hold this position (but not your breath!) for 30 to 60 seconds.

14. Saxon Side Bends

Named after famous old-time strongman Arthur Saxon; this exercise works both sides of your abs at the same time. The long lever means you only need a relatively light weight to get a good workout.

  • Hold a light dumbbell or medicine ball above your head with your arms slightly bent. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your back straight, slow bend as far as you can to the left without twisting your upper body. Return to start and then bend to the right.

15. Inchworms

No ab wheel? No barbell? No problem! You can still do a roll-out type exercise using nothing more than your body and some floor space.

  • Stand with your feet together and your hands by your sides. Keeping your knees as straight as possible, lean forward and place your hand flat on the floor.
  • With your core engaged, walk your hands forward and away from your feet as far as you can – preferably beyond the level of your head.
  • Walk your hands back in to your feet and stand up, returning to your starting position

16. Cable Russian Twist

Exercises like broomstick twists are pretty pointless. While there is rotation, there is very little in the way of resistance and so if you want to get even a little bit of a benefit from broomstick twists you need to do 100s of reps. Twisting against resistance however is another matter altogether!

  • Stand side on to a cable pulley machine set to shoulder-height. Grasp the handle in both hands and then step to the side to tension the cable.
  • Extend your arms straight in front of you.
  • Keep your hips facing forward and then turn your upper body to the side until your arms are parallel to the floor – keep your arms straight.
  • Rotate back to the starting position and repeat.
  • Face the opposite direction and repeat on the other side.

17. Flutter Kicks

Keep your tempo slow and controlled for maximum benefits from this exercise.

  • Lie on your back with your hands flat on the floor under your butt and your legs straight. Lift your feet around six-inches off the floor.
  • Proceed to kick your legs as though you were swimming. Keep pushing your lower back into the floor at all times.
  • Keep kicking for a predetermined time or until you have done the required number of kicks e.g. 20 per leg.

18. Hanging Knee Raises

There is no school like old school and this exercise is definitely in that category. Lifting your legs up to your chest instead of the other way round makes this exercise way harder than crunches so don’t expect to be doing dozens of reps of this particular exercise!

  • Use arm slings to allow you to focus completely on your abs.
  • Securely anchor the arm slings shoulder-width apart and place arms into the slings so that your upper arms are resting in the slings. Bend your arms, placing your hands on the upper part of the straps. The palms of your hands should be facing towards you.
  • Without excessive swinging and keeping your legs together, curl your knees up towards your chest – lean back a little to facilitate this.
  • Lower your legs and repeat.

19. Side Planks

Your abs don’t only bend your spine forward, they also work with your obliques to bend your spine sideways. Place your fingers on your abs nearest the floor when doing this exercise to feel how hard they are working.

  • Lie on your side with your legs straight and resting on one elbow. Lift your hips so your body is straight.
  • Reach up to the ceiling with your free arm for balance.
  • Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds and then roll over and repeat.
  • Do not hold your breath!

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