When it comes to bodyweight abs exercises, crunches aren’t always the way to go. In fact, research has shown the classic crunch isn’t even that effective since it doesn’t activate all of your core muscles.
Bottom line: Whether you want to build strength so you can do a pull-up or just want to show off a six-pack (hey, no judgment!), there are more effective exercises than endless crunches.
From plank variations to weighted exercises, these moves from Tone House head coach Evan Betts will totally change the way you think about working your midsection. It won’t even feel like you’re specifically targeting your abs, but you’ll still be engaging your core to the max.
How to use this list: Depending on your fitness level, Betts suggests picking 2 or 3 of the moves below. Perform each move for 60 seconds (or for the number of reps indicated), rest for 20 seconds, then perform the next move. At the end of all three moves, rest for up to 60 seconds, then repeat the circuit. Complete 3 or 4 rounds total.
1. High Knees
Stand with feet hip-width apart, core engaged, and back straight. Hold arms steady or swing to help with momentum. Run in place, drawing each knee as high as possible toward chest, using lower abs to pull knees high. (Think sprint, not jog.) Go as fast as you can for 60 seconds.
2. Tuck Jump
Stand with feet hip-width apart, core engaged, back straight. Send hips back, bend knees slightly, with hands extended at 90 degrees. In one explosive movement, jump up, drawing knees toward chest so knees tap hands. Land lightly on toes, with a slight bend in knees, and immediately jump up again. Jump for 60 seconds.
3. Plank Walk
Start in a high plank position. Lower onto right forearm, then lower onto left forearm so you are now in a forearm plank. Return to starting position by pushing up from left forearm to left hand, then pushing up from right forearm to right hand. Continue for 60 seconds. At the 30-second mark, lead with the other arm.
4. Plank Jack
Start in a high plank position. With core braced, jump both feet apart wider than hip width. Now quickly jump feet back together. Try to land softly on toes each time. Focus on keeping hips steady and arms straight. Continue for 60 seconds.
5. Plank Arms Walk-Out
Start in a high plank position. Slowly walk hands forward so wrists are no longer under shoulders and body is extended. Walk hands as far forward as possible. Pause at the farthest point for a moment before walking hands back to start position. Continue to repeat for up to 60 seconds.
6. High-Plank Bird Dog
Start in a high plank position. Brace core and raise right hand and left foot off ground, like a traditional bird dog. Return to starting position and repeat on the other side. Do 10 reps on each side.
Start on all fours. Brace core, come to the tips of your toes, and shift weight to right side. Pick left hand and foot off ground, allowing right hand and foot to shift, so you come into a faceup position. Lift right hand and left foot off ground. With left leg extended, crunch torso together to tap right hand to left toes. Return to all fours. Repeat on the other side, without letting hips hit the ground at any time. Continue for 10 reps on each side.
8. Spiderman Push-Up
Start in a high plank position. Engage core and bring right knee forward toward right elbow, turning hip out so inner thigh is parallel to floor. As right knee comes forward, bend arms and lower into a push-up. Return to starting position and repeat on the other side. Do 10 reps on each side.
Make it easier: Skip the push-up. Instead, hold a high plank throughout and focus on squeezing obliques to engage core.
9. Body Saw
You’ll need a small towel or set of sliders for this move. Start in a forearm plank with toes on the towel. With core engaged, slide body forward, bringing shoulders as far forward as possible, past elbows.Then slide back, allowing shoulders to shift behind elbows. Continue to move back and forth for 60 seconds.
Make it easier: Do a mountain climber or wide-leg mountain climber instead. (Find directions here.)
10. Dragon Flag
Find an anchor to hold onto with arms extended overhead—like a chair, bench, or closed door. (We used a floor anchor in the photo above.) Lie faceup with knees bent. Shifting weight into shoulders, engage core and lift feet overhead (think shoulder stand). Try to keep legs as straight as possible. Lower legs, without allowing them to touch floor, then repeat. Do 3 to 5 slow and controlled reps.
Note: Do not perform this exercise if you have preexisting shoulder issues. Once in shoulder stand, look straight ahead, never side-to-side, to protect your neck from injury.
11. Single-Arm Farmer’s Walk
This isn’t your average walk in the park. Grab a heavy weight such as a dumbbell, kettlebell, or sandbag (as shown). Stand with feet hip-width apart, core engaged, and back straight. Holding weight in right hand, walk forward about 10 feet (or for about 30 seconds). When you turn back, switch the weight to the opposite hand.
Make it harder: Make it more challenging by walking backward (carefully!) or by stopping halfway through the walk and holding for a few seconds before continuing.
12. Medicine Ball Halo
Grab a medicine ball (as shown), dumbbell, or kettlebell. Hold the weight with both hands at chest height. Make a big circle around upper body. Keep knees soft and core engaged and steady throughout. Repeat for 30 seconds in one direction, then reverse direction for another 30 seconds.
13. Resistance Band Rotation
Look for a resistance band or cable machine for this exercise (start with light resistance to protect spine). Stand with left side toward band anchor. With hands shoulder-width apart, elbows at 90 degrees, and palms down, use core to pull away from the band anchor. Slowly return to start (don’t snap back into place). Do 15 to 20 reps, then repeat on the other side.
14. Renegade Row
Start in high plank position with a dumbbell close to right hand. Keep body straight and core engaged as you lift the dumbbell with right hand. Perform a row keeping arm close to your side and elbow in line with rib cage as you lift the dumbell up toward rib cage. Lower dumbbell to return to starting position. Go for 30 seconds, then switch sides for another 30 seconds.
Shot on location at Tone House in New York City. Special thanks to Tone House head coach Evan Betts, who designed these moves, modeled for us, and pulled off this killer push-up—just for fun. #pushupgoals