When we think of core exercises, most of us would consider sit-ups and crunches as the standard way of exercising abs and core muscles. Despite the fact that these two exercises are the most common exercises used to increase core strength, they’re far from the best. These exercises encourage bad posture by bending the back forwards, and put unnecessary strain on the spine during each repetition. The following exercises offer alternatives that are more effective and less strenuous on the back and spine.
Reverse crunches are performed by lying flat on your back and extending your hands behind your head, to hold on to some fixed object, be it a bench, dumbbell, or anything else. The exercise is performed by bringing your knees in close to your body and pulling them up above your head, using your core muscles to move your lower body up off the ground. These are much more difficult than standard crunches, and most people can only do 10-20 in one set. The great thing about reverse crunches is that while standard crunches don’t get that much more difficult as bodyweight increases, reverse crunches increase in difficulty rapidly, so it usually isn’t necessary to add weight by some other means.
These are best performed with a rack designed to support leg raises. This will usually be a pad for your back and two handles that allow you to support your weight on your arms while leaving the legs free. Starting from this upright position, leg raises involve holding the legs straight and lifting them forwards and up. This works the core muscles and thighs without putting the same strain on your back that a sit-up would. Leg raises can be performed while prone provided you have a spotter. In this exercise, the spotter’s ankles become the anchor (you have to grab on to them so your body doesn’t move upwards) and they are responsible for pushing your legs back down towards the ground to increase the difficulty of the exercise.
The plank is one of the best core body exercises because it works almost all of the stability muscles in your body. Planks are performed while steadying yourself with your forearms (with elbows on the ground) and toes. These two points of contact should be at a comfortable distance, with your body held as flat and rigid as possible. After about 30 seconds, muscles start getting tired, and planks are usually held to either one to two minutes, or in repetitions of 30 seconds with a short rest.