5 ab-blasting exercises to crunch your core

Published On: Dec 26 2011 03:06:48 AM EST   Updated On: Jan 02 2012 02:00:00 AM EST

Beach season, a high school reunion or a New Year's resolution, it seems everyone has a reason to get into better shape. But not everyone has the right tools for the job.

Dieting and exercise can only go so far before hitting a major plateau at the midsection. You won't get a flat stomach with just some crunches, but on top of an exercise routine, some targeted exercises can go a long way.

Fighting that stubborn gut can be tough, but with a few good exercises and a little willpower, anyone can crunch their core.

From low impact to big time muscle mashers, we've got five abdominal exercises for you to try.

Of course, anyone with health problems should consult their doctor before starting any kind of exercise routine, but these exercises may be just what you need to push beyond the paunch plateau.

No. 5: The bicycle kick

The bicycle kick, or bicycle crunch, is a good starting point on the journey to better abs. It's fairly low impact, so it won't leave your back feeling sore like the same old crunch.

The bicycle kick was named the No. 1 most effective ab exercise by a 1997 San Diego State University study, but it's still easy to get the hang of.

First, lie flat on the ground with your lower back pressed to the ground and hold your head with your hands at the sides. Then, bring one knee to a 45-degree angle -- or the same angle you would reach while riding a bike that is a little too small.

Touch your opposite arm to your knee and repeat, alternating legs and arms each repetition.

No. 4: Vertical leg crunch

The vertical leg crunch is in the top five best exercises for both abdominal muscles and oblique muscles, and not because it's low-impact.

To do the vertical leg crunch, lie flat on the floor and cross your legs at the ankle. Raise your legs, keeping your knees slightly bent.

Keep your lower back flat against the ground and contract your abdominal muscles as you would in a typical crunch or sit-up. As you crunch, your legs will extend into the air making a tight V shape with your body. Exhale as you compress and inhale as you relax your muscles.

Only do a few repetitions of this exercise. The vertical leg crunch could have you feeling pretty sore if you overdo it early.

No. 3: Exercise ball crunch

It seems most people have an exercise ball lying around, mostly collecting dust or taking up space. But used correctly, that rubber decoration could help you get better abs.

The exercise ball crunch came in third on a San Diego State University study comparing the best ab exercises. It works so well because not only do you work your abs by crunching, but also by keeping your body balanced.

To do this exercise, sit on the ball with your feet flat on the ground. Roll the ball toward your back until your body is parallel to the ground. Then do a small crunch without moving the ball. Since you are using the entire midsection to balance on the ball, the crunch should only lift you about 45 degrees.

To get even more oomph out of the exercise ball crunch, place your feet closer together. You'll be forced use more muscles to balance.

No. 2: Captain's chair

The captain's chair exercise came in as the second best exercise for the abdominals and the best exercise for the oblique muscles, according to a San Diego State University study, and it's easy to see why after doing just a few.

It takes some specialized equipment, so you might have to head to the gym for this exercise, but it could be well worth it.

To do this exercise, grab the handholds of the captain's chair with your legs dangling beneath you. Then, slowly, raise your knees up and in toward your body. Slow is the key on this exercise, keeping a controlled speed helps you balance with your obliques and abs.

Then, let your legs slowly return to the starting position below your body. The captain's chair crunch is not something that could qualify as low-impact. So make sure you don't overdo it the first time.

No. 1: Plank/hover position

The final exercise is another ab-busting technique that doesn't require any equipment and takes only a few minutes max. The plank or hover position looks deceptively simple, but really gets your whole core working and will probably have you sweating in no time.

To do this exercise, lie face down on your elbows and your toes, keeping your back straight the whole time.

That's it, just hold that position. The plank works so well because it forces you to balance with your entire core and your lower back, working the entire midsection at the same time.

The first time, try doing it for 30 seconds. Work your way up to a minute and two minutes max. It seems like no time, but you'll see why it's ranked among the top ab exercises after just a few seconds.

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