Want abs but hate sit-ups?
Yeah, me too. Precisely.
I hate sit-ups. Sit-ups, crunches, curl ups – whatever you want to call them, I can say with no refrain that I absolutely hate them all, with a passion.
Which is annoying, because I adore training abs. Abs and core are my jam, the cherry on top of my cupcake and the chocolate sprinkles on my cappuccino.
There’s just nothing quite so satisfying as the burn you get from some seriously hardcore ab training.
So it annoys me to no end that the go to move, the veteran, if you will, of the abs training world is the blooming sit up.
Because you will never understand the pain, discomfort and downright frustration of attempting a correctly executed sit-up when your spine is made out of metal.
Think of spines as being a bit like those toy snakes that children have (I don’t know if these are even still about but they were pretty popular when I was growing up in the 90s). It’s made out of lots of little sections that fit together; each section (vertebra) has a little bit of movement, but you can’t bend the whole thing directly in half.
When you have surgery for scoliosis, each vertebrae is fused to a metal rod and a few metal screws, meaning that my spine has about as much flexibility as…well…a titanium metal rod.
Clearly this makes the concept of a sit up/curl up/crunch/whatever, which requires the spine to go into a sort of ‘C’ shape with the upper vertebrae lifting the shoulders off the floor and the lower vertebrae remaining on the ground, not only pretty tricky, but downright impossible. My metal spine just doesn’t offer that sort of movement.
I spent a long time getting increasingly frustrated at group exercise classes when I couldn’t participate fully because sit-ups were the only option that was offered for the abs section. Don’t get me wrong, there were lots of sit-up variations that were offered – legs up, legs down, bent knees, straight knees etc etc etc, but all of these required that C shape spinal articulation and I felt like I couldn’t just do my own thing because it’d stand out too much.
So I stopped going to as many of those classes, and instead put some time into researching some great ab and core exercises that I could do without all that frustration and discomfort.
I’m aware that the majority of people don’t have a metal spine but hey, maybe you just don’t like sit-ups for no particular reason whatsoever. I wouldn’t blame you.
If so, these are a collection of my 10 favourite ab and core exercises that don’t involve the dreaded S word. You can put any of these together (I’d choose between 3-5) and repeat for 3 sets (no rest between each exercise change) for a really killer 10 minute ab sesh at the end of your work out.
Amazing Ab Exercises that don’t involve sit ups
1) The Army Plank (or, ‘The up up down down plank’)
What: 3 sets for 1 minute each
How: Start in plank position, resting on the forearms. Straighten one arm at a time so that you finish in a straight-arm plank position, before lowering onto the forearms (again, one arm at a time). Think up, up, down, down. Repeat this movement as fast as you can for one minute.
Why: The stabilisation that is required in this exercise really works your core, your glutes need to be engaged to keep the hips from dropping and the pushing motion of the arms also targets the shoulder and chest muscles.
2) Russian Twists
What: 3 sets for 1 minute each
How: Sit on your bum with your legs slightly bent in front of you, feet hip-width apart and approximately one foot away from the bum. Lean back so that the abs have to engage to stabilize and balance the body. Keeping this core engagement, twist the upper body as far as feels comfortable, shifting the weight to the right and then to the left. Make sure you hold the arms out infront of you and keep the movement controlled.
Why: Engages all of the core abdominal muscles including the obliques (the sides of the abdomen). Great for balance and helps to strengthen the lower-back too.
Make it harder: Lift the feet off the ground, and hold a weighted ball or dumbbell in your hands, taking it to each side to further throw your weight off balance and force the core work harder to stabilise the body.
Make it easier: Keep the feet firmly on the floor and don’t lean back as far.
3) Leg Dips
What: 3 sets, 20 reps
How: Lie on your back with your hands resting on the floor. Start with the legs in the air at a perpendicular angle to the body. Keeping the legs straight and together, slowly lower them down so that they hover just about an inch from the floor, before lifting them back up to the right-angle.
Why: Works the hip flexors as well as really targeting the lower abdominal muscles (you know, the muffin top/love handles)
Variations: I think this works best both legs together, but you can do one leg at a time, if you prefer it that way. You can also raise the body so that you are curled up slightly, resting on the forearms. Or you can make it harder and raise the head and shoulders off the floor ‘a la curl up’, pulsing the arms out in front of you. For obvious reasons, I usually avoid that variation.
4) Flutter Kicks
What: 3 sets, one minute each
How: Sit on your bum and lean back until the core engages to stabilise you. You can either balance ‘hands free’ or rest on the hands by placing them about a foot behind you. If you choose to rest on your hands, try to make sure to lean as far back as you can so that the core really still has to engage. Keeping the legs straight, make fast, small kicking movements with the legs and feet, not letting them rest on the floor but keeping them hovered 4-6 inches off the ground at all times.
Why: Great for the lower abs and the hip flexors. Flutter kicks are really great for challenging your muscles’ endurance at the end of a workout.
Works well with: This is great if you superset it with a stationary plank. This is because the plank is an isometric (non-moving) contraction, that works for stability. Then, if you turn onto your back and do a set of flutter kicks right away, the constant movement of the legs throws you off balance and makes the core muscles work twice as hard to carry on stabilising you during this movement.
5) V-Sit Extensions
What: 3 sets, one minute each
How: Sit on your bum, on top of a pilates block if possible. Lean back so that the core engages and rest yourself on your hands, which should be placed comfortably on the floor about a foot behind you. Your feet should be raised off the floor with a right-angle in the knees. Straighten the legs out in front of you whilst leaning back onto the hands, then bring the legs and the body together again, bending the knees to do so. Repeat this ‘in/out’ motion for one minute, making sure all the time to keep the abs tight.
Why: Works all the abs, the hip flexors and the quads and it’s also great for balance and endurance.
Make it harder: Don’t rest on the hands.
6) The Superman
What: 3 sets, one minute hold for each set
How: Start in a regular straight-arm plank position, and slowly walk the hands out so that they are as far away from your toes as possible (keeping the arms straight). Breathe and hold.
Why: Like the plank, except it really gets the core burning. This is an isometric contraction, which means it doesn’t move, but you really have to think about engaging the abs, the glutes, the legs the shoulders – everything.
7) Hanging Leg Raises
What: 5 Sets of 15-20 reps
How: Hang from an overhead bar. Keeping the legs straight, raise them (both at the same time) out in front of you, trying to get as high as possible (think about kicking yourself in the face…but don’t actually do it) before slowly lowering them down. Make sure you engage the back and the shoulders so that you’re not just passively hanging from the bar and crunching up your shoulders by your ears – you should hold yourself as if you’re about to go into a pull up, so that everything is tight and engaged.
Why: It just hurts but is really satisfying. Great for developing hip flexor strength.
Variation: Bend the knees instead of keeping them straight so that you can focus more on bringing the knees to the chest and tilting the hips upwards.
Remember: Control is Key
8) Side Plank Hip Raises
What: 3 sets of 20 reps (each side)
How: In side-plank position (read the how-to here), keeping the tummy tucked in and the glutes tight, carefully lower and raise the hips as close and as far away from the floor as possible.
Why: Really gets the obliques. Great for the waist and those ‘side-ab’ lines.
Remember: Posture and form is so important in this exercise. Keep it controlled at all times, don’t stick the bum out or tilt the upper body too much either towards or away from the floor – imagine that there is a wall directly in front and behind you so that you can only move side-to-side.
9) TRX Hip Raises
What: 3-5 sets of 15-20 reps
How: This is my all-time favourite ab exercise ever, but I put it near the end of this list because you do need some TRX ropes in order to do it. Lengthen the TRX so that the handles are just under a foot off the ground. Place your feet into the handles and rest on your hands (as if you are in a plank position). Keeping your legs straight, use your abs to raise your hips to the ceiling and bring the feet towards the chest. Gentle lower back down to plank and repeat.
Why: Why not?
10) Bosu Ball Squats
What: 3 sets, 10 reps
How: First of all, get your balance on the bosu ball, which can be difficult the first time you do it. With your feet hip-width apart and keeping your chest up, sit back into a body-weight parallel squat position, sitting back onto your heels and keeping your arms in front of your body for balance. Tense the glutes and abs to raise back to a standing position, and repeat.
Why: Core stability, balance. Having a strong core is unbelievable helpful when it comes to developing technique and strength in other exercises.