Let’s be honest. Crunches kind of suck, right? First of all, they’re a pain in the neck - literally. And even though it’s one of the more common exercises, it’s a move that has such little payoff. When you do a crunch, you’re only targeting one, maybe two of the core muscles (depending on the variation). The rectus abdominis and the obliques. But that’s all. No transverse abdominis. No erector spinae or multifidi. And no other core muscles. So if you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, get up off the floor.
You can strengthen your core with a few simple yet effective hanging exercises. All you need is a pull-up bar (or maybe a set of monkey bars at your local park) to shred your midsection - with the added benefit of improving your upper-body strength and endurance. These hanging movements engage key core muscles while increasing your grip strength and decompressing your spine.
But if we’re talking abs, we’re talking about looking better while shirtless, aren’t we? So let’s focus on these three exercises which will help tone and tighten your abs - including the tough-to-target lower belly and side obliques. While they look simple, we promise that your whole midsection will feel like it’s on fire afterwards - good news is that you’ll start to see defined muscles poking through in no time.
Not to mention, you’re recruiting and engaging more muscles in your arms, shoulders and back. The key is to focus on staying stable and not allowing your body to swing too wildly. The more control you have, the quicker you'll develop a strong and performance-ready frame. Start each of these exercises by grabbing a pull-up bar and beginning at a dead hang. Then get to work.
Dumbbell Hanging Knee Tuck
- Place an ankle weight on each of your ankles or squeeze a dumbbell in between your feet.
- Grasp a pull-up bar with an overhand grip and hang from it at arm’s length.
- Bend your knees and bring your legs and weight up towards your stomach.
- Hold and then return your legs and weight to the starting position.
Functional Bodybuilding has an example of how to do it with proper form.
Knees to Elbow
- Grasp a pull-up bar with an over or under grip (whichever is most comfortable), arms extended and feet together.
- Lock a slight bend in your knees and retract your shoulder blades, contracting your abs (the feeling should mimic pulling slightly on the bar).
- Raise the knees up toward your elbows and stop once your shins are near parallel to the floor.
- Keep your abs tight and lower your legs back to the starting position and repeat.
If you need a little stabilization help, you can place a ball behind your back like trainer Jonathan Jorgensen from Northstate CrossFit suggests.
Twisting Oblique Raises
- Grasp a pull-up bar with an overhand grip and hang from it at arm's length.
- Lift your legs, twisting slightly at the waist, raising your right hip toward your right armpit.
- Pause once your hips and knees are bent at 90 degrees.
- Return to the starting position in a controlled manner and repeat, twisting to the other side.
U.S. Forces Fitness has an example of how to do it with proper form.
* Essential Equipment: Outfit your place for a hanging workout with a well-reviewed pull-up bar and/or some arm straps that help you achieve greater isolation during leg lift exercises.