When you think about working your abs, your mind probably goes straight to sit-ups and crunches. For a long time, those were thought to be the most effective ways to strengthen the abdominal wall. Sure, they do that; however, there are far more creative exercises that provide real life function and strength. Instead of aiming for a six-pack, try these exercises for pure core strength, which will improve your performance not only in workouts but in day-to-day life. Most of these exercises require no equipment — that means fewer excuses and more reason to go for it!
1. Inverted V Plank: In a low or forearm plank, begin with your shoulders over the elbows and press back through the heels. Pull the belly button up and in as you roll through the toes and lift the hips. Click here for more info.
2. Forearm Plank: Holding this position can build strength and burn calories. Keep the elbows over the shoulders and push away from the floor. Don't let the hips pop up or sag! Try it on your knees, too. Click here to learn more.
3. Side Plank: Open up the low plank to one side without letting your hips rotate forward or backward. Stack or stagger the feet depending on how well you can stabilize. Squeeze the bottom oblique! Click here to see the move in detail.
20. Flutter Kicks: Press through the arms and pull in the belly button. You do not want to feel anything in your lower back. Raise the legs off the ground a few inches and alternate up-and-down kicks. Flutter away here.
21. Ab Roll-Up: You probably did this when you were a kid. Lie back and swing the legs up and over your head for momentum. Bring them forward and set them on the floor at the same time you lift the chest. Press into the floor and, without using your hands, jump up! Here's a step-by-step tutorial.
22. Waist Trimmer: Sit like a mermaid with both legs bent: one in front, one to the side. Lift the side leg up and down to target the obliques. Exhale with each pulse. Try not to lean into the opposite hand too much! Here's more info.
23. Plank Curls on Stability Ball: Very similar to the gliding pike, you'll use a stability ball as anti-resistance. Start in a high plank then shift your weight to your hands as you tuck the knees in, curling the ball toward you. Pull the hips up to the ceiling. Check it out here.
24. Russian Twist: A classic ab move, the Russian twist will target the lower and side abs. Lean back as far as you want or lift the legs for more of a challenge. Twist side to side. If you get dizzy, just look straight ahead instead! Here are more photos.
25. BOSU Plank Leg Lifts: This takes a lot of control. Come into your low plank over the BOSU ball and slowly lift and lower one leg at a time. Keep the upper body stable. Exhale as you lift, inhale to lower. Do it here!
4. Reverse Plank with Leg Raise: Sit down and place your hands behind you, directly under the shoulders and push up into a reverse plank. If that's too easy, add a leg lift. Don't let the hips drop! Click here to see step-by-step photos.
5. Boat Crunch: We know we said no sit-ups or crunches, but this one really works! It really tests your balance and back more than a regular crunch would. Click here to check it out.
6. Bird Dog: Begin on all fours, then extend the opposite arm and leg. Make your body as long as you can, then switch sides. This will train your functional core muscles. Click here for step-by-step photos.
7. Pushups: It's not all about the arms and chest here! You need a strong core to lift and lower the entire body in a straight line during the pushup. Inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up for better performance. Learn more here.
8. Hip Twister: Begin in your low plank and scoot your feet together. Dip the hips from side to side, drawing an arc with your tailbone. You don't need to touch the floor. Here's a step-by-step tutorial.
9. Kneeling Clamshell: Come down to your elbow and press through the palm. Keep the bottom hip lifted the entire time by squeezing the side oblique. As you stabilize, you'll open and shut the knees to work the glutes, too. Here's more info.
10. Reverse Tabletop to Pike: This is a bit advanced, but totally works the lower abs. Come into your reverse tabletop and push the hips up into a straight line. Then bend them as you send them through your arms, staying lifted from the floor. Here are more photos.
11. Ski Abs with Discs: Grab some gliders or wash rags (paper plates if you're working out on carpet) and come down to your elbows. Tuck the knees into one side, then slide them over to the other side. Use your abs to control it instead of your arms. Try it out here.
12. Swimming Slide Extension: Again, grab the gliders, wash rags or paper plates and lie on your belly with your palms placed on the gliders. Reach out all of the way, pull the hands into the body as you lift the chest, then send them out to the sides, squeezing your lats. Try it here.
13. Gliding Pike: Place the gliders under your feet as you begin in a high plank. Using your core, shift more weight into your hands and drag the feet up. Think of raising your hips to the ceiling and look to your belly button. Here's more info.
14. Gliding Mountain Climbers: Start in a high plank with the bells of your feet on the gliders. Without shifting your shoulders back, bring one knee up and under the chest, then switch. Hips down! Check it out here.
15. Gliding Mermaid: Ready to work those obliques? Kneel on one side and place your palm on the glider. Slowly slide it out and in, squeezing that lower oblique. Inhale to go out and exhale to come in again. This is a great postpartum ab workout too! Click here for more details.
16. Decline Pushup on Step: Using a sturdy box or step, place your feet on the top of it as close together as possible. Walk your hands out into a high plank and set them outside the shoulders as you press up and down. Use the core to control the body. Check it out here!
17. Frog Press: You can do these with your head up or down. Lift the legs, then bring them in, letting the knees fall out to the sides. Bring the heels together then press out again. Click here to get in touch with your inner froggy.
18. Ab Cyclone: Working the lower abs can be tricky, but this cyclone gets the job done. Keep your legs long and together. The circle can be as big or small as you want it to be. Click here to move your body like a cyclone.
19. Spiderwoman Pushup: This funky move works the entire abdominal wall and the obliques. As you press down, bring one knee up and to the side, keeping the foot off the ground. Press up and return it to the back. Check it out here.