There are a number of reasons that crunches are unproductive, but we're going to focus on six: the number of muscles you hope will emerge on your abdomen as a result of time spent grunting on the ground. Crunches primarily target your rectus abdominis, leaving the rest of your core--your transverse abdominis, back extensors, hip flexors, and obliques--largely unchallenged and ignored. The following moves from The Men's Health Big Book of Exercises focus on spinal stabilization to work your entire middle region. This is essential for lower-back health and peak performance in any sport, in addition to maximizing the abdominal muscles that are most visible on--you guessed it--your six-pack.
Incorporating a stability ball increases the difficulty in this variation of mountain climber. To perform, place your hands on a Swiss ball, then alternate raising each knee, without allowing your back to round. Learn how to perform this move with perfect form.
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Difficulty: Easy to Hard
Control the difficulty of the cable core press by adjusting the weights. You don't want to rotate your body when performing this move, so lighten the load if you find yourself hiking your hip or rotating your shoulders. See how to perform this move with perfect form.
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Difficulty: Moderate to Hard
Once you've mastered side plank, make it harder by adding a rotation. Start in side plank, and then raise your right arm straight above you. Keeping your abs braced, reach under and behind your torso. Now lift your arm back up. Learn how to perform this move with perfect form.
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Difficulty: Very Hard
Push your limits with this intense balance challenge: Lie with your upper back placed firmly on a Swiss ball, and hold a pole or broomstick, with your arms straight out from your sides. Roll across the ball as far as you can, taking tiny steps. Reverse directions and roll as far as you can to the other side. Learn how to perform this move with perfect form.
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Sit on your knees in front of a Swiss ball and place your forearms and fists on the ball, with your elbows bent about 90 degrees. Slowly roll the ball forward, straightening your arms and extending your body as far as you can without allowing your lower back to "collapse." Then use your abdominal muscles to pull the ball back to your knees. Learn how to perform this move with perfect form.
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Assume a pushup position, shins resting on a Swiss ball. Roll the ball toward your chest by pulling it forward with your feet. Pause, and then return the ball to the starting position. Learn how to perform this move with perfect form.
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Assume a pushup position. Shift your weight onto your left arm and rotate your torso up and to the right until you're facing sideways. Hold it for 3 seconds, and then return to the starting position. Rotate to the other side. Learn how to perform this move with perfect form.
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Sit on the floor with your knees bent. Hold a weight plate straight out in front of your chest and then lean back at a 45-degree angle. Without moving your torso, rotate your arms to the left as far as you can. Pause for 3 seconds. Rotate your arms to the right as far as you can. Pause again, and then continue to alternate back and forth for 30 seconds. Learn how to perform this move with perfect form.
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Assume a pushup position, with your hands about 6 to 8 inches in front of your shoulders. The farther your hands are in front of you, the more challenging the move. Learn how to perform this exercise with perfect form.
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