ab exercises that arent crunches

Photo: Courtesy of Michele Olson

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Bent-Knee Pilates Hundred
Why do it: Michele Olson, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University, has found that dozens of moves (some familiar, some new) are better than crunches at working your core—without putting stress on your spine. How did she do it? She lab-tested ab exercises using an EMG machine to measure the strength of contractions. One of her favorites is the no-frills Pilates Hundred. This isometric exercise was 31 percent more effective than traditional crunches at targeting the external obliques (the V-shaped muscles running diagonally down your sides). The Hundreds are also uniquely effective at working the deeper ab muscles, Olson says, which support the spine.

Starting position: Lie on your back with your knees bent at 90 degrees, shins parallel to the floor (arms at your sides).

How to do it: Lift your head and shoulders. Inhale and pump your arms, palms facing down, 3 to 4 inches off the floor, 5 times. Exhale and pump your arms 5 more times. This is 1 breath cycle, or 1 rep. Repeat until you have completed 10 breath cycles.