Make no mistake: crunches will strengthen your abdominal muscles. But after a while, crunches get boring. They don’t target all the muscles you need for a flat stomach, especially if you have loftier goals like a fitness model six-pack. To add some spark to your old routine, and some fire to the muscles in your belly, you need to work your abs from some new directions.
Although crunches work from the upper abs down, leg raises work from the lower abs up. To make your leg raises work your abs, you need to get your pelvis off the floor. Lie on your back with your hands under your backside. Lift your legs until they come as close as you can to forming a 90-degree angle. At the top of the move, lift your hips and backside off the floor and feel your abs contract. Lower back down. Do three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
The plank works the abs without curling the spine. Planks do require upper-body strength, so many women will need to build endurance gradually. Lie on your stomach. Lift your head and chest off the floor by propping yourself up on your elbows and forearms. Your elbows should be directly below your shoulders and your hands and forearms should point straight in front of you. Lift the rest of your torso and your legs off the floor so your body is supported by your forearms, elbows and toes. Feel your abs contract to hold your body straight in that position. Work up to holding plank for 30 seconds at a time. Build up to three, 30-second holds.
Stability Ball Knee-in
This is a challenging exercise that will make crunches seem easy. It requires a great deal of upper-body strength, so it won't be for everyone. Lie face down on the ball. Walk your body out with your hands until you are in a plank position with your shins on the ball. Pull your knees in toward your chest, rolling the ball beneath your shins. Pause, then roll the ball back. Work up to three sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Suspension Trainer Knee Tucks
Suspension trainers that attach to door jams, walls or ceilings have become a popular tool for fitness. To work your abs, adjust the straps to shin height. Assume a prone position with your upper body supported on your elbows and forearms. Place your feet in the straps. Try to get your body to form one straight line. Lift your hips toward the ceiling as you pull your knees in to your chest, contracting your abs. Extend your legs back out, lowering your hips until your body returns to a straight line. Work up to three sets of 10 to 12 reps.
David Raudenbush has more than 20 years of experience as a literacy teacher, staff developer and literacy coach. He has written for newspapers, magazines and online publications, and served as the editor of "Golfstyles New Jersey Magazine." Raudenbush holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in education.