If crunches and situps are taking a toll on your back and neck, you might be tempted to stop your abdominal-strengthening routine. Instead of doing this, make standing abdominal exercises part of your workout routine. You can still enjoy abdominal-strengthening benefits, but the exercises are safer, because there's no hard surface below your back, and you're less likely to tug on your head and strain your neck. You don't need fancy equipment or a gym membership to do standing abdominal exercise -- you can do them right at home using just your body.
Standing crunches target the rectus abdominis at the front of your waistline. During this exercise, your feet are hip-width apart, your fingertips are placed behind your head and your hips are tucked in. When you crunch your upper body forward and round your upper back, push your tush forward to really emphasize your abdominals. The movement doesn't have to be big to be effective, and it should resemble a lying crunch. Do eight to 12 repetitions and three sets.
Standing Oblique Crunches
To work the sides of your waistline, do standing oblique crunches. This exercise requires you to bring your knee and elbow toward each other. While standing with your feet hip-width apart and your fingertips on the sides of your head, bend your right leg 90 degrees and raise it out to the side while bending your upper body sideways. Aim to bring your right elbow and right knee as close together as possible. Another way to work your obliques is to do standing bicycle crunches. During this exercise, you crunch and twist, bringing one elbow to the opposite knee in front of your body. Do eight to 12 repetitions and three sets of oblique exercises.
Standing Knee Raises
Raising one knee while standing upright challenges your abdominals to stabilize your body so you don't fall over. This can be as simple as standing upright, bending one knee forward and raising your foot 3 to 6 inches off the floor. Another option is to raise your knee in front of you until your thigh is parallel to the floor, and move it across your standing leg and out to the side before returning it to the starting position. During these exercises, only your lower body moves and your abdominals are engaged the entire time. Aim to do eight to 12 repetitions and three sets.
The Stomach Vacuum
Whether you're in line at the grocery store or waiting for the bus, the stomach vacuum can be done almost anywhere. During this exercise, you suck your belly in as much as you can while breathing normally. This engages your transverse abdominis, which acts as a girdle around your waist. Imagine you're trying to zip up jeans that are too tight or that you're walking on the beach in a bikini and are trying to look as slim as you can. Hold the contraction in your tummy for 20 seconds and repeat the exercise three times. As you get stronger, gradually increase the duration, aiming to reach one minute.
Kimberly Caines is a well traveled model, writer and licensed physical fitness trainer who was first published in 1997. Her work has appeared in the Dutch newspaper "De Overschiese Krant" and on various websites. Caines holds a degree in journalism from Mercurius College in Holland and is writing her first novel.