Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by crunches. They promise chiseled abs and yet never seem to deliver on anything other than lower back problems. Don’t worry, you’re not crazy, but doing crunches may be. According to a research study at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, crunches have actually been proven to do more harm than good. The forces placed on the spine by sit-ups and crunches almost guarantee a herniated disc. Ouch!
But we have big news: you can get a toned core without doing crunches. Strengthening your core is important for our overall health, but your ab muscles are one of the few muscles in your body that hold their own definition. When it comes to revealing those abs, the secret is to strengthen your core to create slightly larger ab muscles and then focus on reducing the fat in your midsection to reveal them.
How do you apply this in practice? Start with these five trainer-approved ways to tone your core without crunches.
5 Steps to Sculpted Abs & a Toned Core
#1 Turn on Your Entire Core Safely With Planks
Planks are a long-time trainer secret to building and maintaining the core strength you need to kill the rest of your workouts and to have those tight, defined abs we’re all after. In a plank, your spine stays straight, taking the emphasis off your lower back and into your core muscles.
Plus, planks also recruit a number of other stabilizing muscles in your shoulders, upper back, and hips (talk about a multitasker!)
The bottom line is that strengthening these important muscles helps you become more explosive in your workouts, improves balance, and reduces the risk of injury — all of which are key for helping you work towards a toned core.
#2 Perform Compound Movements That Require Core Strength
Activating your core muscles during your entire workout and burning extra calories are key to revealing a toned core.
Compound movements, or exercises that activate multiple muscle groups, help stimulate your core because they require more stability and coordination, and burn more calories than single-joint exercises (yes, please!)
Try some of these compound movements to take your core strength to the next level:
- Adding an overhead press to your squats.
- An upright row to your deadlifts.
- Or a twist to your lunges for some major ab sculpting.
#3 Add in Some HIIT to Burn Fat
HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) is still the shining star when it comes to burning fat while maintaining muscle definition, and it holds true for defining your midsection too.
Alternate between short bursts of all-out effort and even shorter durations of rest to fire up your metabolism and burn extra calories for up to 24-hours after you’re done exercising.
Add core-focused exercises that also get your heart-rate up like:
- Mountain climbers
- Plank tucks
- Crab walks
These exercises will give your core some extra lovin’.
#4 Commit to a Cardio and Strength Training Program to Lose Inches
A workout routine that properly balances cardio and strength training is the secret sauce that will help you get defined abs!
Strength training builds muscle and boosts your metabolism, and cardio helps you burn even more cals, making them the perfect mix.
Each person’s body is unique, and so are their training needs. A good starting point is three days of total body strength training and four days of 30 to 40 minutes of moderate cardiovascular training or 20-minutes of intense cardiovascular training.
#5 Pay Attention to Your Nutrition
To reveal a toned core, your nutrition has got to be on point. Your training is important to build the muscle to really make your abs pop, and your diet is equally as important to reveal all of your hard work.
Keep your nutrition principles simple to start and focus on eating whole, nutrient-dense foods that fill you up with less calories like:
- Dark leafy greens
- Fresh fruit
- Lean protein
- Complex carbs (like quinoa, oats, lentils, and beans)
Don’t forget to drink water! Hydration is key to regulating hunger, muscle recovery, reducing water retention, and keeping your energy levels sky-high.
Aim to drink at least half your body weight in ounces (or more if you’re exercising, hint hint, you are).
You’re on Your Way to a Toned Core!
Now that you’re totally pumped up and ready to put these tips to the test, don’t forget that confidence is the sexiest muscle you can flex. A defined core is exciting, sure, but your inner confidence at any size is what’s really impressive.