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8 Tough Exercises for Your Abs That Won't Hurt Your Back

The U.S. Navy might ban situps from their physical-readiness test. Should you scrap the move, too?
8 Tough Exercises for Your Abs That Won't Hurt Your Back

Let crunches be bygones. According to an editorial in Navy Times, the U.S. Navy is making moves to banish the traditional situp from their physical-readiness test, which sailors must pass twice each year. Crunches, the editorial says, are "an outdated exercise today viewed as a key cause of lower back injuries." The Canadian Armed Forces, too, cut the outdated core exercise from its fitness test, suggesting concern over the risk for injury and its lack of connection to actual military work, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

So we consulted with our top trainers to pull together the toughest ab moves to replace the crunch. They're not the craziest, most attention-getting tricks, but ones that will actually keep you building muscle after the initial gains have ended—and minimize injury and pain to your back. Mix them into your workout and take your routine to the next level. Because you can always be stronger.

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From a plank, reach one arm straight in front of you, shifting your weight as little as possible. Bring it back down, and reach with the other arm. Keep your hips low and still while you do this, as if nothing were moving at all. "This challenges general trunk stability and the entire abdominal wall," says Nick Rodocoy, ACE certified trainer at Equinox Soho. Trust us—it's harder than it sounds.

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This move, known for it's six-pack creating prowess, builds incredible strength across the entire torso. 

Start with your feet shoulder width apart and bend down to grab the handles of your ab-wheels (we like SKLZ's Corewheels). Then, slowly roll forward through a pike until you're at the top of a pushup. Carefully move your arms as far forward as you can without losing control. Next is the brutal part: reverse. 3 Sets, 5 Reps. 

"As if doing these on the knees wasn’t hard enough, doing them with only feet on the ground is brutal.  This move works the full kinetic link from shoulders to hips.  It specifically targets anterior core strength (rectus abdominis, pelvic floor)," says Joel Sanders, performance specialist at EXOS.

Warning: if you're feeling strain in your low back, you're doing too many reps.

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Starting in pushup position, balance with a kettlebell supporting each hand. Then, row one arm up a time, being sure to maintain good alignment. "This move is great for working the strength of external obliques and low back stabilizers," says Sanders. "But note: it’s not tough if you use the pink KB’s.  Men should aim for 20-24kg. 3 sets, 6-8 reps per side. 

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Get in a plank position, but instead of resting your forearms on the ground, you're going to rest them on the stability ball. Using the traction of your forearms, rotate the ball in circles. Alternate directions after thirty seconds. 

This move gets your obliques—those tough to access muscles that run up the sides of your torsos. "Make sure to keep the glutes tight and pelvis stable while going in circles each direction," suggests Rodocoy. 

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Better known as the side plank. Face the wall and prop yourself up on one forearm. Lift the other arm directly above you and then lift up your hips off the ground. If you need to, you can separate your feet 6-10" for stability. Be sure to keep a neutral spine to protect your back as you hold the position. 

For a challenge, Rodocoy suggests holding it for 15-30 seconds to get a burn in your obliques. 

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The reverse crunch is an old-school tactic for working out your entire abdominal group. On your back, bend your knees and pull them in towards you, slightly lifting your pelvis off the ground. Then, straighten your legs at ninety degrees and lower them to about six inches off the ground, staying as slow and controlled as possible. Make sure to keep your pelvis tucked and your back in contact with the ground to prevent injury. 

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It's time to make yourself familiar with the cable, if you're not already. It may look like upper body work, but it's actually one of the best tools you can use to work your core. 

Face away from the cable station and get down on one knee, like you're about to tie your shoe or propose to your girlfriend. With the cable station even with your shoulders, grab the handle and press forward. 

"Start with the handle in at your chest and then press out straight in front of you," said Rodocoy. Extend your elbows and hold your arms out for 5-10 seconds before carefully bringing your hands back to your chest. Be sure to stay controlled. 8 reps on each side. 

In a plank position, place your feet on two slides. Using your forearms for traction, slide your body back and forth about a foot. "This works everything in the anterior chain," says EXOS Performance Manager Anthony Hobgood. Try 2-4 sets of 10 reps. 


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