Forget crunches — this 3-move ab workout torches your core in just 7 minutes

a photo of a woman holding a plank
(Image credit: Getty Images/jeffbergen)

Despite featuring in a lot of the best ab workouts, crunches and sit-ups aren’t actually the best exercise to do if you’re looking to sculpt a strong core. According to the experts, when practicing sit-ups and crunches, you’re pushing your curved spine into the floor, while flexing upwards. If, like most of the population, you spend a lot of time sitting behind a desk and have tight hip flexors, these can tug against your lower back, causing pain or discomfort over time. 

But what should you be doing instead? For some sit-up and crunch-free inspiration, we turned to fitness professional Elsie, who is behind the Instagram account Elise’s Body Shop. The workout consists of three advanced bodyweight abdominal exercises that can be used to help target all of the muscles in your mid-section. In particular, this workout targets the outer six-pack muscles, known as the rectus abdominis. Read on to find out more. 

As a reminder, if you’re new to exercise, or you’re returning to exercise following an injury or a pregnancy, this might not be the best workout for you. If you are post-partum, planks aren’t the best ab exercise for you, especially if you have experienced separation in your ab muscles — here are 7 Diastasis Recti-safe abdominal exercises to try instead. As with always, remember to consult a personal trainer, or a medical professional before undertaking a new exercise routine. 

What is the workout? 

The workout is three bodyweight plank exercises that you perform back to back. You’ll do three rounds of the circuit in total. If you need to, take a few seconds break between circuits to reset. 

Plank reach: 30 seconds

For this exercise, start in a low plank position, with your body weight on your elbows. Make sure your elbows are stacked underneath your shoulders, your core is engaged, and that your back is straight. Squeezing your core, extend one arm out away from your body, reaching out in front of you, then return to your starting position, and reach on the other side. Keep your eye gaze down throughout — don’t flex your neck or look up, and make sure your pelvis isn’t rotating from side to side as you reach. 

Plank walk: 45 seconds

For this exercise, start in a high plank position. Again, ensure your wrists are stacked underneath your shoulders, and your core is engaged. There should be a straight line from the crown of your head, along your back, and to your heels. From here, slowly walk one hand and then the other out away from your body, keeping your pelvis level, and your core engaged. Stop when you can’t reach any further, and reverse the movement until you are back in a high plank position. 

Plank rotation: 30 seconds per side

For this exercise, start in a low plank position with your body weight on your elbows. Engage your core, and twist to one side, extending your arm to the ceiling and pausing here in the rotation, before returning to your starting position, then twisting on the other side. Keep switching sides for the full minute. 

What are the benefits? 

As mentioned above, this workout targets all of the muscles in your midsection. Building a strong core is about far more than just getting a six-pack — your abdominal muscles help support your body as you move and can help you run faster and lift heavier weights. Your abs will also protect your lower back from injury. If you can’t see your abs, chances are, your body fat percentage has something to do with it. Many factors affect how we store fat, especially around the midsection, like sleep, genetics, and not moving enough throughout the day. To learn more about your body’s fat-storing processes, we cover 5 reasons you can’t see your abs yet, despite working out

The workout also includes three different plank variations. Planks work your core without putting your spine under tension, so are often recommended over sit-ups and crunches. The plank is also an excellent way to work your core muscles without reaching for a set of the best adjustable dumbells, or the best kettlebells, as gravity does a lot of the hard work — the aim of a plank is to maintain a neutral spine, as your trunk will naturally want to dip in the move. If any of these exercises are too difficult, they can easily be modified by lowering your knees to the ground. 

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Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.