Forget crunches — these 4 exercises work your core using just 1 kettlebell

a photo of a woman holding a kettlebell
(Image credit: Getty/Cavan Images)

When it comes to working your core, not all exercises are created equal. In fact, despite being included in many of the best ab workouts, studies have found crunches and sit-ups aren’t that good for your spine. 

Medical professionals explain that when you perform a sit-up, you push your curved spine into the floor while flexing upwards. If you suffer from tight hip flexors, or sit down a lot, your hip flexors can tug against your lower back during this upward motion, creating pain or discomfort in the lower back. It’s thought to be even worse if you perform sit-ups with your hands behind your head and almost pull your body upwards. While you might not notice this initially, doing endless sit-ups could lead to back pain over time.

But what should you do instead? Fitness trainer Elise, the founder of Elise’s Body Shop, shared four exercises you should do instead of crunches. For all of them, you’ll need a kettlebell or one of the best adjustable dumbbells. Grab a weight, and give these a go: 

Stop doing crunches and do these four exercises instead

Do these four exercises instead of crunches to work your core. Elise has added rep suggestions to act as guidance. Complete the below circuit three times through to turn this into a longer workout, taking a minute rest in between each. 

In her video, Elise uses a 15kg kettlebell, but you should select the weight that’s right for you and your body. As a reminder, the right weight for you will feel challenging by the final few reps, but not impossible. Meanwhile, the weight should never compromise your form. 

Overhead March: 20 reps

For this exercise, start standing with your feet hip-width apart. Bend down and grab the kettlebell or dumbbell with one hand, and extend it above your head, raising the other arm out to your side for support. 

Engage your core, bend at the knee and raise one knee up to your torso, then lower it back to your starting position. Repeat on the other side. 

Swap which arms you’re holding the dumbbell or kettlebell with each circuit. On the third circuit, switch arms halfway through to ensure you work each arm the same. Alternatively, add a fourth circuit, or do 20 reps on each side. 

Partial Get-up: 12 reps

The partial get-up, or half-Turkish get-up, is a great core exercise. Start by lying on your back, with your legs straight. Keeping your right leg straight, bend your left leg, placing your foot flat on the floor. Hold the dumbbell or kettlebell in your left hand, with your arm outstretched above your body. Place your right arm out to the side, with your right hand pressed into the floor. 

In one movement, push down through your left foot, and punch upward with the weight. Press your right elbow into the floor, so that your torso raises up. Your right leg should remain straight. Keeping your hand on the floor, press down into your hand and lift your forearm so you lock out your elbow. Pause here, then reverse the steps to return to your starting position. 

As with the first exercise, switch which arm you lead with after the first circuit, and swap halfway through on the third. If you’re really looking to up the ante, do 12 reps on each side.

Halo to Chop: 12 reps

For this exercise, start standing with your legs hip-width apart, and the kettlebell or dumbbell in your hands. Engage your core, and lift the kettlebell upwards, then make a tight circle around your head. After you’ve completed a full rotation, move on to the chop part of the exercise, lowering the weight down towards your hip, then raising it back to your starting position. 

Again, do 12 reps in each direction, or switch direction in each circuit, and split the last one in half. 

Bear Pull-Through: 20 reps

To do a bear pull-through, start on all fours, with a kettlebell or dumbbell to your left side. Make sure your wrists are stacked underneath your shoulders, and your knees underneath your hips. 

Engage your core, and raise your knees a few inches off the ground. Reach your right arm underneath your body, and drag the weight to your right side. Then lower your right hand back to your starting position, lift your left hand off the floor and reach underneath your body, dragging the weight back to the left. 

Keep switching sides for the full 20 reps, making sure your knees don’t drop down 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.