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In response to this answer, I was curious what exercises specifically target the abdominal muscles. Answers given so far include:

My question is two-fold:

  1. What's wrong with the age-old crunch?
  2. What other good abdominal exercises are there?
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3 Answers

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Probably the biggest problem with the age old crunch is that it is not functional. The crunch flexes the trunk and primarily targets the rectus abdominis, not the transversus abdominis or the obliques. If you want a flexed trunk when you stand up then doing lots of crunches will give it to you.

However, if you want an elongated mid section with strong abdominal muscles creating a solid core and support for your abdomen then you want to use postural exercises such as the plank, progressing the length of time you are able to maintain the hold, which translates into functionally controlling the torso. Also, by drawing your navel in towards the spine with these types of exercises you target the transversus abdominis which flattens the abdominal wall more than other ab muscles. The transversus is especially important in lifting.

If your goal is to have 6 pack abs then you need a low percentage of body fat which is generally achieved with diet, HIIT and strength training to burn calories.

Some suggestions of other good abdominal exercises that carry over into improved posture and function are: The plank, side plank, bird dog, progressing to dynamic control with dying bug, knee tucks on a swiss ball or swiss ball roll outs. Using resistance bands helps to target the obliques.

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Dear @BackInShapeBuddy, fantastic info, thanks: just to clarify: do you put leg raises in the same category as crunches, or in the let's say "better" category of planks. Thanks. –  Joe Blow Oct 22 '11 at 10:20
    
@Joe, In this leg raise link you will see that there is a stabilization as well as dynamic function of the abs (see the comment area). Also, whether done in this position or in the hanging leg raise position, you can see that it adds more to your workout as it is more of a total body exercise than crunches. Go for it! –  BackInShapeBuddy Nov 3 '11 at 3:32
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Awesome answer! Thanks! FYI my favorite ab exercise is this one. It's SUPER tough and has lots of scalability. –  Doc Jan 28 '13 at 1:20
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Some of the more advanced versions of leg raises are:

windmill

inclined leg raises

hanging leg jacknife

And when you get strong enough, you can do weighted versions of these. You can use a dumbbell in between your feet for the weighted version, just be careful though.

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basically you do those 3 when you hit plateau on the normal leg raises. –  Carlos Jaime C. De Leon Aug 19 '11 at 7:25
    
+1 for the windmill. After flag, in my opinion, the hardest abdomenal exercise. –  StupidOne Aug 19 '11 at 7:32
    
speaking of flag, I forgot to mention something similar to that, its called the dragonfly, from bruce lee, but this link here is from rocky 4. I don't do it too much as I'm not strong enough for that one: [link] youtube.com/watch?v=ihky09eKsEI&feature=related –  Carlos Jaime C. De Leon Aug 19 '11 at 7:39
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The problem with crunches is that they aren't very effective for the purposes that most people choose them:

  • If you are doing crunches because you want to show off a "six-pack" then you'll never get there, as this is mostly about getting to low body fat rather than building larger ab muscles.
  • If you are trying to increase core strength, then crunches are equivalent to doing a very high-rep low-weight exercise, which does not build strength.
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What's stopping you from grabbing 30 kg weight? Suddenly, crunches are low-rep high-weight exercise which does build strength. –  StupidOne Aug 19 '11 at 7:02
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Nothing, but that's no longer an "age-old crunch", it's a modified version... –  Greg Aug 19 '11 at 13:41
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