Why You Should Skip Crunches And Do These Ab Exercises Instead

Spring is here, and summer is soon to follow: Summer means spending days on vacation—at the beach, at the pool, or just at home, the opportunities to gallivant around with your shirt off are endless in the warm months. So why not get an impressive abdomen, something literally everybody wants?

The Exercise You Should Ignore


What makes mine different is that my abdominal workout absolutely repudiates the use of crunches, an exercise that is useless for anybody who doesn’t have a very specific problem to fix. The crunch was invented by the first bodybuilders that used HGH, and the exercise was intended to produce a light bit of toning for their swollen roid-bellies, making them a bit more aesthetically pleasing. The exercise does not develop the strength of the core for lifting, does not utilize other muscles as support, does not train the core how to quickly flex for protection from strikes, and will, at best, give you the body of a 14-year old Brazilian rent boy. And if that’s the sort of thing you’re into, don’t let me stop you.

Due to the dismal state of fitness training in the United States (and the Western world in general, really), most of the fitness trainers you’ll speak to are completely unaware that there even exist other abdominal exercises beyond crunches, sit-ups, and maybe some of those silly leg-waggling exercises people do on the floor.

leg cycle

There are many ab exercises that are much harder than these exercises, and correspondingly with much greater rewards. Mastery of these will give you a truly impressive core (meaning the serratus abdominus, obliques, and all else), a solid wall of muscles across your core that will not only look good, but make you stronger in lifts, tougher in a fight, more flexible, and even has tangential benefits to your sex life (the sexual benefits of having a strong waist and hips should be obvious).

Supplementary Exercises

Seeing as the core occupies a central place in the human anatomy, there are many exercises that utilize the abs as a support muscle group.

Pull-Ups are one such example. Indeed, many of those who find themselves first capable of doing a set of 10 “dead hang” pull-ups find their stomach to be sore the next day. In a proper hang, the abdominal muscles flex to keep the torso erect and prevent themselves, and thus the spine, from sagging. This  supplemental abdominal tension exists for all pulling exercises, ranging from the basic pull-up, to the “hand and a half” pull-up, to the elite level pulls like the one-handed pullup and the muscle-up.


More so than the pull-ups, the power lifts utilize the abs for support: properly done deadlifts and squats will incorporate the core as a support, and correspondingly flexion can be observed and felt if paid attention to. But the exercises that utilize the abdominals the most in support are overhead lifts such as overhead squats, which are, as to be expected, squats done while holding a bar over your head. Bear in mind that there are special techniques needed for the overhead squat, and this exercise will have its own future article.

In a related family are overhead farmer’s walks: carry a weighted barbell, a loaded duffel bag, a big rock, or any other heavy object over your head, and just walk with it. The abs and lower back muscles have to really flex hard in order to keep the trunk stable. Obviously, if your lumbar vertebrae hurt after doing this, you’ve made a mistake. Working with a beer keg is also an effective variation of the exercise, as the sloshing liquid adds an element of instability.

overhead squat

Direct Exercises

But of course, these exercises that use the core as assistance can only take you so far-for a truly impressive midsection, you must perform exercises that directly attack the abdominal muscles. And for that I reiterate, don’t waste your time with crunches. Instead try a few of these exercises:

The hanging leg raise series is a series of exercises that force the abdomen to powerfully contract. The first of these is the hanging knee raise: Simply grab a hold of a pull up bar, keep your torso and head upright, and raise your knees together as high as they can go

hanging knee lift

From there, the steps involve gradually extending the legs until your legs can swing out fully extended from the hips. But why stop there? Why not lift the legs higher, while keeping the torso in the same position (a move known as the V-Lift)?

Once the hanging leg raise is mastered, you can begin doing static holds such as the L-Sit and V-Sit for time: Simply do the leg raise or v-lift, and hold the legs at the peak of motion. This exercise can be done on the floor or hanging, with the hanging variation being slightly easier.  It is worth noting that the US Men’s Olympic Gymnastics team requires a minimum of 60 seconds held for either the floor or hanging L-Sit, and a world-class men’s gymnast has core strength any physical culturist would envy (for information’s sake, my all time best is 30 seconds).

l sit

The L-Sit


The V-Sit

Another exercise to do with the pull-up bar is the Roman Chair situp, also called the inverted sit-up. Wrap your legs around a horizontal bar and hang down vertically and upside down. Then bend at the waist until you can’t move up anymore. This is probably the advanced abdominal exercise the layperson is most familiar with, having seen it in many films.

roman chair

The dragon flag is one of the most difficult ab exercises to do for repetitions, but is well worth it. Lay down on a flat bench—and I emphasize a flat bench, as you cannot do this on an adjustable benches—and grab the bench behind your head with your elbows pointing up. Then lifts the legs and hips vertical, resting your weight on the trapezius muscles. The key is to not jackknife at the waist

Then, keeping your torso and legs straight, holding on to the bench, and using the upper part of your back as a pivot, bring your legs down and forward until your entire back is just about to touch the bench, then go back up. If this is your first time, you will likely not be able to do more than one, at best. I myself can only do maybe 5 before tiring.

dragon flag1

Dragon Flag Part 1

dragon flag2

Dragon Flag Part 2

All of the exercises I’ve given will see you well on your way to having a strong and versatile core, but because I like you people:

The Esoterics

While dragon flags, L-Sits, and V-Sits comprise the bulk of my abdominal workouts, there are occasional others I have done for fun, or when I didn’t have the equipment to do one or the other:

The first are stomach vacuums, an abdominal exercise that requires literally no equipment other than your own body. Standing straight with your arms down to your sides, breathe in and simultaneously pull in your abdomen, and then just use your muscles to hold your stomach in the pulled-in position as you breathe out, and hold it for time. Imagine that you are trying to touch your bellybutton to your spine. Hold it for 10 seconds to start, and gradually increase the time.

stomach vacuum

Medicine ball passes are useful in teaching the torso to “brace” and rapidly flex, as the ball mimics the force of an oncoming punch. Just toss the medicine ball against a wall and catch it, or play catch with a friend. The heavier the ball the better—start with a 10 or 15 pound one, and work your way up. It may not sound too hard, but medicine ball work is very tiring.

But if you’ve simulated being punched in the gut, why not do the real thing? Certain styles of martial art do this as a body hardening exercise: put your hands behind your head, flex the abs, and have a partner punch you in the gut for 60 seconds. Then switch.


The exercises I have given here are infinitely more difficult and thus more functional than the useless narcissistic abdominal exercises most people do today. But bear in mind that the strongest abs in the world cannot be seen if there’s a layer of fat over them. The saying “abs are made in the kitchen” is a correct one: for a truly defined midsection, you have to cut weight and get trim, and this is beyond the scope of this article.

But in my not-so-humble opinion, it is better to build the strength and functionality, and thus always be capable of cutting down to look good, then to have the skinny twink look.

Read More: The Only 4 Exercises You Need

49 thoughts on “Why You Should Skip Crunches And Do These Ab Exercises Instead”

  1. Very sound advice on core training!
    Nice to see the Dragon Flag included – another Bruce Lee contribution I believe? and the little Dragon certainly had a fine, and functional, midsection…
    Also great to see the vacuum mentioned, not well known these days, but Golden Age bodybuilders built very fine abs, not to mention slim waists (roid guts no valued back then!), with this exercise… advocated by the great Vince Gironda IIRC, and even became a standard pose before competitive bodybuilders abandoned…. er…. symmetry, proportion, good taste and aesthetics!
    And the fine art of punching each other – *hard* – in the gut still practiced in dojos that remember the old ways…
    Thanks Larsen for a fine article!

      1. I can see you are an economist, and take a skeptical approach, so I reckon you wouldn’t assert this without good reasons…
        I’d be interested to hear your reasoning and the evidence – care to share?

        1. In my view its unnecessary. Do it if you can and like it. Or do something else. I put it in the category of “cool if you can do it”.

        2. Depends what you are trying to achieve… as noted in another thread, if it’s just displaying abs then probably controlling diet is all. I think Larsen’s angle is functional and practical core strength, and almost certainly with a martial arts bias… I don’t subscribe to the ‘Bruce Lee is God’ school, but he certainly knew what he was about, was ahead of his time, and had a great midsection… his ideas on physical development, and especially for fighting, are worth examining.

        3. Yes true but it is possible that all you will achieve is an injury. As Scott Sonnon said “you don’t need to do the splits to achieve the splits”. In other words, you can achieve the benefits of a strong core without doing all of the highly advanced exercises.

        4. It was my point exactly. The exercise is simply too technical and requires an enormous amount of strength to be performed correctly. I see a lot of beginners trying to do the dragonfly in their ego-lifting routines..I never know whether to laugh or cry.

        5. I get it.
          Yes, I agree.
          In fact it holds true for a fair few exercises beginners shouldn’t do, but read about in those silly magazines and think will make them huge in a few weeks.

      1. For sure. In general, and I think the author knows this (and mentions) there are plenty of lifts that also work the core…

      1. To the head maybe, but good old fashion straight punch to the stomach (or mae geri/front kick) surely?

  2. yawl niggas complicate the hell out of things with this post.
    If you want LEGIT core strength and cut up abs, simply eat clean, do heavy squats & deadlifts (essentially stronglifts 5×5) and add weighted pullups, weighted dips and planks to it (these are called “assistance exercise that compliment the 5×5 stronglifts program.)
    in 8 – 12 weeks you should have much lower body fat and much stronger/bigger abs.
    and in a year of this strict training, you should look like Gogeta SSJ4

    1. ‘Nigga’, can you do even a single dragonflag? And with advanced core strength the standard plank is a waste of time – literally. Once you can do multiple high rep sets of dragon flags holding the plank position is rather trivial, better pop on an epp or 2 of DBZ cause you won’t start to feel it til halfway through the frieza saga.

      1. lol this idiot thinks dragonflags are more effective and more difficult than heavy squats & heavy deadlifts.
        im crying
        i can tell yo dumbass has never lifted heavy a day in your life (2x or at least 1.5x BW free weights pls)
        as for planks vs dragonflags… i specified ASSISTANCE exercises, jackass. you’re not suppose to FEEEEL PLANKZ when you do them after a insanely heavy set of squats. in fact, after an insanely heavy set of squats, you’re not even supposed to deadlift your work set 5 times for 5 reps. ONLY ONE work set of 5 reps. Because squats are that brutal.
        Planks in this program are meant MOSTLY to keep the calories burning to lose the bodyfat in order for your abs to show. not to mention THEY ARE AN AB EXERCISE REGARDLESS.
        they are not meant to further take you to the brink, the heavy squats & deadlifts do that already.
        you’re welcome for the free advice btw. now gtfo my face, manlet.

        1. 5×5 is overrated, learn a new rep range you lemming. What’s a heavy squat? My best is 2.2x bw for a double but ive only been training for a year. Your long winded drivel is just Rippetoe dickriding. Different level of trainees, do different things, there are no hard and set rules in regards to you must do this many of whatever. Even as an assistance exercise the standard plank is a waste of time for an advanced trainee, harder variations – sure. And I guess that answers my question – no you can’t do a single dragon flag.

        2. “My best is 2.2x bw for a double”
          “for a double”
          LMFAOOOOO!!! please be in High school…
          “ive only been training for a year.”
          Explains your utter ignorance. As usual, it’s always the newbie shitstains who want to know more than the experienced.
          5×5 was a routine Arnold Schwarzenegger used to get stronger before he became a bodybuilder. A routine he got from his mentor, the legendary Reg Park.
          As for the StrongLifts version of the 5×5, that was created by Mehdi of StrongLifts.com.
          Mark Rippetoe simply wrote a book on PERFECT FORM of the 5×5 exercises, titled Starting Strength (Bible of weight lifting), you jackass.
          He has his own version of 5×5 called Starting Strength program as well.
          Nothing to do with StrongLifts 5×5.
          So not only are you a weak little manlet, you’re an ignorant shitstain as well. Sucks to suck!

        3. That’s why Rippetoe wrote ‘Practical Programming’ for guys who plateaued on the 3X5 program.
          Guy who hates Rippetoe=Guy who squats at 4 inches above parallel.

      2. More like ‘Dragon Fags’. Faggot. But keep doing them. If it keeps fags like you off the squat rack then so be it.

  3. I take a weight on a string and swing it back and forth to hit the wall (padded) using my abs. Scrapped my ab gauntlet afterwards. Never needed anything else.

  4. Dragon Flag is also known as Bottoms up or Reverse Crunch. I do 3 sets of 20 and goddam it burns well.
    If you want to take it up a notch then Jeff Cavalieri has a video of how to get a twist in there for the obliques.

  5. i’m still in the “abs are made in the kitchen” camp. a month or so ago, i completed beachbody’s body beast program while eating a strict diet of real food my great grandfather would recognize. i skipped all the abs exercises in the program but still had nice, flat, defined abs by the end, and i’m well into my 40s. i’ve actually increased my intensity on the lifting since then, but let my diet slip, and those nice defined abs are pretty much gone now.

    1. Yes they are, for sure.
      At the end of the day they are also skeletal muscle and susceptible to development. I guess it comes down to whether you are happy with what shows once body fat is under control… if not, then working them can improve what you see to an extent.
      But yes, I’m in this camp too…

  6. No love for ice cream makers? I mean sure its a front lever training move and trains your entire back with shoulders and triceps for good measure but your abs just get murdered

  7. I’ve heard crunches don’t really work, but was never sure since it seemed like the people saying that were always trying to sell some sort of exercise equipment. Side note: Evidently I don’t even have to be ovulating for a guy’s attractiveness to be the first thing I notice. The redhead in the first picture is very pretty for a man, though a little slender for my particular tastes. The guy in the last picture is an excellent example of someone who I know objectively fits the criteria for being considered hot, but who just doesn’t do it for me at all.

  8. “The crunch was invented by the first bodybuilders that used HGH”
    thats gotta be the single most preposterous thing ive ever read. what a load of bullshit.

  9. When I saw the title, I was like “Please let him mention hanging leg raises”. And I wasn’t disappointed!

    1. Yes, I’ve started doing it while holding a dumbbell between the feet for added weight as I’ve progressed, but that’s not the easiest thing to do.
      Hard not to drop it.

  10. Static training vs reps needs an article or maybe I haven’t read it on here. Holding a dragon flag or ice cream maker for however long as i can is my personal workout. I am no gymnast or petite guy so suit yourself. Dynamics are over rated in strength training.

      1. I love strength training I confess, but actually I think your approach is spot on for building the right kind of strength…
        At the end of the day for strength to be worth anything it needs to be made functional, and the best way to get good at something is…. to train in the something you want to get good at!

    1. Having (background) thought about your suggestion for an hour or so I think you are right.
      I think Isometric training got a bad rep after it was discovered that the York barbell guys announced it as cover for their early Steroid use back in the 60s.
      Plus the really early stuff had faintly comic associations (Charles Atlas and so on).
      It’s come back a few times in different forms (e.g. John Little’s ‘Static Contraction Training) every few years or so.
      A good, unbiased, article would be useful…

  11. Squat, deadlift, press, bench, clean, pullups, wind sprints. You do any other exercise and you might as well just go around with a t-shirt that says “I love to have cocks in my mouth.”

    1. I started doing heavy squats and deadlifts last year. Now my jeans don’t fit. The waist is fine but thighs are way too tight and it’s causing the jeans to crush my nuts.
      Looking forward to summer so I can just wear shorts when not at work.

      1. Relaxed fit carpenter jeans. Genetics gave me tree trunks for legs, which have gotten bigger since I started weight training. I have never been able to wear regular jeans since turning age 25.

      2. I had the same issue, and went up several sizes then had the waist taken in at the tailor when I bought new ones.
        Seems to work well.
        I love some of the more stylish distressed/black modern jeans out there, and couldn’t resign myself to baggy pants.

    2. All the ones you mention I def think are terrific. However, I would ad a few. Different variation on barbell and dumbbell curls (I like barbell 21’s, barbell rack runs like Arnold Suggests in the encyclopedia of Body Building, concentration curls for bicep peaks and preacher curls for the lower part of the bicep.) Further, I am a very big fan of Triceps extension, both seated and raised, skull crushers, dumbbell pull overs (super old school, but I think it is one of the best chest workouts you can get). Also, For upper back I really think a barbell front raise set where you go over the head is one of the best ways to really push yourself. Lastly, with regards to weights, I honestly think anyone who isn’t doing dumbbell flies, both laying and inclined, is missing out. If you are a hard gainer in your calves like so many people are, both seated and standing calf raises are important and there are several differnet motions with a kettlebell that are just terrific. As for bodyweight, I will say that I think pushups and jumping jacks belong in everyone’s routine.
      I am with Kaminsky here, however, if we are talking about 100 different things we can do with cables or pretty much any of the new market dance classes like pilates, crossfit and anal sex…Also, running (stead state, not the excellent sprints mentioned by Kaminsky) is just plain terrible for you.

  12. I’ll speak as I find. Kettlebell swings and diet control have done it for me. Great core exercise – fast, efficient and easy to learn.

  13. My current program does involve a few ab exercises, and even with those few my abdominal strength has grown greatly.
    – Standing cable crunches
    – Ax chops (single-grip cable)
    – The hanging leg raises, also

  14. I’m surprised this article didn’t mentioned the ab roller as good core builder , even paval uses it , it really helps with keeping the lower part of the abs flat

    1. The ab roller is an excellent abdominal workout when done
      correctly…and therein lies the problem. In the last 10 years I have seen, maybe, 1% of the people who use an ab roller doing it correctly. Further, not
      only is the ab roller not helpful when done incorrectly, but actually
      dangerous. If you are going to use an ab roller I would suggest purchasing a
      session with a very good trainer and saying you just want to focus on how to
      properly use an ab roller before you just go spinning that thing around because
      you saw some you tube vids.

  15. Carrying around slosh pipes is a good core exercise as well. Core needs to be engaged 100% of the time to keep the damn things stable. To make: PVC and water

  16. The crunch was invented by the first bodybuilders that used HGH
    Dubious. The crunch has been around for a long time, and was originally developed to take the hip flexors out of the equation, and because it was thought that sit-ups were hard on the back.

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