When you scan the pages of popular fitness magazines or scroll through the feeds of fitness influencers on Instagram, you’ll quickly figure out that two of the most popular movements promoted for fitness programs are often push-ups and crunches. The push-up is designed to primarily train your pectoralis muscles, and indirectly your shoulders, rectus abs, and triceps, while the crunch is designed to strengthen your rectus abdominis—or the ab muscles that are located between the bottom of your ribcage, at the top of your pelvis. These are otherwise known as the six pack muscles.
While push-ups and crunches can be effective, they actually target the same area—the anterior or front of the body—and many people don’t like doing them. If you’re one of those people, you’re in luck! There are many other exercises that I would argue are more effective when you are trying to target those areas.
Work your back to strengthen your front
To target the same muscles you would work when performing a push-up or crunch, you should focus more on strengthening their antagonists, or opposite muscle groups, because when you train one part of the body, you lengthen the other part. To have a stronger core, you also need to work your back muscles, increasing your strength overall. You can do so by strengthening the upper back, or rhomboid muscles, with exercises like dumbbell rows or TRX rows.
For an alternating dumbbell back row, first throw your hips back so that your upper body is almost parallel to the ground. With a dumbbell in each hand, alternate rowing your elbows up toward the ceiling, in toward your spine then gradually lower it down as you raise the other dumbbell up toward the ceiling. Keep alternating these two movements.
For a TRX Row, start off approximately 36 inches away from the TRX anchor, laying back all the way with your hands on each TRX handle, gradually contract your upper back and draw your shoulder blades towards each other as you pull yourself up towards the handles.
To train the muscles opposite to the ones we use for crunches, focus on doing exercises like Supermans and hip thrusts. These exercises strengthen the lower back and gluteus muscles.
Swap out standard crunches for these core strengtheners
In addition to strengthening your back body, you’ll want to add in exercises that work the same muscles as push-ups and crunches, but in much more effective ways. Rather than crunching endlessly, try replacing your standard sit-ups with pike planks, twist planks, and Spiderman planks.
For pike plank, start in a push-up position with your palms flat on the floor and your body rigid as a plank. Squeeze your abdominals as you round your back slightly and look down toward your toes. Then return to the beginning position again. Variations of this exercises like a twist plank includes bringing your right knee up towards your left shoulder, then returning it back to the starting position and alternating with the other side.
For a Spiderman variation of this, bring your right knee towards your right elbow squeezing your obliques, then bring it back to the starting position. Alternate with the other side.
For Superman, lie face down on the floor with your elbows bent at 90 degrees and your fingers at your temples. Make sure your legs are fully extended. Slowly raise your upper and lower body off the floor at the same time, leaving only your stomach grounded. Then lower the upper and lower body back down.
Push aside push-ups for these power moves
Rather than relying on push-ups, try swapping in dumbbell chest presses or flies to strengthen your upper body.
For a dumbbell chest press, lay back on a flat or incline bench with a pair of dumbbells, one in each hand. With your palms facing forward, drive the dumbbells up towards the ceiling as your contract your chest—then gradually return them back down to you—you should feel the stretch in your chest.
For dumbbell flies, lie back on a flat or incline bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Starting off with your arms extended up toward the ceiling and with a slight bend in your elbows, gradually open the arms away from each other, working toward a feeling of stretching your chest, being sure to keep a slight bend in the elbow. Then return the dumbbells up towards each other as you contract your chest.
For hip thrusts, light back on the floor with your knees bent and gradually drive your hips up towards the ceiling and contractor gloves and lower back, then gradually lower your hips back towards the ground.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.