By Aaron Boike, B.S. Kinesiology, ACE Certified Personal Trainer, NESCA Certified Running and Ultrarunning Coach | Personal Trainers in Edina MN

There is no muscle group that gets quite the level of attention that the abs do. Everyone wants a strong, toned, and functional midsection that not only looks good, but helps them perform their best. This idea is well founded, there are a total of 19 muscles that attach in the core and in order for our extremities to function properly, those core muscles need to be strong and well trained. The standard crunch is actually not a bad exercise, but it only really focuses on one aspect of the core strength; flexion. If we want to achieve functional core strength, we need to focus on movements beyond the basic crunch and look at movements that feature stabilization, rotation, flexion, and extension. Here are five of the best:

The Knee Tuck Plank

This exercise beautifully combines a flexion and stabilization into one movement. Simply start in a plank position and aim to pull one knee in at a time, bringing it as close into the chest as possible while maintaining a plank position and full extension of the other leg. This exercise is highly recommended for runners, hikers and bikers, as it helps to train proper pelvic position for all of those activities.

Hanging Knee Raise 

The lower abdominals play a huge role in knee extension. The hanging leg raise takes advantage of that to target the lower abdominal muscles more specifically. To perform this exercise, hang from a bar (or use the elbow straps if your gym has them) and tuck the knees up toward the chest, aiming to lower them under control and without swaying back and forth.

Medicine Ball V-Sit and Toss

Medicine Balls offer a dynamic and fun way to train the core. This exercise combines stabilization and flexion to hit the whole abdominal area. To perform, grab a medicine ball and lay flat on the floor with a solid wall in front of you (don’t throw the med ball at drywall!). Reach the ball to touch your toes before returning to the start position and throwing it into the wall as you perform a sit-up. The video also highlights an alternative that can be done without a wall.

The Cable Torso Rotation

No core program is complete without a rotational exercise. While there are dozens to choose from, the Cable Torso Rotation is not only basic and easy to learn, it is highly effective! To perform this exercise attach a D-handle to the cable station and stand perpendicular to the machine. Rotate 180 degrees away from the machine and back. Aim to keep the core tight by pulling the navel into the spine and ensuring your low back does not arc.

Ab Rollouts 

We’ve saved the best for last! The Ab Rollout is a stellar core exercise that focuses primarily on stabilization, but puts a heavy eccentric load on the core, helping to tone and sculpt the midsection. To perform this exercise grab a ball or ab roller and start in a knee plank position. Roll the ball or ab roller and roll it out in front of you until you can no longer keep the core engaged before returning to the start point in a knee plank.