For years, we would lie down on the floor, put our hands behind our heads and lift and lower our upper bodies all in an effort to get those six-pack abs. Some celebs claim they do hundreds of crunches a day to stay in shape and achieve a flat stomach. Many core-focused gym classes will often include crunches as part of their program. But let’s face it—if they worked, we would all be walking around with cover-model worthy abs by now. The truth is that crunches do not work the way we think they do—unless a sore neck is the goal.
So, what do you do to get a toned and tightened stomach? The first thing you should do is stop focusing on doing exercises that are unnatural (how many times a day do you lift and lower just your upper body) and ineffective. Most professional athletes, fitness competitors and exercise experts do not get their great abs from doing crunches. Instead, they do exercises that rely on their core muscles as stabilizers to correctly and efficiently do the exercise. This means that every time they do these exercises, their core muscles are getting a workout as well thus eliminating the need to do an infinite number of crunches.

Taking this information into account, your next step is to always think about contracting your abs and using them every time you exercise. Consider push-ups for a moment. You know that you are not only relying on upper body strength, but also core strength to hold that plank position during the movement. Pull-ups, whether assisted or not, also require a lot of tightening of the abdominal muscles which are needed to assist you in pulling your body up to the bar. The same principal should be used when you are lifting weights—contract your abs every time you lift and lower the weights.

What you may not realize is that whenever your hands are above your head or they are lifting something overhead (like a shoulder press, for example), your abs are doing a lot of work. Try this out and feel the difference—instead of doing a regular squat, put your hands behind your head and squat. If you really want a challenge, hold a pair of weights overhead and do a squat. This will kick your abs into high gear as they need to keep your entire body stabilized so that you can perform the squat correctly. You can do the same thing with lunges. Just remember to go slow—especially if you are using heavy weights.

In addition to weight lifting, there are many cardio-based exercises that work your abdominals just as well. Mountain climbers, burpees, bench vaults and box jumps all engage your core muscles. Incorporating these exercises into your workout will be a lot more beneficial for finding your six-pack than simply crunching. If you still want to include crunches as part of your routine, try doing them on a stability ball or BOSU. Even better—do roll-outs with a barbell or with your toes on a stability ball. Be sure to extend your body as much as possible and contract your abs as you roll forward and back. Hanging leg raises or hanging toes-to-the-bar touches are also better alternatives to basic crunching. Make sure you are not swinging, but rather squeezing your abs to get your legs lifted.
Finally, there is one more piece of the six-pack puzzle—diet. All those rollouts, mountain climbers, squats and push-ups will not do much good if you are not eating clean. Pay attention to your diet, making sure sugar, salt and processed foods are all but gone. Stick with the basics of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and healthy fats and you cannot go wrong. Before you know it, you will be itching to bare all and show off that chiseled midsection!