The No-Crunch Workout

Add this sneaky abs-tightening trick to your total-body workout, and get a rock-hard stomach.

When you’re on the street, take notice of the guy at the construction site: he’s climbing a ladder, twisting, working with both hands. He’s not just isolating one muscle group—he’s using his biceps, quads, and his abs for balance. Or consider the hockey player taking a slap shot: he uses his abs as he shifts his weight from one leg to the other for rotational power. Any movement you do outside the gym uses your abs as stabilizers, and so should your functional raining program. If you’re just doing crunches—like most people—you’re training them wrong.

The abdominals can be broken down into four parts: the transversus abdominis (TVA), internal oblique, external oblique, and the rectus abdominis. Until you build up strength, train your abdominals in this order because that’s the sequence for fatigue.

Most people have difficulty activating the TVA, since it is the innermost abdominal muscle. But it’s a very important muscle, as it supports your spine. To strengthen it, try step one, below. When you can do that move easily, move on to steps two and three.

STEP ONE Lie down on your back, with knees bent. Bring your belly button in toward your spine. Make sure you’re able to breathe through your diaphragm and can speak during this movement. Hold for 10 seconds. Do two to three sets of 10 reps. Once you can do this move, try it again with your legs straight, then go onto the next step.

STEP TWO Identical to step one, but with an added Kegel exercise (like trying to cut off urine flow, where you tighten the pelvic floor). Again, hold for 10 seconds. Do two to three sets of 10 reps. Move on to the next step after you can handle this with ease.

STEP THREE Like step two. But this time lift one leg slightly off the floor. Hold for 10 seconds. Do two to three sets of 10 reps, and then do the other leg.


Once you learn how to activate the TVA properly, you can consciously engage it while doing the following exercises. Using your TVA will become easier and easier, and you’ll be stronger.

Do this with your hands on the floor or on a bosu, a device that looks like half a stability ball with a solid base. Before each push-up, activate your TVA by drawing your belly button up toward your spine. Starting from a raised position, do a push-up. Then, in the raised position, do a twist by putting your left leg under your right and turning your right hip up. Return your legs to parallel and do another push-up, followed by a twist to the opposite side. Do as many reps as possible. This exercise works your chest, triceps, and core.



Take a light dumbbell in your left hand. Hold it up over your head. Activate your TVA, drawing in your belly button. Lunge forward with your right leg, and step back to the starting position. Do 10 to 12 reps, then alternate for another set, with the weight in your right hand and lunging with your left leg. Once you advance, use a heavier weight or hold a dumbbell in each hand. Not only are you working your legs, but also your shoulders, back, and abdominal muscles. Your core helps you balance.