Cut Out Those Crunches

Intermediate Routine
    Spinal Lift (3 to 5 reps)

This exercise teaches your abs and lower back to work in sync with each other while stretching and strengthening both muscle groups. This also increases posture awareness, and stretches the backs of your thighs.
  1. Sit up tall with your legs out in front of you and comfortably apart. Gently flex your feet. Extend your arms out in front of you, shoulders relaxed, palms facing in toward each other. Pull your abs in toward your spine. (Note: If you have trouble sitting up straight, bend your knees slightly.)
  2. Pull your abs inward even more, tuck your chin to your chest and round forward so your fingertips move toward your toes. Hold a moment and then roll back up to your tall starting position, trying to feel each vertebra stack directly on top of the one beneath it as you go. Hold a moment before moving into the next rep.

    The Folding Chair (8 to 15 reps)

This is an intense, all-around ab toner.
  1. Sit tall with your hands on the floor behind you and your legs bent and held up off the floor; in this position you are balanced on your butt and palms.
  2. Bend your knees in and move your chest forward so that they move toward each other and come together just over your hips. Hold a moment and then return to the start.

    Limited Leg Lower (8 to 15 reps)

You will feel this exercise mostly in your lower abs, but it is also a great all-around ab toner. (Note: If you have lower back problems, proceed with caution.)
  1. Lie on the floor with your hands behind your head. Lift your head, neck and shoulders up off the floor. Raise your legs straight up over your hips. (If holding your legs up straight is too difficult, you may bend your knees slightly.) Pull your belly button in toward your spine to anchor your back to the floor.
  2. Lower your legs toward the floor a very small distance, 1 to 2 inches at most. Slowly lift to the start. As you do this exercise, concentrate on keeping your abs tight and your back anchored. Do this exercise slowly to make sure you are powering the movement from your abdominal muscles rather than momentum.

    Slow Bike (8 to 15 reps each side)

Although this exercise zeros in on your obliques, it also gives the mid ab muscles a good workout.
  1. Lie on your back with your left knee bent toward your chest, your right leg extended and a few inches off the floor. Place your hands behind your head, fingertips touching. Curl your head, neck and shoulders up. Rotate from your middle so that your right elbow is pointing toward your left knee.
  2. Hold for a slow three count, then slowly rotate to the other side by bending your right knee and extending your left leg as your left elbow moves toward your right knee. Again, hold for a slow three count. Continue rotating to complete reps.

    Full Hover (3 to 5 reps)

This is an advanced version of the Hover in the beginner's routine. It works your abs even harder.
  1. Assume the raised pushup position by balancing on your palms and underside of toes. Pull your abs in so that your entire torso is in a straight line. Tuck your chin toward your chest.
  2. Lower yourself 1/4 inch or so by bending your elbows and hold for 10 slow counts. Focus on keeping your torso straight the entire time. To rest between reps, sit back on your heels and drape your body forward.

    Opposite Extension (3 to 5 reps)

This exercise strengthens and lengthens your lower back.
  1. Lie on your stomach with your abs pulled up and in toward your spine and your hipbones in firm contact with the floor. Stretch your arms out in front of you along the floor, directly in line with your shoulder joint and extend both your legs straight out behind you, directly in line with your hip joints.
  2. Lift your right arm and left leg 1 to 2 inches off the floor. Hold a moment. Slowly lower to the start and repeat with the left arm and right leg. Lengthen your body as much as possible. Pretend you're trying to reach something with your toes and fingertips that's just out of your reach. You'll feel a gentle pull through your lower back and a mild stretch down the entire length of your body.

 

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