Aren’t you tired of doing the same old crunches in an attempt to get a flatter stomach and stronger core? Especially since research shows that standard crunches don’t really do the job that well because they target only a limited number of core muscles. Brad Schoenfeld, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and author of Women’s Home Workout Bible, recommends five unique, effective and fun-to-do exercises…and there’s not a traditional crunch in the bunch.

Schoenfeld’s core makeover works the abdomen and sides, as well as the mid-back, low-back and hip areas—muscles essential for maintaining good balance and posture and preventing back pain (not to mention looking good in form-fitting clothes). His exercises require no equipment and can be done at home on a mat. (As with any new exercise activity, get your doctor’s OK before beginning.)

You can work your core muscles every day as an add-on to your regular exercise session or as a stand-alone mini-workout. Unless otherwise indicated, try to do 10 repetitions of each move…as you improve, increase to 15 or 20 reps.

Toe touches target the abdominal muscles, especially the upper abs. Start: Lie face-up, arms and legs extended straight up toward ceiling. Raise head several inches off floor…raise upper back slightly to maintain tension on target muscles. Move: Contracting abs, curl torso up and forward as much as possible, reaching for toes, while keeping lower back on floor…hold for a count of one…slowly return to starting position.

Side jackknives work the sides of the abdomen. Start: Lie on left side, legs straight and together. Bend left arm and prop yourself up on left forearm, so left side of torso is several inches off floor. Bend right elbow and place right fist gently against right ear, so right elbow points toward ceiling. Move: Raise right leg about 18 inches…at the same time, bend at right side of torso (without twisting) to raise torso as high as you comfortably can, bringing right elbow closer to right leg…hold for a count of one…slowly return to starting position. After one complete set, repeat on opposite side.

Superman strengthens the lower back and buttocks area. Start: Lie face-down with arms stretched out overhead and resting on floor…legs straight and together…and head and neck aligned with spine. Move: Keeping front of torso on floor, tighten buttocks muscles and simultaneously lift arms and legs off floor as high as possible (as though flying like Superman)…hold for a count of one…slowly return to starting position.

Reverse curls focus on the lower abs. Start: Lie face-up on floor, arms at your sides. Bend knees and bring them toward chest until buttocks are lifted slightly off floor. Move: Contracting abs, tilt pelvis toward chest and raise buttocks as high as possible while keeping mid-back and upper back pressed against floor…hold for a count of one…slowly return to starting position.

Bird dog builds strength in the entire core. Start: Get down on hands and knees, keeping back straight and head aligned with spine. Move: Straightening left leg, simultaneously extend left leg and right arm until they are parallel to floor. Hold for as long as possible…slowly return to starting position. Repeat on opposite side.

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