An abdominal workout composed solely of crunches is like a dental hygiene program that consists of brushing only the fronts of your teeth. Sure, crunches are a great way to strengthen abs, but if you really want a fit torso, you also need to do some "functional" work. Functional exercises force you to use your muscles the way you do in real life. They help you develop the strength you need to keep your torso stable while riding a bike or a snowboard, or even just to sit up straight in front of the computer. "Crunches work the abs in isolation," explains Leigh Crews, a Reebok master trainer and ACSM-certified fitness trainer based in Rome, Georgia. "And how often do you do a crunch in your life outside the gym?" Try adding these two exercises to your usual ab routine. They're two of Crews's favorite functional moves and are part of the new Reebok Final Cuts program she co-designed, soon to be out on video:
1. Foot Taps:
Lie on your back. Lift your feet off the floor, and bring your knees up so they are in line with your hips. Gently press the small of your back down to the floor. Slowly extend your right leg out and lower it toward the floor, contracting your abs and lower back muscles to keep your back in touch with the floor. Stop when you feel like your back is about to arch off the floor. Return the leg to the starting position (knees in line with hips) and repeat with the left leg. Be sure to move with control in both directions. Start with two sets of 8 to 10 repetitions for each leg, and work up to two sets of 12 to 15 reps.
2. Prone Planks:
Lie facedown on the floor with your toes tucked under. Bend your arms so that your forearms are resting on the floor in front of you and your elbows are directly under your shoulders. Raise your hips and push up onto your forearms, so that your body is balanced on your forearms and your toes. Keep your back in neutral alignment, using your abdominals to stabilize your torso so your middle doesn't dip down. Hold this position while you take three deep breaths. Release to the starting position and then repeat the move twice more. Gradually increase the length of time you hold the position, but never sacrifice form for time. If you find this exercise too difficult, try doing it on your knees instead of your toes.