3 exercises for abs that are better than crunches, according to elite CrossFit athlete Kari Pearce

Courtesy of Kari Pearce

  • CrossFit star Kari Pearce said intense, non-traditional exercises help build abs better than crunches.

  • Her favorite underrated core moves include hanging leg raises with weight and hollow holds.

  • Pearce also loves high-intensity burpees to burn calories and body fat, the key to visible abs.

If you’re looking for strong, defined core muscles, crunches just aren’t going to cut it, according to Kari Pearce, a former elite gymnast and six-time CrossFit Games athlete.

“I definitely think crunches are an overrated exercise because people aren’t learning how to properly activate their core,” she told Insider.

Pearce is an expert in core strength and stability, able to rep out hundreds of weighted pull-ups and excellent in skill and strength exercises like handstand push-ups.

Now retired from competitive CrossFit, her PowerAbs and other workout programs help athletes of all sports and experience levels work toward the coveted six-pack aesthetic.

She said high-intensity exercises like hanging leg raises, hollow holds, and burpees are key for building muscle and burning fat to sculpt defined abs.

You can see results with short, fun workouts, Pearce said

Ab training shouldn’t be painful or boring if you’re doing it correctly — if your lower back aches, you’re likely not engaging your core correctly, which is ineffective and may lead to injury, according to Pearce.

You also don’t need to overdo it with a workout, as consistently training 10 minutes a day is enough to notice a difference, she said.

“If you have fun, you’re more likely to do it. You don’t have to work out for hours,” Pearce said. “If you hit it and hit it hard, you’ll have great results.”

Weighted hanging leg raises are a challenging move to make your abs show

For athletes seeking a challenge, Pearce said one of her all-time favorite ab exercises is a hanging leg raise, with added weight.

Start by positioning a medicine ball or dumbbell between your feet. Grab onto a sturdy pull-up bar into a dead hang, holding the weight pressed between your feet or lower legs. Slowly, with control, raise your legs parallel to the floor, so your body makes an L shape, and slowly lower.

To modify, you can try a hanging knee tuck with weight, bringing your knees to your chest instead of extending your legs out straight.

If the exercise is too challenging, drop the weight, since even your bodyweight will provide enough resistance to feel the burn — other physique athletes, like bodybuilder Dr. Sunny Andrews, swear by unweighted hanging leg raises for six-pack abs.

Burpees work the whole body, including abs, and help burn calories for more muscle definition

Pearce also likes to incorporate everyone’s favorite love-to-hate exercise, the burpee.

“Burpees are one of the best movements for working your abs to make them pop,” she said.

Burpee variations not only work core muscles like abs and glutes, but are high-intensity and involve multiple muscle groups to maximize calorie burn, which Pearce said is key if you want visible abs.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is thinking ab exercise is just going to melt stomach fat. We can build the muscles underneath and strengthen them, but they won’t show without losing body fat,” she said.

Hollow body holds are the underrated foundation of strong abs

One of the most effective, underrated core exercises is also one of the simplest, Pearce said.

The hollow body hold involves lying on the ground and pressing your lower back into the floor to raise your legs and shoulders with arms extended overhead, which is deceptively challenging.

A perfect hollow hold allows you to maintain tension and stability in a variety of other exercises to work your core more effectively.

“They’re very hard, but they’re the foundation for V-ups, tuck-ups, and bicycles,” Pearce said.

Beginners can start with variations like the dead bug and other scaled exercises to build up strength.

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