Military Muscle: Bob Thomas' 4 exercises for a killer core — without crunches

Can you build a strong core without crunches?

You’re probably saying, “Hey, crunches are still part of our PRT. I have to practice them, and our PT leaders have them in the PT sessions.”

It’s true that situps are still part of the services’ physical readiness assessments, although some of the services in recent years have considered eliminating the crunch from their PT tests.

But there are many ways to get these muscles up to speed to complete the required number of crunches on your twice-yearly tests — especially when you consider that even slow-speed situps slam about 730 pounds of compression on the spine, according to a 1997 study.

All the more reason to ditch the crunches and try these deceptively-hard core exercises.

I’ve left out front and side planks, which are super exercises, because many of you are already doing them.


The Walkout (shown at top)

You’ll feel the abdominal tension increase as you get farther out.

Start in a full-up pushup position, with your hands just outside your shoulders.

Stiffen your abs while keeping your back neutral and feet stationary. Walk your hands out until your arms are at about 45 degrees, and then walk them back to the start position.

Progression. Use a wheel or slides and “roll/slide” out and back. You’ll find that keeping your back neutral throughout will require you to really tighten your ab muscles to pull you back to the start. Start on your knees and progress to starting in the pushup position. (Chris is using the Perfect Ab-Carver Pro, we’ll have a review on this soon.)


Side to side with a weighted bar

Start with an unweighted Olympic bar until you have the technique down, then add a weighted plate.

Put one end of the bar where the wall and floor meet. Face the wall and grip the bar toward the top, below where the weight would be.

Stand back so that your arms are slightly raised and straight (the bar will be angled from the wall).

Stand facing the wall. Bring your hands down to the outside of your hip. Your shoulders will be twisted in the direction of your hands, but your hips and back should be as neutral as possible.

Activate your obliques and trunk — not your arms — to bring the bar back to the start. Now repeat to your other hip and return to the start.


Overhead cable pulls 

Start with a light weight so you can develop the technique. Stand facing away from the cable, with both hands over your head and grasping the cable handle.

Walk a bit forward so your hands are just behind your head. Stand on one leg.

Pull the handle slowly forward until your hands are just forward of your head.

Slowly return your hands to starting position and repeat.

Progression. Use a band (again, start easy). Attach it so when level, it’s above your head. Start in the same position (there will be tension on the band). This is progression because the band’s resistance increases as it is stretched.


‘Stir the Pot’ 

This one is popular with ultimate fighters.

Using a physio ball, get into pushup position, resting your forearms on the top of the ball with your hands clasped.

Use your forearms to drive the ball in a large circle. Do several repetitions in one direction and then reverse. You’ll feel the tension focused in the middle of your abs.

Discipline is required to keep your back still; the motion should come from your shoulders.

Bob Thomas is director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla. Email him at jomof4@cox.net.

Demonstrating this workout is Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Chris Bonner, a Coast Guard aviator who has been coaching CrossFit since 2008. He’s also a Military Muscle alum. His first appearance in OFFduty was for this brutal workout from Bob.

Do you want to be in an upcoming issue? Here’s how.

Sara Davidson

Sara Davidson is an ultrarunner and contributor to PT365. She's run 7 marathons and 32 ultramarathons -- including her first 100-miler. This fall she is training for the Marine Corps Marathon using our PT365 Run Plan. Reach her at sdavidson@gannett.com .

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