iStock/luckyraccoonCrunches seem like a necessary evil if you want great abs, but does anyone really look forward to them? Thankfully, there’s one easy move that can whittle your middle, ease your back pain, and even boost your sex life—and you can do it wherever you are.
The problem with crunches is they only target the superficial “six-pack” rectus abdominis muscles, says licensed physical therapist Isa Herrera, MSPT, CSCS, founder of PelvicPainRelief.com and author of Female Pelvic Alchemy. If your abs are hiding under a little extra fat, crunches could actually make a belly bulge worse. Especially if you have the post-pregnancy pooch called diastasis recti, crunches can strain and separate the connective tissue between your abs, making it look like you have a paunch. (Here are 7 more common exercise moves that actually work against you.) Ditch the crunches and try one of Herrera’s favorite moves, which targets the transverse abdominal muscles deep in your core instead of the outer abs. (Don’t miss these other 8 moves that will flatten your belly without a single crunch.)
You can do the belly hold in any position—lying, sitting, or standing—but Herrera recommends first-timers start flat on the floor, facing the ceiling. Now draw your bellybutton back and up toward your heart. “You know that feeling when you put on your skinny jeans, and you suck in your belly and it goes in and up?” says Herrera. “That’s the transverse hold.”
To make sure you’re doing it right, place your fingers just below your hip bones. “You should feel a little contraction underneath your fingers,” says Herrera. Use just 30 percent effort so you don’t create too much pressure.
Hold the move for five seconds, then repeat five times, and do three to five sets throughout the day. Work your way up to holding the move for ten seconds, and pair it with this exercise that will flatten your belly in just 10 minutes.
One note: Make sure you keep breathing when you’re holding your belly in and out so you don’t keep constant pressure on your muscles. Count out loud so you don’t forget to exhale, suggests Herrera.
The move will slim your waist, but that’s just the beginning of the benefits the transverse hold offers. Unlike crunches, which are notoriously hard on the spine, the transverse hold can actually reduce back pain. The transverse abdominal muscle acts like a girdle around your lower back, and working it out will stabilize your back, says Herrera. As your back strengthens, you’ll naturally improve your posture and ease the back pain that comes with it. Check out these other 7 tricks for better posture and less back pain.
Oh, let’s not forget to mention this move could mean more wow-inducing sex because it strengthens the pelvic floor, too. “The stronger your vaginal muscles, the better your orgasms,” says Herrera. Check out these other 48 easy ways to improve your sex life.
Best of all, you can do this move anytime, anywhere (without getting weird looks). “There’s no excuse for not doing it,” says Herrera. “You can do it when you’re checking your e-mail.”
When you’re not working your core, try these 23 tricks for flattening your belly without exercise.