SPOILER ALERT: CRUNCHES and situps are not the secret to six-pack abs. According to a recent editorial in Navy Times, the U.S. Navy is making moves to banish the traditional situp from their physical-readiness test, which sailors must pass twice each year.

In fact, repetitive or excessive spinal flexion (e.g., bending your chest toward your knees at the back) is just about “the worst thing you can do for your back,” says David Larson, C.S.C.S., a strength coach at Pulse Fitness in Scottsdale, AZ. In addition to swapping crunches for some more complex moves (detailed below), proper diet is essential for carving out that six-pack—just ask any fitness model or strength coach. But here are six key exercises to get you started on making your abs the best they’ve ever been.

1. Pullup

Grasp a pullup bar with a grip that’s slightly wider than shoulder width. Pull your shoulder blades down and back, bend your legs behind you, cross your feet, squeeze your butt, and brace your abs (this ensures your core gets worked). This is the start position (a). Pull yourself up until your collarbone reaches the bar, driving your elbows down toward your hips (b). Return to the start position (c). If unable to pull yourself up, loop an exercise band over the bar and around your knees.

Sets: 3  Reps: to failure  Rest: 120 seconds between sets

2. Medicine Ball Slam

Grab a fairly light-weight medicine ball and hold it up above your head (a). Keeping your torso totally upright with good posture, throw the medicine ball directly downward at the ground as hard as you can (b). Just be careful: Some bounce back!

Sets: 3  Reps: 20  Rest: 60 seconds between sets

3. Ab Wheel Rollout

Kneel on the floor with your knees directly under your hips and your hands directly under your shoulders holding the handles of an ab wheel. Slowly push your hips forward and roll the ab wheel out, keeping your back flat and allowing your arms to extend in front of your body (a). As soon as it feels like you can’t roll anymore without the risk of falling, push your palms toward the floor, simultaneously squeezing your abs and pushing your hips back toward the start position until you reach it (b).

Sets: 4  Reps: To failure  Rest: 90 seconds between sets

4. Pallof Press

Attach a D-handle to a cable cross machine and adjust the pulley to chest height (a resistance band around a pole works, too). Stand about two feet away from the machine and pull the handle to your chest (a). If your right shoulder is closest to the machine, your right hand should hold the handle and your left should be more of a guide. While bracing your core, push the handle straight out, so the handle stays directly in front of your chest (b). Slowly return the handle to your chest (c).

Sets: 4  Reps: 10 on each side  Rest: 60 seconds between sets

5. Barbell Landmine

Wedge one end of a barbell in the corner of two walls. Lift the barbell up by the other end and hold it on your chest (a). Next, press the barbell directly out from your chest with both hands, fingers laced (b). Keeping your arms straight, rotate from your shoulders to one side, then to the other. Return to the start position (c).

Sets: 3  Reps: 10 on each side  Rest: 120 seconds between sets

6. The Pendulum

Lie on the floor flat on your back and raise your legs until you have a 90-degree bend at the hips. Keeping your legs straight, lower them to the right, allowing them to come almost all the way to the floor (a). Return the legs to the upright position and then lower them to the left (b). Repeat in this fashion until all prescribed reps are performed.

Sets: 4  Reps: 10 to each side  Rest: 60 seconds between sets

by Michael Schletter, C.P.T.