Having a good set of abs has become a staple feature in fitness advertising these days; so, it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of attention that gets directed at this area.
The abdominal muscles are there to help stabilize your core as well as to keep your internal organs in place; so yeah, they’re pretty essential both visually and functionally.
The muscles that make up your abdominals are used as stabilizer muscles in the majority of big lifts; some of those being the Squat, the Deadlift, and the Overhead Press. As much as you will stimulate your abs performing these exercises; it’s important to add some direct work in there, too.
In this article we’re going to run through 9 cable crunch alternatives you can do should you not have the equipment available or fancy mixing up your routine a little. For a quick summary though, the exercises you can do instead of a cable crunch are:
- Weighted Crunch
- Ab Crunch Machine
- Stability Ball Crunch
- Ab Wheel Rollout
- Decline Bench Crunch
- Hanging Leg Raise
- Medicine Ball Twist
- Kneeling Resistance Band Ab Crunch
- Medicine Ball Slams
What is a Cable Crunch
The muscles that make up your abdominals are used as stabilizer muscles in the majority of big lifts; some of those being the Squat, the Deadlift, and the Overhead Press and, as much as you will stimulate your abs performing these exercises; it’s important to add some direct work in there, too.
A strong core can provide a surprising amount of assistance in your lifts and just like any other muscle group; they require resistance to grow.
When you think of regular crunches; you’re most likely picturing yourself in a pool of sweat, lying on your back, frantically raising and lowering your upper torso whilst thinking of Arnie’s midsection.
Cable crunches involve the same movement as a regular crunch, but with additional resistance added by using the rope attachment on a cable machine.
The body is in a different starting position to a regular crunch but the movement remains the same. You start in a kneeling position whilst holding the rope attachment above your head, pulling your torso down toward the ground and engaging your abs throughout.
Correct form is very important when performing this exercise; as you’ll see in the video below.
Cable crunches work both your upper abs and lower abs as well as the deeper core muscles that we cannot see; they specifically target the rectus abdominis or the ‘six pack’ muscles that we are all so heavily impressed by these days.
Cable Crunch Alternatives
1) Weighted Crunch
Weighted crunches are a great staple to include in your ab routine purely because of their simplicity.
All you need is yourself and some form of resistance; whether that’s a weight plate, kettlebell, medicine ball, etc. This is a nice step up from regular crunches if you’ve gotten to the point where they aren’t stimulating enough tension and need to do endless reps in order to feel muscle fatigue.
By adding resistance to this move you’re also increasing the stimulation of your obliques (The muscles that form the outer layer of each side of your abdominals) as well as your lower back. This is due to the increased need for your stabilizer muscles to keep your balance during the movement.
2) Ab Crunch Machine
When adding resistance to crunch variations we are also adding more strain on our lower back; so, it can be hard to progress with the movement once you get to a certain weight threshold (like we touched on above).
This is where the ab crunch machine comes in useful.
This machine can help streamline the movement of your crunches to ensure you are targeting the muscle group as intended. It also makes it a lot easier to get a real ‘squeeze’ at the most contracted part of the movement.
One thing to note is that although this machine simplifies the movement for you; it also means you’re not using as many of your deep core muscles to stabilize yourself so there’s less activation within your obliques and inner core.
3) Stability Ball Crunch
The major benefit of stability ball crunches is the fact you can expand the range of motion in comparison to a regular crunch.
Using a stability ball for your abs workouts can help engage smaller core muscles that some of your more standard exercises don’t; this is because these additional muscles help keep you balanced on the ball throughout the movement.
These smaller core muscles are neglected when working with an ab crunch machine, as your body is locked in place.
We’ve talked about the importance of these core muscles throughout this article; so, any way to further engage those muscles is a positive!
4) Ab Wheel Rollout
Ab wheel rollouts are a very effective way of targeting all areas of your core, but they’re also one of the most difficult exercises to perform correctly. If you perform this movement incorrectly you can cause significant damage to your lower back.
I’d personally consider this to be more of an ‘advanced’ ab exercise due to needing some existing core strength to maintain the correct form.
If you’re wanting to incorporate this exercise into your routine but you lack the core strength needed; a good way to build yourself up to using the Ab Wheel would be to start out with planks. This way you can get used to being in a similar position and learn to focus your attention on your abs rather than your lower back.
Related – Ab wheel rollout alternatives
5) Decline Bench Crunch
The decline bench crunch is another great variation of a regular crunch and therefore makes it a good cable crunch alternative too.
It’s important not to be raising your torso too much in this movement; as you want to fully engage your abs instead of relying on your hip flexors and lower back.
Focus on keeping your lower back in contact with the bench throughout the move. When compared with a cable crunch or a regular crunch; decline bench crunches start with the body in a more elongated position, so you’ll be getting more range of motion and thus, more activation.
Note that there is a difference between a decline crunch and a decline sit-up.
Decline sit-ups involve actually lifting your torso off the bench and ‘sitting up’… so to speak.
Doing so requires engagement from the lower back and your hip flexors. So, make sure you know which variation you are intending to do as the gray line between these two movements is pretty thin.
6) Hanging Leg Raise
This movement can be performed on any pull-up bar in a gym as long as you are high enough off the ground that you cannot touch the floor.
In this movement, you are raising your legs to around a 90-degree angle; making sure that your legs and hips are in line, then lowering your legs back down to the starting position in a controlled manner.
A great benefit of this movement is increased grip strength – as you are holding your body weight whilst hanging.
You’re also reversing the movement as most exercises are directed toward stimulating the abs to start with a ‘top down’ approach to working the abs; as in, the movement is going to engage the top of your abs before the bottom.
With hanging leg raises you’re activating the lower abdomen first and then moving to the upper. You can also perform the movement and twist your legs/hips slightly during the move to target your obliques.
Tip – If you don’t have the room to hang fully, you can also do hanging knee raises which use the same range of motion but are slightly easier to do than having your legs fully extended.
7) Medicine Ball Twist
Also known as a Russian Twist, the medicine ball twist is a fantastic way to target the abdominal and oblique muscles simultaneously.
You’re hitting a lot more of your core stabilizer muscles during this movement too! It targets both your internal and external obliques as this movement is focused primarily on twists.
This is also an easy exercise to perform at home or at the gym – If you cannot get your hands on a medicine ball; any type of weight plate/kettlebell/water jug can easily work as a replacement.
This is another movement that requires focus on your form; as you need to be mindful that you aren’t rounding your back as you’ll add a lot of stress to your lower back if so. It can be a good idea to get used to this movement without any form of resistance, to begin with.
Always remember that form > weight for better ab development.
8) Kneeling Resistance Band Ab Crunch
You’ll notice from the video that this movement falls in line with the cable crunch. The execution of this exercise is exactly the same.
The benefit here is that you have more opportunities to perform this movement without having to wait for a cable machine to be free.
Resistance Bands are great to use as a transition from regular crunches to cable crunches or if you don’t actually have access to a cable machine for those training at home.
Sometimes when we are advancing with our strength; we may be too strong for a specific movement (say.. a regular crunch) but, simultaneously too weak to perform the next movement up, which would be a cable crunch in this example.
This is where resistance banded ab crunches can help out as you can perfect this movement first before moving on to the heavier weights involved in a kneeling cable crunch.
Performing this exercise can help you really execute the correct form, before moving on to a more advanced exercise.
9) Medicine Ball Slam
So we’ve saved the best until last. The best also being the most physically demanding of the lot.
Medicine ball slams are a very simple exercise yet also very challenging. They’re designed to improve your core strength as well as benefit your cardiovascular health.
A medicine ball is designed not to bounce; so, you really can take out your pent-up frustration with this movement. It truly is a great stress reliever.
Make sure your feet are shoulder-width apart, you are to raise the medicine ball over your head and then throw it to the ground with as much force as physically possible; pick the ball up (making sure not to round your back) and continue to repeat the movement.
This is more of a full body exercise rather than targeting a specific muscle group; when performed right it can help build muscle in your core, glutes, quads, forearms, upper back, and arms.
It will also drastically improve your cardio levels; try doing 10 rounds of medicine ball slams instead of 10 minutes on a treadmill and you’ll see what I mean.
As much as it can be impressive to own a good set of abs; we’ve now learned about the importance of these ‘glamor muscles’. They actually play a vital role in our everyday lives as well as in the gym.
Having a strong core will greatly improve your posture and improve your balance and stability; as your weight is distributed more evenly.
It’s important to remember that building a strong core doesn’t mean you’ll automatically have visible 6 pack abs.
To achieve this requires a lower body fat % which would involve a period of time eating at a calorie deficit. Nevertheless; whether they’re visible or not, you’ll benefit greatly from having a strong core both inside and outside of the gym.
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