Crunches are a staple of most ab workout plans, and rightfully so. They are easy to perform, require little to no equipment, and have a ton of variations.
Whether you’re a beginner or advanced, there’s a crunch variation for you.
The 15 best types of crunches are:
- Ab Machine Crunch
- Bicycle Crunch
- Cable Crunch
- Decline Crunch
- Exercise Ball Crunch
- Balance Trainer Crunch
- Balance Trainer Overhead Crunch
- Balance Trainer Single Leg Crunch
- Balance Trainer Cable Crunch with Side Bends
- Handle Band Crunch
- Oblique Crunch
- Standing Oblique Crunch
- Tuck Crunch
- Reverse Crunch
- Cocoon Crunch
Below I’ll describe each of these crunch variations, including how to do them properly and who would benefit the most.
If you’re looking for more core workouts, check out the Fitbod app and get 3 free workouts.
15 Types of Crunches
Below are 15 of the best crunch variations to add to your workouts.
Note for Fitbod Users: All 15 of the crunch variations below can be found in the Fitbod app, and each one comes with a video explaining proper form to go along with the how-to sections below.
1. Ab Machine Crunch
The ab machine crunch is a machine exercise that allows you to train the abs with heavier loads. These are great for adding resistance to your ab training above and beyond just your own body weight.
- Start by adjusting the seat and handles of the machine to fit your body size. Every machine is slightly different, so be sure to read the instructions on your specific ab machine crunch piece.
- Once you have figured out your set up, add some weight and focus on using the abs to crunch your upper torso downwards.
- Make sure you are not using your upper body to pull down in the handles.
- Pause at the bottom of the crunch and flex your abs, then slowly raise your torso upwards keeping tension on the muscle.
Pro Tip: Try to relax your arms as best as you can so that you are not able to pull the handles down with the upper body only.
2. Bicycle Crunch
This bodyweight crunch is a combination exercise that trains both the standard crunch and the obliques by adding a twisting movement. This is a more advanced crunch exercise, so be sure you are able to do regular crunches and reverse crunches properly before attempting this.
- Lie on the ground with your lower back flat against the floor.
- Place your hands either behind your head or across your chest.
- With the legs straight out in front of you, either keep your feet on the floor or keep them up off the ground a few inches.
- Perform a crunch, lifting your torso up off the ground but still keep your lower back flat on the floor.
- When you are almost at the top of the crunch, rotate your torso so that your left elbow touches your right knee.
- Lower yourself down, and extend both legs out front again, and then repeat reps, making sure to alternate every rep (right elbow to left knee, left elbow to right knee).
Pro Tip: Think about lifting your torso up first, and then add a rotation at the top. Keeping this movement slow and controlled will help you feel the muscles working better.
3. Cable Crunch
The cable crunch is a weighted cable exercise that is great for adding strength and muscle mass to your abs. Often, people will train the abdominals with light loads and high reps, making this exercise a great one to add more direct loading to the abs.
- Set a cable to the highest point, and attach a rope to the end.
- While kneeling, grab the handles and make sure you are about 2 feet from the base of the cables.
- With your hands by your ears (grabbing the rope), perform a crunch so that your chin goes to the floor.
- Pause at the bottom, and then reverse the movement, keeping tension on the abs throughout the entire range of motion.
Pro Tip: Think about relaxing the upper body as much as possible so that you can isolate the abs as best as you can.
4. Decline Crunch
The decline crunch is a crunch performed on a decline bench. By performing this crunch, you increase the range of motion and can target more of the lower abdominals.
- Lie down with your feet secured onto a decline bench.
- With your hands across your chest or behind your head, lift your torso up until your lower back starts to come off the bench.
- Pause there, and then slowly lower yourself without losing tension on the abs, and repeat.
Pro Tip: When doing this, try not to swing your arms to help or jerk your head upwards. Instead, focus on feeling the lower abs helping you up.
5. Exercise Ball Crunch
Performing a crunch on an exercise ball (physio/stability ball) can be a good way to help people who may find discomfort performing crunches on the floor. Exercise ball crunches are also a good way to add some instability to increase the difficulty of the movement.
- Lie on an exercise ball with your lower back supported on the ball. The more your torso hangs off the ball the harder it will be.
- Lie backward, making sure to keep your stability and control the movement.
- Do not let your lower back arch at the bottom of the movement.
- Perform a crunch, making sure to keep your lower back on the ball, and repeat.
Pro Tip: Having your feet wider will help you maintain control during this movement. Focus on finding stability first, and then you can start to add load.
6. Balance Trainer Crunch
The balance trainer crunch is like the exercise ball crunch in that it offers some instability to increase difficulty, but not to the same degree.
Since the bottom of the balance trainer is flat, you do have some stability, which may help you be more ready to add external load while still mixing in some instability training.
- Lie on a balance trainer with your lower back supported.
- With your hands across your chest or behind your head, lower your torso towards the floor.
- Do not let your lower back arch at the bottom of the movement.
- Lift your torso back up with your abs, and repeat.
Pro Tip: By doing this on a balance trainer, you can often lie backwards more than you would on the floor, therefore increasing the range of motion. Make sure you do this to stimulate more muscle.
7. Balance Trainer Overhead Crunch
The balance trainer overhead crunch is done just like the balance trainer crunch, with the only difference is your hands are overhead and may or may not be holding a weight.
- Set yourself up on a balance trainer the same way you would with a normal balance trainer crunch.
- Lie backward, and reach your hands up towards the sky. You can hold a weight in your hands or not.
- Perform a crunch, making sure it keeps the weight directly above your head.
- Lower yourself slowly after each rep, and repeat
Pro Tip: Think about the weight overhead as a bowl of water, DO NOT let the water spill.
8. Balance Trainer Single Leg Crunch
Balance trainer single-leg crunches are a good way to train one side at a time, which may be needed if you have trouble feeling one side of the abs more than the other.
- Set yourself up the same way as a normal balance trainer crunch.
- Perform a crunch, with only one leg down off the ground.
- The other leg should be pulling into the chest at the top of every crunch.
- Repeat on the other side.
Pro Tip: If you find this challenging, try to first start by doing this exercise with only one leg on the ground, and omit the other leg being pulled into the body.
9. Balance Trainer Cable Crunch with Side Bends
This is where you perform a balance trainer crunch in combination with a lying weighted cable crunch. This is a good exercise to add loading and attack both the abs and obliques at the same time.
- Lie on a balance trainer with your lower back supported, with your head about 2-3 feet away from the cable stack.
- The cables should be set to a low proposition, with the rope attachment.
- Lie back and grab the rope with your hands, and perform a crunch with the torso, all while holding the rope ends by the ears.
- At the top of the crunch, perform a side bend taking your right elbow towards your right knee, then repeat on the other side.
- From there, lower yourself down under control, and repeat.
Pro Tip: If your head is getting hit by the cables, then you may need to raise the cable setting up an inch or two.
10. Handle Band Crunch
This is done similarly to the cable crunch, however, a handle band is used instead of the cable stack. This is a great way to get similar benefits when you do not have access to a cable stack.
- Set a handle band around a high anchor point.
- Grab the handles and take a knee, positioning your body below the anchor point
- Perform a “cable” crunch (see above), and repeat.
Pro Tip: If you only have one band thickness, you can grab higher up on the hands, or wrap the band around your hands to create more tension and increase the difficulty.
11. Oblique Crunch
This small movement targets the obliques, and is done by lying on your side and performing a crunch.
- Lie on your side.
- With your hands behind your head, lift the torso upwards, taking your top elbows towards your top hip.
- Make sure to paise at the top, then lower your torso and repeat for reps, then switch sides.
Pro Tip: Try doing these on an exercise ball or balance trainer, as this will help you increase the range of motion and get more out of the movement.
12. Standing Oblique Crunch
This is the standing version of the oblique crunch and can be a great way to train the obliques with weights.
- Stand up with your hands to your sides.
- With weight on your right arm, slowly lower the weight alongside your right thigh, allowing the left side of your torso to stretch.
- At the end of the movement (as far as you can go), lift your torso back upright using the left side of your abs.
- Repeat for reps, then switch sides
Pro Tip: At the top of the movement, lean over to the opposite side to get a full muscle contraction before going into your next rep.
13. Tuck Crunch
A tuck crunch is a crunch in which you also perform a reverse crunch by pulling the knees into the chest simultaneously. The tuck crunch is also called a double crunch, and it works both the upper and lower abdominals.
- Lie down on the ground as you would a regular crunch.
- With your feet straight in front of you, lift the legs off the ground by a few inches.
- Perform a crunch with your torso, while also pulling in the knees to the chest.
- Pause, and then straighten the legs back out and lower the torso to the ground, and repeat.
Pro Tip: You should be able to do reverse crunches properly before attempting this movement.
14. Reverse Crunch
The reverse crunch is a movement that works the lower abs and has you pull your legs into the body rather than lifting your torso upwards.
- Lie on your back as you would a crunch
- Straighten your legs out in front of you, and lift them off the floor by a few inches.
- Pull the knees into the chest, while keeping your torso down on the ground.
- Tuck your knees into your chest, and then straighten them back out, making sure to keep the lower back on the floor, and repeat.
Pro Tip: Focus on keeping your lower back pushing into the floor. A lot of people let their lower backs arch as they straighten their legs, which is incorrect.
15. Cocoon Crunch
The cocoon crunch is like the tuck crunch, however, the hands start extended behind your head and the end “tuck” position is different. This exercise works similar muscle groups to the tuck crunch and is roughly the same difficulty.
- Lie on your back with your arms and legs extended. This will create a full-body stretch.
- Lift the torso upwards while simultaneously pulling the knees up to the chest.
- Your arms should be lifted upwards and out in front of you as if you are trying to touch your heels
- Pause in this position, and then reverse the movement making sure to keep tension in the abs.
Pro Tip: Resist the urge to swing your arms around to aid in the movement.
Ready to take your training to the next level? With the Fitbod app you can create awesome workouts using exercises just like the ones in this article by selecting what muscles you want ot train, what equipment you have access to, and your specific workout goals. Check out the Fitbod app today to get started.
5 Mistakes to Avoid When Doing Crunches
Mistake 1 – Using Too Much Momentum
Using excessive momentum such as swinging your arms may help you get “more reps”, but the stimulus will be less in the abs and more across the entire body.
When using excessive momentum, just know that you are sending stress throughout the body rather than being hyper-isolated to the abs.
Mistake 2 – Not Keeping Lower Back on the Floor
This is a huge issue and requires a lot of attention to detail by most people.
Keeping your lower back actively pushed into the ground will help you engage your abs more, keep tension on them even at “rest”, and minimize excessive stress on the lower back.
Mistake 3 – Not Lifting with the Abs
This goes along with mistakes 1 and 2, however, most people are not aware of feeling their abs working during crunches.
Make sure to focus on what you’re doing, slow down the movement, and feel the ab muscles contracting.
Mistake 4 – Not Controlling the Lowering Portion (Eccentric)
Lowering yourself under control not only helps protect the lower back but also helps you get more muscle growth and stimulus, every rep.
Training the lowering portion of the lift (eccentric) means you do not just let gravity take you to the floor.
Think about laying back down after a crunch as if you were laying on a bed of sharp nails. Slow and soft landing.
Mistake 5 – Not Pausing at the Top
Milking the top part of the crunch is a great way to get an awesome abdominal contraction.
Take a brief pause at the top to feel the abs contracted, and work that for a second or two each rep to maximize each rep.
Are Crunches Effective for Building and Strengthening the Abs?
For beginners, crunches are a great way to build strength and muscle in the abs. As someone progresses and becomes stronger, they will need to integrate external loading with their crunches (weighted crunches, cable crunches, etc) to get the same results they once did when they were a beginner.
When measuring the effectiveness of ab training, most people will use a metric like, “can I visibly see my abs?”
The issue with this is that without losing body fat in the abs, doing abs alone without diet modifications, no matter how many crunches you do, will not result in you having more visible abs.
Therefore, be sure to track your progress and effectiveness by seeing your progress in the number of reps you can do, how the muscle feels when training vs relaxing, and if you do start a diet, then measure your visible progress as well.
3 Benefits of Doing Crunches
Below are three benefits of training crunches, and the other crunch variations listed above.
Build Basic Core Strength and Muscle Endurance
Crunches are a great place to start with training your abs directly, as they limit the amount of spinal flexion and extension and are a shorter range of motion than most other ab movements.
This will allow you to train crunches and the variations in a wide range of rep range working both strength and muscle endurance.
Easy to Do Anywhere
Most crunch variations require nothing more than your body and a floor.
This can be great for anyone who wants to train abs but does not have access to a full gym or who finds themselves traveling a lot.
Can Be Scaled or Progressed for Any Level
Crunches are a type of movement that allows you to increase or decrease the difficulty by swapping one variation for the next.
Because most variants require little to no equipment, crunches are great for integrating into large workout groups.
Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try 3 free workouts on Fitbod.
Crunches are a very diverse type of ab exercise and are suitable for nearly every level of lifter.
Adding churches to your workouts can help you build ab muscle, build core endurance, and aid in all other lifts that require a stable midsection.
Be careful not to allow your lower back to move around too much, and always focus on keeping your rep speeds controlled for the best results.