cable crunch

Cable Crunch: Proper Form, Variations, Common Mistakes

In their desire to get a six-pack, people do all sorts of things to works their abdominals. Many of them are not as effective as people think. One exercise that undeniably works your abs though, is the crunch. There are many forms of crunches, with the most effective being the cable crunch.

In this article, I will explain why the seated cable crunch is the best single thing you can do to work your abs. I’ll also detail the correct form points and offer the best ab alternatives. 

Why Do the Cable Crunch?

The cable crunch is an exercise that develops your rectus abdominis, or ‘abs’. To understand why it is such an effective exercise, we need to understand the anatomy of the muscle that it works.

cable crunch muscles worked

The rectus abdominis is a flat band of muscle that covers the front of your torso from below the chest on the 5th, 6th, and 7th ribs to the pubic bone. Its job is to draw the upper and lower body together. When the abs contract, spinal flexion occurs, bringing the hips toward the ribs. 

It is important to appreciate that you have only one abdominal muscle. There is only one insertion point and one origin point. There is no such thing as upper abs or lower abs. That means that it is a myth to believe that you can do exercises to target either the upper or the lower abs – you cannot! 

The divisions that you see in well-defined abs are not separate muscles. They are in fact tendons. We all have them and they have been there since we were born. The number of divisions changes, with some people have four, most having six, and a few having eight. There is nothing we can do to change the number or shape of these abdominal divisions. 

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The crunch exercise is the best movement to work the abs because it simulates the biomechanical action of the muscle. For most people, however, doing the standard crunch with your back on the floor is too difficult to perform with proper form. As a result, they only perform ‘head and shoulder’ lifts.

To perform the crunch in a way that allows you to get the best out of it, you need to adjust the angle of the starting position. Beginning from a seated position allows you to get the ideal starting position. Adding resistance to cable machine exercises allows you to work the abs with progressive resistance. 

Cable Crunch Proper Form

Step-By-Step How-To

  1. Set a cable station pulley to its highest setting
  2. Position a bench with a back support a few feet in front of the cable machine.
  3. Put a rope handle on the pulley.
  4. Grab the handle and sit on the machine with your hands above your head.
  5. Crunch forward and down with the pivot point being the mid spine.
  6. Bring your elbows down toward your thighs.
  7. Contract the abs to maintain constant tension and then return to the start position. 

Cable Crunch Alternatives

We have already established that the best exercises for the abs involve some form of crunch movement. Alternatives to the weighted cable crunch are best as they allow you to use a precise weight stack resistance to progressively work the ab muscles. The next best ab exercise after the seated crunch is the kneeling crunch with cables. It is best to the exercise facing the machine and pivoting from the mid-back. 

The next best movement for your abs is the reverse crunch. In this exercise, you bring the pelvis toward the ribcage instead of the other way round. However, the effect of contracting the abdominal wall is the same.

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The third best alternative is the Swiss Ball Crunch. This version allows you to get a full extension and contraction as your body arches over the ball. The instability of the ball also brings your stabilizer muscles into play on this version of the exercise. 

Cable Crunch Variations

Step-By-Step How-To

  1. Set the pulley on a cable station machine at a high setting and put a rope attachment on it.
  2. Kneel about three feet in front of the machine, facing it.
  3. Hold the handles at head level.
  4. Sit back on your heels.
  5. Crunch down to bring your elbows down to your thighs. Be sure to pivot from your mid back.

Reverse Crunch

Step-By-Step How-To

  1. Lie on an exercise mat on your back and tuck your hands under your butt. 
  2. With knees slightly bent, pivot from the hips to draw your knees toward your ribcage.
  3. Tense the abs in the contracted position then lower to the start position. 
  4. Keep your feet off the floor at all times.

Swiss Ball Crunch

Step-By-Step How-To

  1. Lie on a Swiss ball with your hips and back on the ball and your feet firmly planted on the floor. Hold your hands by your ears.
  2. Crunch your abs to bring your elbows toward your thighs. Contract the abs in the crunch position.
  3. Return to the start position and repeat.

Cable Crunch Mistakes To Avoid

  • Not rounding the back – you do not want to perform a sit up like movement as that does not properly engage your abdominals. You need to pivot through the mid back in order to achieve full contraction.
  • Doing too many reps – the abs are like any other muscle; they get stronger and more developed with progressive resistance. Doing hundreds of reps with hardly any resistance won’t cut it. Use a heavier weight on each set and drop the reps until you are doing sets of 10 reps.
  • Wrong cable angle – the cable should come down from above and behind your body in order to fully engage the abdominal muscle fibers. 
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Final Thoughts

The cable crunch is the single best thing you can do for your rectus abdominis. Use it as your primary ab worker, doing 6-8 sets. Start with 30 reps and then work your way down to max heavy weight sets of 10 reps. Work your abs once every 5 days.

Frequently Asked Questions

What gym equipment is best for love handles?

The only way to get rid of love handles is to create a caloric deficit to burn off body fat. You cannot spot reduce so forget about doing any waist exercises to get rid of your love handles. Create a caloric deficit by reducing your caloric consumption and doing more cardio. 

Does the crunch get rid of belly fat?

No – the crunch will strengthen and develop the rectus abdominis muscle that lies below your belly fat. To get rid of belly fat you must create a caloric deficit to burn off the excess calories that are sitting around your stomach area.

How many reps should I do when training abs?

You should use a range of reps when training abs, from a high of around 30, down to a low of around 10. As you decrease the number of reps, use extra resistance on exercises such as the cable crunch.

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer based in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss.

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