cable crunch alternative
Fitness

8 Cable Crunch Alternatives for Stronger Abs

Strong abdominal muscles are important, not only for an aesthetic physique but also to help protect against lower back pain.

Luckily, there are many options when it comes to training the abs. Research shows many crunch-type movements to have great activation of the upper and lower rectus abdominis muscles.

The cable crunch is a staple ab exercise in many programs. But sometimes, the equipment might be absent in your gym or otherwise occupied. If cable crunches aren’t available to you – or if you just want to try something different – this article is for you!

What are the alternative exercises for cable crunch?

1. Weighted crunch

This is a good alternative movement which can be used when you don’t have access to a cable machine. Any type of external weight will be sufficient to add tension to your crunch in place of the cable crunch exercise.

Equipment: Weight (plate, medicine ball, dumbbell, etc.)

Muscles Worked: Upper rectus abdominis

Instructions:

  • Lay on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Hold the weight behind your head, or on your chest if it is bulky.
  • Brace your abdominal muscles and flex your spine forwards.
  • Hold the top position for one second, then slowly lower down.
  • Repeat for 10-15 repetitions.

2. Ab crunch machine

Your gym may not have a cable crunch machine, but they might have a dedicated pin or plate loaded ab machine. This has the adjustable weight of the cable machine with the added comfort of a seated position.

Equipment: Ab machine

Muscles Worked: Rectus abdominis

Instructions:

  • Set up the machine to be able to pivot from the crease of the hip.
  • Hold the handles on either side of the head and tuck the legs behind the pad.
  • From the starting position, crunch down and bring your knees toward your chest, keeping constant tension as you return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 8-12 reps.
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3. Decline Bench Crunch

This exercise uses gravity as resistance, and can be made more challenging with added weight, instead of the adjustable cable machine. These benches are found in almost any gym.

Equipment: Decline or incline bench

Muscles Worked: Upper rectus abdominis

Instructions:

  • Set up on the bench with your knees at the higher end and head at the low end.
  • Curl your upper torso toward the ceiling, lowering down with control.
  • Once you can easily perform 15 reps, try adding extra weight.

4. Bosu Crunch

One of the benefits of cable crunches is the extra extension you get at the top of the movement. This Bosu crunch gets a similar stretch to the abdominals, with a more compact piece of equipment than a cable rope crunch.

Equipment: Bosu ball

Muscles Worked: Rectus abdominis

Instructions:

  • Sit on the edge of the Bosu, and lay back with your hands supporting your head.
  • Sink the hips and head down to get a good stretch on the abs, then crunch your head and hips upward.
  • Lower down with control, and repeat for 10-12 quality repetitions.

5. Fit Ball Crunch

This variation adds an element of balance and core control to the mix. This can be done at the gym or at home in place of the crunch cable machine.

Equipment: Fit ball (a.k.a Swiss Ball or Gym Ball)

Muscles Worked: Rectus abdominis

Instructions:

  • The technique is the same as the Bosu crunch, however, the feet will be shoulder-width apart and the knees bent at 90 degrees.
  • Keep the same action through the trunk as you plant your feet for balance.
  • Repeat for 10-15 reps.
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6. Ab Wheel Rollout

Another common piece of equipment that can be used in place of cable abs exercises is the ab wheel. Rather than load the abs with weight, this challenging exercise requires the abs to stabilize the trunk through extension.

Equipment: Ab wheel

Muscles Worked: Rectus abdominis, deep core muscles, lower back stabilizer muscles.

Instructions:

  • Start in a kneeling position with your shoulders placed above your hands holding the ab wheel.
  • Keeping a hollow body position, extend outwards as far as you can, or until the wheel is in an overhead position while your chest faces the ground.
  • Contract the muscle fibers of your abdominals as you crunch back to the upright position.
  • Work with low reps up to 5-10.

7. 90/90 Crunch

This is a great exercise for the upper abs, suitable for those at an intermediate experience level. The instability of the legs being lifted requires concentration to perform the ab movement under control.

Equipment: None (floor mats for comfort)

Muscles Worked: Rectus abdominis, hip flexors

Instructions: 

  • Lay on the floor, having the legs with knees and hips bent 90 degrees.
  • The range of movement in this exercise is the same as regular crunches on the floor, bringing the shoulders towards the knees.
  • Maintain total-body tension and repeat the movement for 12-15 reps.

8. Medicine Ball Sit-Up + Throw

This exercise is an explosive alternative to weighted cable crunches, working your trunk power and core control. Recruit a workout buddy to perform this movement with you for a fun partner exercise!

Equipment: Medicine ball

Muscles Worked: Rectus abdominis, hip flexors, pec major, anterior deltoids, triceps

Instructions:

  • Assume a lying sit-up position with a medicine ball on your chest.
  • Maintaining a neutral spine, sit up quickly, throwing the ball against a wall or to a partner.
  • Catch the ball, and control the negative range of movement on the way down.
  • Repeat for 8-10 repetitions.
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Conclusion

We hope this article has given you plenty of inspiration for alternatives to use when cable ab exercises aren’t an option. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are cable crunches bad for your back?

Not if you perform them correctly. In fact, the advantage to cable crunches is that they assist you in extending the spine, only providing load as you contract down with gravity. If you have back pain, consult a physician before undertaking any exercise program.

Are cable crunches enough for abs?

Even with heavy weight, cable crunches aren’t an all-in-one abs exercise. They are great for the upper rectus abdominis, but the “six-pack” muscles are just one aspect of a well-rounded physique. You also need to include deep core exercises, and twisting movements for the internal and external obliques.

What is the best workout for abs?

As mentioned above, a complete ab workout should include exercises for the upper and lower abs, obliques, and deeper core muscles. A well-rounded abs session should comprise of about 4-6 exercises covering these different aspects.

Jesse Hyson

Jesse Hyson is an Accredited Exercise and Sports Scientist with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. Jesse is currently completing a Master of Clinical Exercise Physiology at Charles Sturt University, Australia.

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