Crunches can be a great addition to your exercise routine to isolate your abs. You can also consider alternatives with similar results.
Some of the benefits of crunches include that they are great for growing and strengthening your abs and making them stand out more visually. However, that does not mean crunches are the only way to do this.
Some people find crunches uncomfortable on their backs, want to focus on different parts of their abs, or simply want to train more different muscles at the same time.
The crunch alternatives below can help with these things.
One thing to note before going into the examples is that targeting fat loss in significant amounts is generally not possible. The exercises below can help you build ab muscle but are not great for fat loss.
Sit-ups are one of the most popular core exercises so it may not be a surprising addition to a list of crunch alternatives. Take the following steps to do this exercise:
- Lie down on your back, preferably on a soft surface. Put your feet flat on the ground in front of your butt. Hold your arms against your chest.
- Gradually curl up your upper body until your chest is close to your knees. Start by raising only your shoulders and continue lifting parts of your spine off the ground.
- Slowly curl down your body again until you are back in the position of step 1.
Sit-ups can be a good substitute for crunches if you are interested in working other core muscles like your obliques and leg muscles like your hip flexors.
At the same time, the main muscle growth principles apply. That means you want to do about 3 to 6 sets of 6 to 25 weighted sit-ups to see the most results.
2. Ab wheel knee roll-out
Ab wheels are simply a wheel with a handle on each side. These pieces of fitness equipment do not look as impressive as something like a cable machine but they can be effective.
Take the following steps to do an ab wheel knee roll-out:
- Sit on your knees, preferably with a soft pad for comfort. Hold the ab wheel on the ground but keep your body straight from your knees to the top of your head.
- Slowly roll the ab wheel forward as far as you can keep your body straight. Advanced individuals can go on until their stomachs are right above the ground.
- Roll the ab wheel back into the starting position in a controlled motion.
Similar to crunches, ab wheels can help you grow your ab muscles. Additionally, this type of exercise works your oblique, hip flexor, and latissimus dorsi muscles.
If you like this engagement of other muscles, you can consider doing specific ab wheel exercises like the V-roll to focus more on your obliques.
3. Lying leg raises
Similar to many of the other crunch alternatives, having a thick exercise mat can make lying leg raises a lot more comfortable. Take the following steps to do this exercise:
- Lie down on an exercise mat or other soft surface. Keep your legs together and slightly stretched. You can put your arms next to you for balance.
- Slowly turn your hips and move them toward your chest as far as comfortable. To really isolate your abs, you want to keep your legs in the same position in relation to your hips.
- Lower your hips and legs to the ground again in a controlled motion.
Lying leg raises still work your ab muscles but because you are moving your hips instead of your shoulders, the movement will focus more on the lower muscle fibers.
Additionally, some people will find lying leg raises more comfortable on their lower backs than crunches.
4. Air cycling on the captain’s chair
The captain’s chair is an ab gym machine that comes down to a construction where your legs hang freely while you keep yourself in position with your arms on pads.
This position is great for movements where you want to be able to move your hips and legs to work different muscles.
More specifically, that means there are many ab exercises on the captain’s chair. These often make great alternatives to crunches.
One exercise example is air cycling. First of all, put yourself in the standard captain’s chair position. After that, take the following steps to air cycle:
- Raise one knee upward to the chest on the other side as far as comfortable. You definitely want to move your hips if you are interested in working your core muscles. Let your lower legs hang down throughout the exercise.
- Lower the elevated knee again.
- Repeat the same movement with the knee on the other side.
This exercise resembles doing sideways high knees in the captain’s chair.
A movement like that works your abs to move your hips up, your oblique muscles to turn your hips, and your hip flexors to raise your thighs.
If you really move your hips, the body weight version will likely be challenging enough. That being said, advanced individuals can wear ankle weights to make air cycling even harder.
5. Windshield wipers
Take the following steps to do two windshield wipers:
- Lie down on your back, preferably on a soft surface. Keep your legs together and slightly less than stretched for now.
- Raise your knees until your thighs are at 90-degree angles to your upper body. Keep your knees at 90-degree angles too. You can put your hands on the ground beside you for balance.
- Slowly move your legs to one side while keeping them in the angles above. Your hips will come off the ground on one side.
- Raise your legs back into starting position in a controlled motion.
- Repeat the same movement on the other side.
The windshield wiper is an exercise that focuses on a different part of your core muscles than crunches.
More specifically, instead of working the abs in front like crunches, this alternative focuses on your oblique muscles which are located on the sides/partly in front of your waist.
6. Russian twists
Take the following steps to do a Russian twist:
- Sit on a soft surface with your feet flat on the ground.
- Raise your feet slightly so that they are hovering above the ground. Keep your spine straight and at about a 45-degree angle to the ground. You can keep your hands together in front of your chest.
- Slowly rotate your upper body as far as comfortable to one side.
- Return your upper body to starting position in a controlled motion.
- Repeat the movement from step 3 to the other side.
The main technique attention points for Russian twists are keeping your spine straight and not twisting too far.
Even if you do this crunch alternative optimally, it may not be for you. People with back, neck, or shoulder issues likely want to pass on this exercise.
7. Cable crunches
Cable machines are big metal constructions where a cable is connected to weights on one side and free on the other. You can hold the free end to create resistance in a variety of movements.
As an example, take the following steps to do a cable crunch:
- Put the cable pulley in a high position, select the desired weight, and attach a double-rope handle.
- Sit on your knees in front of a cable machine, preferably on a soft surface, with your face toward the machine.
- Gab the cable rope handles and pull them down to about chest height.
- Do motions similar to regular crunches
One downside of crunches is that some people find them uncomfortable on their lower backs. Keeping this part of your body in the air should help at least somewhat in this area.
Another benefit of cable crunches is that you are easily able to adjust the resistance fast and precisely.
One potential downside of this crunch alternative is that some cable machines implement big weight jumps. This is not helpful for progressing in core muscle mass and strength.
8. Flutter kicks
Take the following steps to do flutter kicks:
- Lie down on your back, preferably on a soft surface. Keep your legs against each other and slightly less than stretched. You can put your arms by your sides for balance.
- Tilt back your hips and lower your lower back against the ground with the help of your ab muscles.
- Raise your legs until they are at 90-degree angles to the ground.
- Slowly lower your legs until right before it becomes too challenging to keep your lower back against the ground.
- Raise one leg a small amount while keeping the other leg in the same position.
- Lower this leg back to the position in step 4 while you start raising the other leg.
- Alternate between these positions to “flutter” with your legs for a certain number of repetitions or time.
Flutter kicks are a crunch alternative that works your abs in an isometric, more static, way. That means crunches will typically be more effective for growing and strengthening these muscles.
Even so, you may find flutter kicks more enjoyable and/or comfortable to do.
9. Roman chair twist
Roman chairs are metal constructions with hip support pads and feet anchors. These two parts are typically adjustable in height.
There are a variety of Roman chair exercises you can do. These tend to focus on core muscles which makes some of them good subsitutes for something like the crunch exercise.
One example is the Roman chair twist. Take the following steps to do this movement:
- Adjust the height of the pads and feet anchors so that your body is in a horizontal position in the next step.
- Take place on the roman chair butt/upper legs on the pad and your feet behind the foot support. Make sure you sit in place safely.
- Raise your upper body so it is at about a 45-degree angle to the ground.
- Slightly twist your upper body to one side and then to the other.
- Return to starting position.
Similar to Russian twists, Roman chair twists will mainly work the oblique muscles responsible for rotating your upper body. At the same time, you are engaging your ab muscles in a static way.
Roman chair twists can be a decent crunch alternative for people who are interested in focusing on different muscles.
Similar to some of the previous alternatives, planks are an isometric exercise. This means you do engage your muscles but you are not shortening or lengthening them.
On the other hand, crunches are a more dynamic, isotonic exercise. This type of movement tends to be more effective for growing and strengthening muscles.
Take the following steps to do a plank:
- Sit on the ground on your forearms and knees.
- Walk back with your feet until your body is in a straight line from your heels to the top of your head.
- Stay in this position for a certain amount of time.
Even though some of the other options on this list are more effective than planks for growing and strengthening ab muscles you could consider them anyway.
Mostly to improve muscle endurance in core muscles like your abs and obliques.