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Crunches are a popular ab exercise that is often done with just body weight. Find out what equipment you can use to make this exercise more effective or more comfortable.
Crunches are an exercise where you start lying down on your back on a flat surface with your feet planted on the surface. After that, you curl up your shoulders off the surface with the help of your ab muscles.
For resistance training beginners, bodyweight crunches may be challenging enough to build ab muscle. However, at a certain point, you may need to use equipment to make crunches more challenging. This way you can build more muscle for longer.
That being said, even resistance training beginners may benefit from some of the equipment that can help make doing crunches more comfortable.
You may notice that this list does not contain certain weird-looking crunch machines. This is because instead of benefitting your crunches, they generally make the exercise easier on your abs. In turn, this likely leads to slower progress.
If a full crunch is currently too hard you can start by lying down on the ground and pressing your lower back against the ground instead of investing in a machine that does not train your ab muscles that much.
Make sure you implement the right technique. And remember that even if you implement the right technique, crunches can be hard on body parts like your lower back and neck.
1. Yoga mat
A yoga mat is a mat of soft material, often foam, that is used to make many floor exercises a lot more comfortable. For an exercise like crunches, this is a great piece of equipment if you don’t have any other soft surface available to avoid back pain.
Besides crunches, a yoga mat can be used for a variety of other core and floor exercises, other exercise types like stretching, and as the name implies yoga. Another benefit of yoga mats is that they are very inexpensive.
If you plan to work out at home a lot, a yoga mat is generally not an unnecessary luxury.
2. Medicine ball
A medicine ball is a weighted ball that is made from relatively soft material and doesn’t bounce that well. This piece of fitness equipment can be used as resistance in a variety of exercises including crunches.
There are two main reasons why medicine ball crunches are better than other weighted crunches. The first one applies to if you want to keep the weight overhead instead of against your chest.
When doing crunches this way you preferably don’t drop the weight on yourself, but if an accident like this happens, you would rather hold a medicine ball than something like a dumbbell.
Besides that, you can throw a medicine ball. This makes it so you can do a more explosive type of crunch where you throw the medicine ball at the top of the movement. Training this way focuses more on muscle power instead of muscle endurance and strength.
Medicine balls are also generally a versatile piece of fitness equipment that can be used in many exercises for different body parts. On top of that, they are relatively inexpensive.
A potential downside of medicine balls is that they are often not great for one-handed exercises. This makes it easier to use one side of your body more than the other in certain exercises which can lead to muscle imbalances.
3. Exercise Ball
An exercise ball, also known as a stability or yoga ball, is a soft elastic ball. You can use this piece of fitness equipment to do exercise ball crunches which can be more effective than the regular crunches due to the increased range of motion for your abs.
One study measured the difference in muscle activation between regular crunches, exercise ball crunches with the ball against the upper back, and exercise ball crunches with the ball against the lower back.
They measured that exercise ball crunches with the ball against the lower back engaged ab muscles and obliques more than regular crunches.
And that in turn, regular crunches activated these muscles more than crunches with the ball against the upper back (1). This means the ball placement is very important when using this piece of crunch exercise equipment.
A benefit of exercise balls is that they can also be used in a variety of other exercises, especially in balance and flexibility workouts. Exercise balls are also relatively inexpensive.
A potential downside is that, even with the increased range of motion, individuals experienced with ab training may need external weights to make exercise ball crunches challenging enough.
4. Other free weights
Free weights are heavy pieces of fitness equipment that are not attached anywhere. Some examples of free weights are dumbbells, kettlebells, weight plates, a barbell, certain sandbags, etc.
Medicine balls are generally also considered free weights but when it comes to crunches they deserve their own section.
Free weights can be used to do weighted crunches. This is basically doing regular crunches but while holding a weight in your hands or against your chest during the exercise.
By doing this the crunch exercise becomes harder for your ab muscles which can in turn lead to more muscle gain faster at home or in the gym.
One of the benefits of free weights is that you can use them in a wide variety of exercises for many body parts. Besides that, they generally last an extremely long time. One dumbbell can potentially improve your workouts for many years and potentially even decades.
On top of that, many free weights do not really lose their value. This means that if you decide to stop using dumbbells or other free weights you can likely sell them for a very similar price as what you put into them.
The disadvantage is that free weights often require a slightly bigger investment compared to more short-term fitness equipment.
5. Bosu Ball
The next piece of crunch exercise equipment is a Bosu Ball. You can describe the Bosu Ball as the top of a stability ball attached to a flat surface. You can use it to do Bosu Ball crunches, the same exercise but while leaning against the round part of the ball.
By doing a crunch on a Bosu Ball instead of the ground you can increase the range of motion of your ab muscles. Similar to an exercise ball this can benefit muscle growth.
A possible benefit of the Bosu Ball is that this piece of crunch equipment requires less balance than the exercise ball while offering similar benefits. More generally speaking, the Bosu Ball can also be used in other exercises. Usually with a focus on improving your balance.
A potential downside of Bosu Balls is that they can be pricier than some of the other options on this list. If this is an issue, the Bosu Ball is a brand name. Off-brand alternatives may suit your needs too.
Something else is that individuals more experienced with ab training may still need free weights on top of the Bosu Ball to make crunches challenging enough.
6. Cable crunch attachment
The cable machine is a type of gym machine where a steel frame holds weights and pulleys. Thanks to the cable going through these pulleys and attached to these weights you can do many types of strength training exercises for a wide variety of muscles.
One of these exercises is a cable crunch. For this exercise, you sit in front of the cable machine, hold a cable attachment against your shoulders for resistance, and crunch down.
A more commonly used grip attachment for cable crunches is a double-rope handle. However, this is not the most comfortable option out there.
There is also something called a cable crunch attachment or harness. This is made of softer, more comfortable, material but ultimately gets used the same way.
The upside of this crunch exercise equipment option is that your cable crunches become more comfortable. The potential downside is that you have to invest in an extra piece of fitness equipment.
7. Sit-up bench
A sit-up bench is a type of decline weight bench with a foot anchor so you can keep yourself in place. As the name implies this piece of equipment is mainly used for a full sit-up. Even so, you can also stop at a crunch.
Because of the decline angle, your core muscles can go through a bigger range of motion under tension compared to a regular floor crunch. In turn, this can benefit ab muscle growth.
Another benefit of sit-up benches as a crunch equipment option is that they are comfortable due to the padded surface. Additionally, you can also use sit-up benches for other exercises.
One potential downside is that sit-up benches can be pricey if you plan to only use them as crunch exercise equipment. You will also need a decent amount of storage space and not all sit-up benches are versatile enough for many other exercises.