Reverse crunches can be a great exercise but not everyone likes them. Discover some alternatives to this exercise that offer similar results.
In reverse crunches, you raise your hips to your chest while keeping your legs folded. This movement is a great way to learn exactly how it feels to move your hips instead of your legs.
Additionally, you work your ab muscles, more specifically the lower part, a nice amount. Many people find reverse crunches also more comfortable on their backs than many other crunch variations.
That being said, there are also substitutes that offer some or all of the same benefits.
Whether you don’t enjoy reverse crunches, they are too easy, or you want an alternative for any other reason, you can give these other options a try.
1. Hanging knee/leg raises
For the first exercise, you need some form of hanging set-up where your legs can move around freely. Some examples include a captain’s chair or pull-up bar.
Once you have one of these, take the following steps to do a hanging knee or leg raise:
- Take place on a captain’s chair by putting your arms on the supports, and back against the back support. Let your legs hang down for now.
- For the knee raise, start raising your knees held together upwards. Let gravity do its work on your lower legs throughout the exercise. For the leg raise, you keep your legs stretched but in this step, they just hang downwards.
- Slowly raise your knees to at least hip height for the knee raise or your feet to at least hip height for the leg raise. Once you are at your highest point you can hold for a second or less.
- Lower your legs back into the position in step 2 in a controlled motion.
To make this movement as close to a reverse crunch alternative as possible, you want to mainly move your hips. Not your legs in relation to your hips.
If you are not familiar with how this difference feels, you likely want to start with reverse crunches anyway. This makes the difference between a lower ab muscle and hip flexor muscle exercise.
Additionally, if you are more of a core training beginner, you can start with knee raises. These are generally less challenging than leg raises. If that is still too hard you can start by only raising your knees a small amount.
On the other hand, if bodyweight leg raises are not challenging enough you can use something like ankle weights to do weighted knee and leg raises which are more difficult.
2. Ab wheel rollouts
An ab wheel is a small piece of fitness equipment that is a wheel with two handles. You will need one of these for the next reverse crunch alternative.
Additionally, a soft surface under your knees can make things a lot more comfortable. Once you have the required equipment, take the following steps to do an ab wheel knee roll-out:
- Sit on your knees on the soft surface. Hold the ab wheel on the ground right in front of you.
- Stretch your hips so that your body is in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Roll forward in a controlled motion, preferably until your stomach is right above the ground.
- Slowly roll back into the position of step 2.
If you are more of a core training beginner you can start with smaller distances instead of until your stomach is right above the ground.
Ab wheel rollouts are different from reverse crunches in that they focus on all parts of your ab muscles, not only the lower part. This can be a benefit or downside depending on your training goals.
A downside of this option is that while it is relatively budget-friendly you do need to invest a small amount to be able to do ab wheel rollouts. Something to keep in mind is that there are also other ab wheel exercises to choose from.
3. Pike crunches
Pike crunches are another exercise that requires some equipment. Most people use an exercise ball but you could also use sliders. Take the following steps to do a pike crunch with an exercise ball:
- Put your hands in front of the exercise ball and your chins on the ball.
- Stretch your body and arms. In starting position you want your shoulder to be above your elbows.
- Slowly lift your hips as far as comfortable and safe. At the same time roll the ball forward by moving your legs more to the front of the ball.
- Lower your hips back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
Most people want to avoid lowering their hips more than the point where their legs and upper body make a straight line.
To make pike crunches more of an alternative to reverse crunches you also want to focus on mostly using your ab muscles, not your hip flexors, to do the movement.
If you do this right, pike crunches can offer you a nice lower ab workout without having to lie down on your back. Some people find this position uncomfortable.
The main downside of pike crunches is that it is hard to make the movement harder. Individuals more experienced with core training may find this exercise too easy.
4. Regular crunches
The next reverse crunch alternative is relatively straightforward but a reminder about this exercise is worth it. Take the following steps to do a regular crunch:
- Lie down on your back with your legs bent at the knees and your feet flat on the ground.
- You can place your hands behind your head, cross them over your chest, or put them anywhere else. The point is to not really use your arms or move them during the exercise.
- Raise your head and shoulders from the ground as much as possible while keeping your lower back on the floor. Make sure you don’t use your arms but your ab muscles to do this movement.
- Lower your head and shoulders until you are back in the starting position.
Some people are also interested in replacements for reverse crunches to work similar muscles but in a slightly different ratio.
Regular crunches definitely fit this description. They still work your ab muscles but with more focus on the upper abs instead of the lower abs like reverse crunches.
As long as the regular version is not painful on your back, it is likely worth considering. If bodyweight crunches are too easy for you, you can hold some form of weight against your chest to make the movement more challenging.
5. Bicycle crunches
You don’t necessarily need any equipment for the next exercise but something like a yoga mat or other soft surface at home or in the gym can make bicycle crunches a lot more comfortable. Take the following steps to do this exercise:
- Lie down on your back with both your hips and knees at a 90-degree angle. Hold your hands against the side of your head with your elbows pointing sideways.
- Raise your shoulders and push your lower back against the ground with the help of your ab muscles.
- Slightly turn your upper body to one side and reach with your elbow to the knee of the opposite side (for example your left elbow to your right knee) while stretching the leg of the side of the elbow you use while still keeping it off the ground (continuing the example stretching your left leg).
- Bring the stretched leg back into the starting position and repeat with the other side. Keep your shoulders off the ground during the exercise.
Bicycle crunches are another example of a reverse crunch alternative that focuses on your core muscles in a different ratio.
This time, the focus is a lot more on your obliques. Your ab muscles do still have to work a nice amount too. Whether you like this or not depends on your training goals.
One thing to note is that if reverse crunches feel uncomfortable on your back, you likely don’t want to do bicycle crunches.
Additionally, you may need to hold something against your chest and/or wear ankle weights to make bicycle crunches challenging enough for muscle growth and strength progress.
6. Lying leg raises
Take the following steps to do a lying leg raise for training your abs:
- Lie down on your back with your legs stretched and right next to each other on the ground. Put your arms on the ground at your sides for balance.
- Slowly turn your hips and move them toward your chest. In theory, your legs should not really move relative to your hips. You can go as far as raising your lower back off the ground. Keep the middle of your back on the ground.
- Slowly lower your legs back to the ground.
Lying leg raises are basically the advanced version of reverse crunches. If you want something more challenging but don’t have anything that can be used as fitness equipment, this alternative could be the right choice.
One thing you do want to keep in mind is that it also becomes more challenging to use your lower abs and not your hip flexors to move your legs.
If you don’t feel your abs fatiguing (fast) during lying leg raises, your technique can likely use some improvement. In a situation like that, it can be smart to take a step back and to really master reverse crunches first.