11 Best Cable Crunch Alternatives (With Pictures)

11 best cable crunch alternatives (with pictures)

Cable crunches are a great core exercise that can build your abdominal muscles, which is why they are performed by bodybuilders, strength athletes, and general gym-goers.

However, cable crunches rely on the use of a cable column, which can be a barrier to those who do not have access to a cable machine, either because you work out at home or the cable machines are always busy at your gym. 

Not being able to do cable crunches should not stop you from training your abdominals though, so I’ve put together a list of the best substitutes.

The 11 best cable crunch alternatives are:

  • Reverse Crunch
  • Seated Medicine Ball Throw
  • Jack Knife Pullover
  • Crunches
  • Sit Ups
  • Roman Chair Leg Raise
  • Hanging Leg Raise
  • Garhammer Raise
  • Decline Bench Sit Up
  • Toe Touches
  • Russian Twist

In this article, I will go through what makes this list of exercises great alternatives to the cable crunch, how to perform them, and tips to make the most of them.

I will also include variations that involve the use of: (1) your own bodyweight, (2) a Roman chair, and (3) a free weight bench. My goal is for you to feel like you can train your abs regardless of what equipment you have available.  

What Makes A Good Cable Crunch Alternative?

What makes a good cable crunch alternative?

A good cable crunch alternative will be able to satisfy the following:

  1. Target the abdominal muscle groups
  2. Be able to progressively overload your abs with additional weight

Let’s cover both of these criteria below.

Target The Abdominal Muscle Groups

The muscles worked in the cable crunch exercise are:

  • Rectus Abdominis
  • Transversus Abdominis
  • External Obliques
  • Hip Flexors

The primary muscle group responsible for the cable crunch is the rectus abdominis. This is the part of the core that traditionally looks like the 6-pack muscles.  The rectus abdominis’ main function is to bend the body forward and flex the spine.  

The transversus abdominis (the deep core muscles that sit below the rectus), external obliques (the side part of your core that sits below your lats), and hip flexors will be secondary muscle groups.

Takeaway: Any substitute for the cable crunch will need to primarily activate the rectus abdominis, which will involve a lot of bending-type core movements rather than twisting-type core movements.  

Be Able To Progressively Overload Your Abs With Additional Weight 

Due to the nature of using a cable machine to train the abs, you can progressively overload through two ways:

  • Increase the number of total reps performed in the workout
  • Increase the load that is performed for the same sets and reps prescription

It is easy to increase the total number of reps for many different exercises, but there can be a limit to how much you can keep on increasing reps before the exercise plateaus or the workout becomes boring for you.

Takeaway: It is important that the cable crunch alternative can provide the option of being able to load resistance to the exercise.  It’s not enough that you can simply perform more sets and reps with your body weight.  You must have the option to add weight to the movement.

Cable Crunch Alternatives: 11 Exercises

1. Reverse Crunch

The reverse crunch is an easy alternative to the cable crunch that you can perform anywhere from your home to the gym. You can perform this exercise with just your body weight or hold a dumbbell between your feet if you want to load it.

The abs are targeted through moving your lower body as opposed to moving through your upper body as you would do with a cable crunch.  Regardless, your rectus abdominis is still targeted, making the reverse crunch an effective substitute.

How To Do It

  • Lie down in a face up position with your arms by your side
  • Bend your knees at 90-degree angles with your feet close together and calves parallel to the floor
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale when you are about to crunch
  • Execute the exercise by bringing your knees back towards your chest and lift your lower back and hips off the floor
  • In a controlled manner, return your lower back and hips to the floor and bring your feet back to its initial starting position
  • Ensure that your knees maintain 90-degree angles at all times

Pro Tip

To load the reverse crunch, your can hold onto a dumbbell between your feet or attach your ankles to a cable machine using a cable ankle attachment.

Ensure that the cable is set to the bottom position of the cable column and that your feet are far enough away from the cable column so that there is constant tension in the cable throughout.

Alternatively, wrap your feet around a resistance band that is attached to a fixed anchor and ensure that the anchor is on the same level as the ground.

2. Seated Medicine Ball Throw

The seated medicine ball throw is a challenging alternative to the cable crunch that is performed more explosively. Ideally, you should use a medicine ball, but you can use a wall ball as an alternative. 

The seated medicine ball throw can be made harder with a heavier ball. It can be performed either by throwing the ball against the wall or using a partner to pass the ball back and forth to.

How To Do It

  • Start in a sit up position with your torso lying face up on the floor with your knees bent at 90-degree angles
  • Ensure that you are facing a wall
  • Hold a medicine ball just above your head
  • Perform an explosive sit up and thrown the ball at the wall
  • Catch the ball and hold the ball above your head
  • Return back to the floor in the start position

Pro Tip

If you are training with a partner, you can get your training partner to hold your feet down by standing on your feet.

If you do not have a training partner, you can keep your feet down by putting a weight disc on top of your feet.

For powerlifters, core training should be an integral part of your GPP (general physical preparedness) workouts. Check out the article GPP Workout For Powerlifters: What Is It, How To, Benefits to learn more about structuring your GPP workouts.

3. Jack Knife Pullover

The Jack Knife pullover is a great alternative to the cable crunch that you can perform at home or in the gym. It is a versatile exercise that can be loaded with different weights. You can load this exercise either by holding a weight in the hands, holding a weight by the feet, or both.

If you want to feel it more in the upper abs, you can hold the weight only by the hands. If you want to feel it more in the lower abs, you can hold the weight only by the feet. If you want to make this more specific to the cable crunch though, hold the weight in your hands. 

How To Do It

  • Start by lying down in a face up position with your arms straight above your head and knees slightly bent
  • Ensure your lower back is flat on the floor to begin with
  • Simultaneously bring your arms and legs together and crunch your abs and lift your upper back off the floor
  • When you bring your arms and legs together, bend your knees more and bring your arms towards the shins
  • When you reach the end range of motion, return back down to the bottom position

Pro Tip

You can use a fixed load such as a dumbbell or weight plate to load this exercise. Alternatively, you can use a changing load by holding onto a resistance band by your hands or attaching it to your feet.

If you do use a resistance band, make sure that there is still tension in the resistance band even when your legs and arms are stretched out.

4. Crunches

Crunches are the simplest alternative to the cable crunch that most people are familiar with. They can be loaded by holding a weight in your hands. You can either keep your arms straight with the weight above your head or hold onto a weight by the chest. Ideally, you want to use a flat weight such as a weight disc if you hold it by the chest.

How To Do It

  • Lay down on the floor in a face up position with your feet hip-width apart and knees bent at 90-degree angles
  • Hold your fingertips by the side of your temple
  • Take a deep breath in before exhaling when you execute the exercise
  • Crunch your abs and lift your upper back off the floor
  • Slowly return your upper back off the floor and breath back in

Pro Tip

It can become easy to cheat with this exercise by trying to explode off the ground, which may result in your feet coming off the ground.

You will find it useful to gently press your heels into the ground and squeeze your glutes to stabilize your lower body.

Another good cue to think about is to lift your shoulders vertically up towards the sky as opposed to bringing your shoulders diagonally towards your knees.

5. Sit Ups

Sit ups are similar to crunches but offer a longer range of motion, which makes it more specific to the cable crunch. It also engages the hip flexors slightly more than crunches.

You can load the sit up by holding onto a weight and keeping your arms extended above you throughout the range of motion.

How To Do It

  • Lie down on the floor in a face up position with your feet hip-width apart and knees bent at 90-degree angles
  • Hold your fingertips by the side of your temple
  • Take a deep breath in before exhaling when you execute the exercise
  • With a flat back, lift your torso off the floor as high as you can
  • Bring yourself back down to the floor in a controlled manner

Pro Tip

If you feel tension in your lower back when you perform the sit up, make sure that your lower back is flat to start with. A common cause of pain is starting from an over extended back where there is too much space between your back and the floor when you lie down.

If you continue to experience lower back pain, make sure that you stretch your arms to the sky, squeeze your glutes and gently push your feet away from you to create tension in your thighs. 

6. Captain’s Chair Leg Raise

The Captain’s Chair leg raise requires the use of a piece of equipment called the Captain’s Chair and a dumbbell. This exercise should be performed in a controlled manner as much as possible to maximize how much you use the abs without over-relying on the hip flexors.

To load this exercise, you can hold onto a dumbbell between your feet or use ankle weights if you have access to them.

How To Do It

  • Hold yourself up on the Captain’s Chair station by keeping our elbows on the elbow pad and hold onto the handles
  • Ensure that you keep your shoulders depressed and not shrugged up, and keep your back flat against the back pad
  • With your knees straight, take a deep breath in and exhale when you lift your legs up until your back comes off the back pad
  • Slowly return your legs back down until your body is fully extended

Pro Tip

To make the most out of each rep when you do this exercise, it is important to minimize how much momentum you use to cheat the exercise. Two common ways people reduce the effectiveness of this exercise is not controlling the downward movement and bouncing from the bottom of the range of motion.

To fix this, slowly count to 3 on the descent and add a 1-second pause at the bottom before initiating another rep.

A good core strengthening routine can be beneficial for powerlifters with scoliosis. If you have scoliosis, find out more ways you can keep powerlifting while keeping your spine healthy in the article How To Powerlift With Scoliosis (Complete Guide)

7. Hanging Leg Raise

The hanging leg raise can be performed on a Roman Chair, pull-up bar, or with a power/squat rack. This is an advanced alternative to the cable crunch that will require you to have strong grip and back strength to help you complete multiple sets and reps.

How To Do It

  • Hold onto a pull-up bar or the top bar of a power cage and take a deep breath in
  • Raise your legs with straight knees until your legs are parallel or above parallel, and exhale
  • Slowly lower your legs back down until your body hangs fully vertically

Pro Tip

 A common problem people may experience is the swinging of the whole body between reps. As you lower your legs to finish the rep, you’ll oscillate back and forth no matter how slow you are.

There are two things you can do to reduce this. The first is to never let your legs fully relax and extend at the bottom so your body is in a vertical line. Keep your legs slightly in front of you to maintain tension in your hips and help keep your body rigid as you’re hanging from the bar.

The second thing is to bring your shoulder blades downwards and engage your mid back muscles to prevent your shoulders from shrugging. This not only places less stress on the shoulder joint but allows you to keep your upper body tight so you can maintain control of your body.

8. Garhammer Raise

The garhammer raise is similar to the Captain’s Chair leg raise or hanging leg raise but easier to execute. You can load this variation by holding onto additional load by your feet, which makes it a great alternative to the cable crunch.

How To Do It

  • Hold onto a pull-up bar or onto the top bar of a power cage and take a deep breath in
  • Bend your knees upwards until your knees rise higher than your hips and crunch in your abs
  • Slowly lower your legs back down and straighten your legs to the initial start position with a fully extended vertical body

Pro Tip

While your hip flexors are used in the cable crunch and you do want some activation in alternative exercises. there is a tendency for the hip flexors to take over entirely in the garhammer raise. This reduces the activation of the abdominal muscles.

You can increase activation of the abdominals by leaning your torso back to about 15-20 degrees from vertical.

9. Decline Bench Sit Up

The decline bench sit up is a popular alternative to the cable crunch that is performed on a decline free weight bench. The great thing about the decline bench sit up is that you can change the level of difficulty just by increasing the angle of the bench.

To perform this weighted, you can use a weight disc or dumbbell that is held at your chest or with your arms overhead throughout the execution of the exercise.

How To Do It

  • Sit on a decline bench and set the decline angle to a level appropriate to your experience. The larger the angle, the harder the exercise.
  • Hold your fingertips by your temples and take a deep breath in
  • Crunch your abs, lift your torso off the bench, and exhale
  • Return slowly back down until your back is flat on the bench pad

Pro Tip

A useful cue to think about when doing decline sit ups is to roll your shoulders off the bench first while keeping your lower back flat on the bench. This will help prevent excessive tension going to your lower back.

10. Toe Touches

Toe touches are an intermediate alternative to the cable crunch that can easily be performed at home. They can be loaded by holding onto a pair of weight discs in your hands. To progress this exercise, you can simply increase the weight.

How To Do It

  • Start by lying down face up with your legs as vertical as possible and the bottoms of your feet pointing towards the ceiling
  • With straight arms held vertically, lift your torso of the floor and reach towards your feet as much as you can
  • Return your upper back down to the floor with your arms still kept vertical

Pro Tip

If you find this exercise difficult and feel unstable, you can try performing this by a wall with your legs resting against it. If you have the flexibility, you can put your buttucks against the bottom of the wall and have the backs of your legs rested vertically against it.

If you do not have enough hamstring flexibility, you can move your buttucks about 1 foot away from the bottom of the wall and just have your heels lying against the wall.

Regularly training the abs can help you achieve an optimal bar path on squats and deadlifts. Learn more about proper bar path in my articles Best Bar Path For Squats and Best Bar Path For Deadlifts.

11. Russian Twist

The Russian twist is an easy alternative to the cable crunch and is generally performed with a weight rather than just body weight.

Due to the rotation aspect of this exercise, there is a higher engagement of the obliques, but the abdominals still work very hard in this exercise. The hip flexors are also engaged but play more of a stabilizing role.

How To Do It

  • Sit with your knees bent at 90 degrees and your torso held diagonally at about a 45-degree angle to the floor
  • Keep your heels about 1 to 2 inches off the ground
  • Hold onto a medicine ball, dumbbell or weight disc by your lower torso
  • Rotate the external load to the left, then to the right, and return back to the center

Pro Tip

As there is a rotational movement involved in the Russian twist, you activate the obliques more than you would while doing a cable crunch. However, there is a way to make Russian twists more specific to the cable crunch.

Rather than twisting your torso, keep it stationary and reposition the added load from the left to the right. Your head and torso should continuously be facing forward.

Your obliques will still be worked as they prevent your torso from twisting. But by keeping your midline rigid, the rectus abdominis and other core stabilizers will be in a constant state of tension and can help you increase anti-rotational stability, which can benefit your squats and deadlifts.

Other Core Resources


About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach

Norman Cheung

Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com