The side crunch is a popular oblique exercise in the weight room. But to me, there are much better exercises for targeting the obliques.
The 10 best side crunch alternatives are:
- Side plank
- Russian twist
- Banded wood chop
- Lying heel touch
- Landmine oblique twist
- Yoga ball stir the pot
- Plank pull-through
- Dead bug
- Mountain climber
- Alternating toe touch
I’ve provided weighted, banded, yoga ball, and bodyweight variations in this article to give you versatility for your programming despite your environment or situation.
Furthermore, I will explain what makes these exercises so great, how to do them, and some additional pro tips to help you maximize each one.
Before we get into it, you may wonder if ab work is necessary, especially for powerlifting. We discuss why it’s important and provide even more ab exercises for you to try in The 9 Best Ab Exercises For Powerlifters (Don’t Skip These).
What Makes A Great Side Crunch Alternative?
A good side crunch alternative will accomplish one of the following:
- Target similar muscle groups that the side crunch works, and
- Strengthen and stabilize the core.
Let's look into these factors a bit further.
Muscles Used in the Side Crunch
A side crunch alternative will target one of these muscle groups:
- Rectus abdominis
- Transverse abdominis
- Internal and external obliques
These muscle groups are responsible for the stabilization of the upper core and extending and flexing the spine.
The transverse abdominis is specifically responsible for compressing the internal organs to hold them in place, while the rectus abdominis is responsible for trunk flexion. The internal/external obliques bend the trunk from side to side.
A good side crunch alternative also involves the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and internal/external obliques.
Core Stabilization and Strengthening
If you want to implement a side crunch alternative, the goal is primarily to strengthen the entire core.
The core is fundamental in day-to-day tasks, such as cleaning, gardening, and mowing the lawn. Core involvement is especially apparent in dynamic activities such as jumping, running, and playing sports.
Often, neglecting the core can lead to lower back pain and movement deficiencies in exercises like squats, deadlifts, and running.
On the other hand, maintaining a strong and stable core can lead to subsequent performance enhancement and prevent injuries.
Furthermore, side crunches are a rotational exercise because they train the core muscles to work through a bending/twisting motion. A good side crunch alternative should also help improve your rotational strength.
Takeaway: A side crunch alternative should promote core stabilization and strengthening to enhance daily life and dynamic performance.
10 Best Side Crunch Alternatives
1. Side Plank
The side plank directly improves stabilization of the core, more specifically the obliques, and is a more effective selection over the side crunch.
- Lie on your side with your elbow planted into the ground and bent at 90 degrees.
- Maintain proper alignment of the knees, hips, and torso, with your legs completely straightened out.
- Lift your hips off the mat, so your entire weight is supported by your elbow and foot.
- Hold this position for the entirety of the exercise.
To make this exercise more challenging, hold a dumbbell in your free hand and prop it over the side of your torso. Additionally, you can elevate your feet on a 4-inch block to increase the distance of the feet from the ground and increase the required support from the elbow.
Furthermore, you can make this exercise more dynamic by adding a reach under the planted arm with the free arm. This added reach will add a trunk rotation and stabilization component to the side plank.
To add some variety to your routine, you can also do regular planks on your hands or forearms. Learn which one might be better for you in Are Planks Better on Elbows or Hands? (Pros & Cons).
2. Russian Twist
The Russian twist is the perfect substitute for the side crunch because it’s a dynamic total core exercise. It effectively targets the obliques, rectus abdominis, and transverse abdominis. It is extremely challenging and a great finisher to a core routine.
- Start sitting on a yoga mat with your feet flat on the floor.
- Raise your feet off the floor while tilting your toes back.
- Keep your torso rigid and upright with your knees bent at 90 degrees.
- When performing this movement, keep your body position locked in place.
- Focus on rotating your trunk from side to side, with hands together, touching the floor next to each side of your hip.
You can shift Russian twists to a power exercise by implementing a medicine ball slam to each rotation. Moreover, you can hold a dumbbell to increase the difficulty of the rotation, further strengthening rotation and core stabilization.
3. Banded Wood Chop
Banded wood chops are great for increasing rotational strength, which is often what gym-goers implement side crunches for. This makes them a great side crunch alternative.
- Tether a band to align with the lower chest/upper abdomen.
- Stand perpendicular to the anchor point and hold the band with both hands.
- While maintaining a rigid posture and level arms, rotate away from the anchor point.
- Return to the starting position to complete the repetition.
There are many wood chop variations that you can implement into your routine that involve cables, bands, and dumbbells. Moreover, you can perform wood chops in various positions — half kneeling, split stance, and standing — while rotating in multiple planes of motion — up/down, down/up, and side to side.
For all of these variations, I would incorporate 3-5 sets of 15-30 reps on each side to effectively engage the core.
4. Lying Heel Touch
Lying heel touches are most similar to side crunches. However, they're a safer alternative that may feel better on the back.
- Lay on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Shift the shoulders and arms to touch the right hand to the right heel.
- Then, shift to the left side to touch the left hand to the left heel.
- Repeat the shifting patterns until you achieve the desired number of repetitions.
Doing this exercise for 3 to 4 sets on a 30-second timer per set can make it way more challenging. You can pair it with Russian twists and mountain climbers for a well-rounded core routine.
5. Landmine Oblique Twist
The landmine oblique twist is great for strengthening the core. It is primarily implemented as an alternative to side crunches to enhance sports performance.
- Secure one end of a barbell into a landmine station or wedge it into a corner of the gym.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold the end of the bar with both hands stacked atop each other.
- Rotate in a semicircle fashion to one side of the shoulder.
- Rotate to the other side of the shoulder to complete the repetition for both sides.
- Repeat these steps for all of the repetitions.
Implementing speed reps or slower reps will effectively change how you engage your total body musculature. Speed reps will improve your ability to stabilize the loads under more dynamic conditions, while slower reps will place more time under tension throughout the entire body.
6. Yoga Ball Stir the Pot
The yoga ball stir the pot is my favorite core exercise. It requires similar core stabilization as the plank but is even more difficult due to the yoga ball’s instability. This makes it the ultimate alternative to the side crunch.
- Lay face down on a yoga mat with your elbows bent at 90 degrees atop a yoga ball.
- Lift your hips off the mat, so your elbows and feet support your entire weight.
- Move the elbows on the ball in a rotational fashion as if you were stirring a pot for the desired repetitions.
- Rotate in the opposite direction for equal repetitions to complete the set.
A common mistake I see in many individuals is to rotate the entire body as they rotate their elbows. This reduces the effectiveness of the exercise since you’re no longer working to keep your core stabilized in a static position.
Focus on moving just your arms and shoulders so you can effectively target your core. Squeezing your glutes can help you remember to keep the rest of your body stable.
7. Plank Pull-Through
Plank pull-throughs are a more complex variation to the plank and a great alternative to the side crunch. A single arm has to support and stabilize your whole body, which makes this a great exercise for strengthening the entire core.
- Set a dumbbell at your side and in line with your lower chest.
- Lie face down in the push-up position with your hands shoulder-width apart and elbows completely extended.
- Lift your hips off the mat so your hands and feet support your entire weight.
- Maintain proper alignment of the knees, hips, and torso, and keep your legs straight.
- Reach with the opposite arm towards the dumbbell and pull it through your underarm to place it on the other side of your body.
- Repeat the previous step for all the repetitions equally on each side of the body.
You can pair plank pull-throughs with other core exercises that assume a similar push-up position.
For example, for a great core finisher at the end of your workout, pick an exercise like mountain climbers, planks, inchworms, or shoulder taps to superset with plank pull-throughs.
Perform 10-15 reps of one exercise, then move into the next one without resting. Rest for 1-2 minutes after you complete the second exercise, then repeat for 2-3 more sets.
8. Dead Bug
Dead bugs are my favorite side crunch alternative since they are versatile, can help correct posture, and build core stability. They are especially effective for rehabbing back injuries and improving sports performance.
- Lay on your back with your elbows extended in front of you and your knees bent 90 degrees.
- Extend a single leg out while bringing the opposite arm straight back.
- Return to the starting position and pause for a brief moment. Then extend the leg and raise the arm you didn't use for the first set.
- Repeat these steps for both sides, and complete an even number of repetitions on each side.
You can use bands, plates, or cable machines to increase the difficulty of this exercise. The banded dead bug variation is my favorite, and I will typically implement it as a warm-up or finisher for all of my workouts.
Furthermore, you can modify dead bugs to act on leg extension alone and not move your arms or make them more dynamic by removing the pause between reps.
9. Mountain Climber
Mountain climbers are another one of my favorite side crunch substitutes, specifically because they are dynamic and require a great deal of core stability.
- Start this exercise in the push-up position.
- Alternate between driving each knee up to your chest in a running motion.
- Repeat this running motion until you achieve the allotted time or complete the desired number of reps.
I usually prefer to program core exercises for time rather than reps since the ultimate goal is to burn out the core.
As such, I recommend programming mountain climbers for 1-4 sets of 30-second sequences. This allows you to go all out without being concerned about the rep counts.
10. Alternating Toe Touch
Alternating toe touches are another great side crunch alternative since they target the obliques and can be quite challenging to perform.
- Lay on a yoga mat with your legs completely straight and your arms above your head. They should touch the floor, and your biceps should be next to your ears.
- Raise one of your straight legs while reaching with the opposite arm.
- Return to the starting position, raise the opposite leg, and reach with the other arm.
- Repeat the previous steps for the desired repetitions.
You can hold dumbbells in each hand to progress this exercise. Additionally, you can combine it with mountain climbers and Russian twists for a dynamic core routine.
For even more core exercises, check out 11 Best Cable Crunch Alternatives (With Pictures).
Side crunches are not the greatest exercise when compared to their counterparts. When it comes to strengthening the core, my favorites are dead bugs, banded wood chops, and yoga ball stir the pot. All of these core exercises have been amazing for the wide range of sports athletes and fitness enthusiasts I have worked with.
About The Author
Javad Bakhshinejad was born and raised in the Washington Area. Currently, he is a student at Seattle University where he’s been pursuing an MS in Kinesiology, and has been a Strength Coach in the athletic department. He was a competitive bodybuilder for 8 years where he later transitioned to competitive powerlifting for 4 years. Currently, He has his own personal coaching business, where he works with powerlifters and bodybuilders.