Within this guide, I’m going to show you the best crunch variations to make your ab workout more versatile and to target different parts of your midsection. These ab exercises are beginner-friendly, and you can do them at home. Crunches are usually criticized, but they are still the best isometric ab exercises out there.
Tutorials for different types of crunches
1. Standard Crunch
The traditional crunch targets mainly the upper part of the abs, and the lower abs. It seems to be simple to perform, but a lot of beginners perform it poorly. Here is how to do it correctly.
- Lie on the ground with your knees bent. Put your hands behind your head.
- By using the power of your abs, curl your upper body (chest, shoulders, head) off the floor. Do not lift your upper body too high. A few inches will do. Try to perform the motion as if you were making a half-circle.
- Tighten your abs, and hold it for a moment.
- Slowly get back to the starting position, but do not relax your body. Repeat the move immediately.
Try to make the exercise as continuous as possible, and do not use the momentum or try to lift your upper body by pulling your neck.
2. Crossover crunch
Oblique crunches are great to target the external obliques, those side abs that make the V-cut on the midsection.
- Lie on the floor with one of your legs bent with your foot on the ground. Cross your other leg on it in such a way that your heel is on your other knee.
- Place one of your hands behind your head on that side where your foot is planted on the floor. Put your other arm next to you.
- Pull your upper body up by pointing your elbow towards your opposite knee. So, you twist your torso.
- Do the same on the opposite side.
Perform the motion in a controlled way focusing on your abs and obliques. At the top position, squeeze your abs, and get back to the starting position slowly. Do not relax at the bottom.
This is the novice version. If you find it too easy, you can place both of your hands behind your head.
3. Reverse Crunches (Hip rolls)
For this crunch variation, we use the weight of the lower body as resistance. Hence, it works the lower abs effectively.
- Lie on the floor. Place your arms next to you in such a way your hands are under your buttocks. That will help to control the motion.
- Bend your knees. The more you bend, the less the resistance there is. So, the exercise will be more comfortable.
- Lift your legs and move them towards your torso. At the same time, lift your buttock and push your toes towards the ceiling. You can stop for a moment and squeeze your abs.
- In a controlled way, get your lower body back to the starting position. Do not stop there and do not let your butt rest on your hands.
It requires practice to get the most beneficial form. If you feel the pain in your abs, you are on the right way.
To make reverse crunch more challenging, combine it with the regular isometric crunch. At the starting position, place your hands behind your head, and lift your upper body up. Keep this static position, while performing the reverse crunch.
If you are interested in more reverse crunch variations, check out the following video.
4. Alternating crunches
A great exercise to target every part of your midsection, particularly your oblique. Almost the same is the basic crunch, just you twist your torso.
- Lie on the ground, and bend your knees. Put your hands behind your head.
- Curl your upper body up in such a way that you move your elbow towards the opposite knee. For better contraction you can lift that knee where you move forward.
- Slowly lower your shoulders back, and switch to the other side.
Make the exercise as continuous as possible to have the abdominal muscles engaged. Do not rest at the bottom and for maximum impact, you can stop at the top.
You can learn more oblique crunch variations from this video.
5. Swiss ball crunches
The stability ball is excellent exercise equipment to strengthen your core since it gives an unstable environment. This way, the core muscles are activated to keep your balance and support the execution of the movement.
- Lie on the fitness ball and plant your feet on the floor to get balance. The more your lower back is on the ball, the harder the move is because of the imbalance and increased resistance. Hold your hands behind your head.
- Curl your upper body forward. Move until you feel your abdominal muscles contracting. Do not sit up, just lift your shoulders a few inches up off the stability ball.
- Slowly lower your upper body back and repeat.
An advanced version is the Swiss ball crunches with outstretched arms. This way, it is going to be harder to keep the balance leading to more core activation, plus you get increased resistance. The execution is the same.
You can also do the alternating version (side crunches) on the ball to target your obliques.
6. Bicycle Crunches
Well, bicycle crunch is the best variation on this list as it activates each of the core muscles. It requires some practice, but it is worth to shape your abs.
- Lie on the floor, bend your knees in such a way that your thighs are vertical to the ground and your lower legs are parallel to it.
- Place your hands behind your head and lift your head a bit off the ground.
- Crunch right side of your upper body by moving your right elbow towards your left knee meanwhile extend your right knee.
- Get back to the starting position and do the same with the other side.
It is a compound move that requires practice. Perform it slowly by concentrating on the steps. Quality is more important than quantity.
7. V Sit Crunch – V-Up
An excellent exercise to target the upper and lower part of your rectus abdominis. Although it is a pretty tough one.
- Lie on the floor with straightened legs and arms about 45 degrees off the floor.
- Bring your legs and upper body towards each other.
- At the top stop for a moment.
- Slowly lower your legs and shoulders back to the starting position.
During the entire movement, keep your arms and legs stretched. Try to bring them as close to each other as possible. The best is if you touch your toes. Do not rest your arms and legs at the bottom, keep the 45-degree angle.
How do you make crunches harder?
If you feel the regular variations do not support your development anymore, here a few tips on how to make them harder.
- Use decline sit up bench. With the help of an adjustable ab bench, you can increase the resistance. You can choose from various levels. The higher the board, the harder the exercise is.
- Use weight (medicine ball, weight plate, dumbbell, water bottle, etc.). But, the correct form is always the first!
- Use a stability or Bosu ball. Because of lying on a piece of unstable equipment, it requires more control from the core to perform the exercise.
- At the top of the move, hold the crunch for a moment, and squeeze your abs.
Can crunches reduce belly fat?
If you have belly fat crunches will not help that much since they are strength training exercises for the abs. They are short moves that burn only a few calories.
If you want to burn belly fat, you should focus on your diet to get fewer calories daily than your body requires (calorie deficit) so it starts burning fat. Total body cardio and high interval training (HIIT) also helps weight loss.
Which hand position is favorable while performing a crunch?
A typical beginner mistake is that they clasp their fingers behind their heads and pull their neck while crunching. Instead of using only the power of their abs.
One way to avoid it is not clasping the fingers, just place the fingertips on the head. This way, we cannot pull.
The other technique is placing your hands on your chest while doing regular crunches. A bit easier, so beginners get started with it.
Which is better sit up or crunches?
Both are abs strength training exercises, but the range of motion (ROM) is different. The sit-up has more extended ROM so harder to perform but requires more muscle activation. However, it is usually criticized, causing back problems. That is mainly because of poor performance or weak lower back that can be cured with back extension exercises.
I recommend having both in your abs workout, so you will enjoy the benefits of both. Although beginners may start with crunches first.
I hope you find this crunch variations guide useful and find exercises that are suitable for your ab workout. These are classic moves, but perfect for at-home training to shape your tummy. You are maybe also interested in plank variations or ab workouts without crunches here.
Do you know other types of crunches? Share with us below.