Crunches are undoubtedly the most popular bodyweight exercise for abs.
They're super effective and great for almost any ab workouts routine.
They are also best known for working the rectus abdominis (a.k.a the six-pack abs) muscles and the external obliques.
Despite their unshakable popularity, crunches have been getting a bad rep recently as a non-funtional abs exercise. If you take a look at research and science behind it, you’d know it’s not all that true.
In fact, several reputable studies did a comparison study on different abs and core exercises and ranked all the ab exercises based on effectiveness measured by muscle activation level.
Guess who ranked the highest?
That’s right. It was the crunch, followed by planks and ab roller machines, which ranked the lowest.
Crunches were proven effective, especially at targeting and working the six pack abs muscles and the external obliques.
I know some of you are skeptical, and I was too.
So let me introduce you to the study that examined the effectiveness of the crunch and other abs and core exercises.
A study sponsored by the America Council on Exercise. What they found is some crunch exercise variations are even more effective than the basic crunch and other reputable and most commonly practiced abdominal exercises.
By the way, these rankings are achieved only when the exercises are done correctly, meaning when you know how to do crunches the right way! Many of exercises' ineffectiveness often comes from exercises being done incorrectly.
In fact, when done wrong, it's incredibly dangerous as it can make you prone to many injuries.
But not to worry, we'll cover the correct crunch form very shortly, so you can learn. If you suspect you've been doing crunches wrong, this is the time!
So, before we get to the crunch variations proven more effective than plank, let’s master the proper classic crunch form.
How to do a crunch:
- Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
- Place your hands behind your head so your thumbs are behind your ears. Don’t lace your fingers across together.
- Hold your elbows out to the sides but rounded slightly in.
- Tilt your chin slightly, leaving a few inches of space between your chin and your chest. Gently pull your abdominals inward to tighten your abs.
- Curl up and forward so that your head, neck, and shoulder blades lift off the floor.
- Hold for a count of 1 to 2 at the top of the movement and then slowly lower yourself back down. Repeat for 12-15 repetitions.
This is how you perform the basic crunch.
The most common crunch mistake I see around is pulling up from your neck.
This is a sure way to pull your neck muscles and not target your abs. The key and effectiveness of ab crunches come from using your abs. Neck and hands should be treated just as support, nothing more.
If you feel pretty good about your crunches, you are ready for the crunch variations. They are all fun and perfect for mixing and spicing up your abs workout routine.
But some are quite challenging. So be sure to pace yourself, and take one crunch at a time, if needed.
Now here is a list of 23 crunch variations (#1 is basic crunch) to rev up your crunch.
None of these abs exercises uses any fitness equipment except for a dumbbell and a stability ball. You can do them in your living room, home studio, gym or even outdoor.
Challenge your core with 23 fresh core exercises that will help you feel more confident and work more than your upper abs alone.
22 Crunch Variations
2. Bicycle crunch
The Bicycle Crunch earned the top place in the best ab exercise list by ACE.
In the research done at San Diego State University, sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), they examined 13 popular ab exercises effectiveness in an effort to determine what move results in the highest the rectus abdominus (six-pack abs) muscle stimulation.
In case you are wondering, it was Electromyography (EMG) that was employed to measure the muscle stimulation levels.
In addition to the abs middle muscles, rectus abdominus, this crunch is excellent for hitting the side of your abs, most known as love handles.
You can see the ACE study's full comparison chart here: The best Abs exercises comparison.
How to Do it:
- Lie flat on your back on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground and contract and engage your abs muscles by pulling your navel in.
- Place your fingers behind your heads, gently holding your neck and head.
- Bring your knees in towards your chest and lift your shoulder blades off the ground. Be sure not to pull on your neck.
- Straighten your right leg out to about a 45-degree angle to the ground while turning your upper body to the left, bringing your right elbow towards the left knee. Make sure your rib cage is moving, not just your elbows. Go through a bicycle pedal motion, slowly at first.
- Alternately touching your elbows to the opposite knees as you twist back and forth. Continue until you complete 10 to 12 reps per side.
Breath evenly throughout the exercise.
3. Cross sit-up
This ab move really engages all of the abdominals muscles from the sides to the front and back. It's harder than it looks.
How to do it:
- Start by lying on the floor flat on your back with your arms out wide to the sides, making a T with your body.
- Sit up, lifting your right leg, and twist to bring your left hand to your right toes. Slowly roll back down, and repeat on the other side. That's one rep. Aim for 12-15 repetitions on each side.
4. Scissors crunch
This variation of the crunch exercises strengthens the lower abs, upper abs, the external obliques as well as the lower back muscles in addition to the abs. Even your legs and butt benefits from this abs workout.
How to do it:
- Lie on your back flat on the floor, contract your abs and lift your upper body off the floor so your shoulder blades hover.
- Lift your right leg off the floor, and bring your left leg to 90 degrees, gently holding the left shin. Keep your upper body lifted as you switch or scissor your legs. That’s one rep continue alternating for 12-15 repetitions per leg.
6. Side v-crunch
Both upper and lower abdominals are engaged during the oblique V-crunch. And as a bonus, your thighs will also garner some toning benefits from this move as well.
How to do it:
- Lie on your right side, with your left hand behind your head and right hand on the floor.
- Press down into your right hand as you raise your straight legs off the floor, bringing your torso toward your legs.
- Lower yourself back to the floor with control. This completes one rep.Be sure to perform this exercise on both sides. Aim 12 reps per side.
7. Reverse crunch
Reverse crunches are a basic abdominal core exercise that strengthens the abs region, including lower abs, upper abs and the obliques.
How to do it:
- Lying down flat on your back, contract your abs and lift your legs in the air with your knees bent. Place your hands on the floor beside you.
- Without momentum, use your lower abs to slowly curl the hips off the floor and into your chest. Slowly lower them back to the starting position.
- That's one rep. Continue for 12-15 repetitions total.
8. Vertical crunch
The vertical leg crunch is a great core exercise that increases the effectiveness of the rectus abdominis workou. It is also great at recruiting the lower back extensors, the transverse abdominals, and even the external obliques and internal obliques.
It is similar to the basic crunch, except that the legs are perpendicular to the floor.
How to do it:
- Lie down flat on the floor with lower back pressed to the ground. Place hands behind your head. Extend legs straight up, crossed at the ankles with a slight bend in the knee.
- Contract abdominal muscles by lifting torso toward your knees. Make sure to keep chin off your chest with each contraction.
- Exhale as you contract upward; inhale as you return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Aim for 12-15 repetitions
9. Crunchy frog
Crunchy frog is one of the abs exercises done in P90X, during their abdominal routine.
I'm not sure how the name came about, but the exercise itself leaves you a strong impression. Try it once, and you won't forget the burn in your abs you get from this cute, innocent named ab crunch.
It especially hits your lower abs hard, so if you want to target your stomach pouch, be sure to include this.
But the best part of this ab workout is not just its toughness.
It also works your core, hip flexors and improves your balance and coordination.
It may take a few practices to get used to it, but as you develop the strength in your abs, you'll find yourself performing it like a pro and make Tony Horton proud.
How to do it:
- Start by sitting on the floor in a V-like position with your arms extended out to your side and your upper body at about a 45 degree angle.
- Your legs will remain off the floor throughout the movement, next pull your knees in towards your chest while wrapping your arms around your legs
- Contract your abs then extend your legs back out and your arms out to your side. You’re now in the starting position again. Continue and aim for 12-15 repetitions
22. Swiss ball crunch
Swiss ball crunch is one of my favorite "exercises for abs"—performing crunches on a stability ball is a great way to vary the range of motion you utilize. This wider range of motion leads to better abs engagement, and for you, it means more effectiveness and a flatter stomach.
Just like the other "workouts for abs" in the list, Swiss ball crunch primarily works the rectus abdominis, or six-pack muscles, and the transverse abdominis.
You also get to call on muscles that stabilize the hips and lower back when keeping you balance on the ball, says MenHealth.com.
If you don’t have a "Swiss ball" yet, read our stability ball buying guide for choosing the correct size and quality for your safety. Don't make the mistake of purchasing the wrong size or wrong type of ball for your workouts.
How to Do It:
- Sit on a Swiss ball with your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Walk your feet forward as you lie back on the ball. Stop when the ball is under your hips, lower back, and middle back and knees bent 90 degrees.
- Your lower back should feel like it's curved around the ball. Keep your head in line with your upper body. Place your hands behind your ears and draw in your abs.
- Raise your chest up and slightly forward in, in a crunching motion. Do not pull on your neck to initiate the crunch. You've reached the end of your range of motion when the middle of your back loses contact with the Swiss ball.
- Pause for 1-2 seconds, then slowly return to the starting position.
Also for more "exercise ball workouts”, check out the links below:
- 30 Best Stability Ball Exercises
- 25 Exercise Ball Workout Poster for a Total-Body Workout
- Stability Ball Exercises a 12-Min Workout
- 15 Minute Exercise Ball Workout to Slim Down
23. Dragon flag sit-up
This abs exercise is named after its nventor, Bruce Lee.
The is so hard core that it was featured in Rocky IV.
It’s intense and works your entire abs, “say John Chaimberg, a strength coach for some of the world’s top MMA fighters, and contributor to MensFitness.com
If you think you are up for the challenge, this move will develop core strength and shred your abs.
How to do it:
- Lie on a bench with your arms bent and your elbows by your ears so that you can grip the top of the bench. Contract your abs and raise your legs up until your upper body naturally curls with it.
- If your ab strength allows, keep coming up until your feet are over your shoulders. Then lower your entire body down in a straight plank until you’re back to the start.
You may need to roll your back out some of the way if you’re unable to do the full version.