The cable reverse crunch is not a familiar exercise to most of us (admit it, you’ve never tried it). Hopefully, that will change as we’re convinced it’s one of the most potent variations for bringing out those stubborn and oftentimes invisible lower abs.
Effective core training is not just doing a few weighted crunches, and planks (although they’re part of it). For the best results, you need to incorporate movements that curl the torso at both ends and emphasize core muscle contraction (and oh, it feels so good!).
In this guide, we spill the beans on this must-have ab movement, that offers advantages over similar core-building powerhouses. We’ll show you how to do it correctly, and explain why the hips are key!
Muscles Worked During The Cable Reverse Crunch
A powerful core, and hip strengthening exercise, learn how cable reverse crunches train the abdominal and lower body muscles and understand the importance of training them.
The fancy term for abdominal muscles, rectus abdominis are a long pair of muscles that run between the pelvis and lower chest. Consequently, these muscles serve to curl the torso at both ends of its attachments. We see this during a regular lying floor crunch (lifting the head and shoulders off the floor), and when curling the pelvis and lifting the hips off the ground.
Most people think the abs are the bumpy ridges, aka six pack muscles. Well, that’s one set of abdominals. We also have deeper core muscles called the transverse abdominis. Slung between the ribs and pelvis too, they wrap around the torso, horizontally, like a lifting belt, and consequently acts like one, compressing the core, and stabilizing the spine.
Reverse cable crunches activate transverse abdominis, especially during the hip raise.
Playing a sidekick role to the rectus abdominis during cable reverse crunches, obliques lie on either side of the abdominals, more laterally on the torso. The obliques’ position allows them to crunch the trunk sideways, and perform rotational movement of the upper body.
The hip flexors are muscles that connect our spines to our legs, and they allow us to pull the knees back and lift the butt off the floor. Not just one muscle, but several contribute to this action.
Hip flexor muscles include:
- Psoas (major and minor)
- Rectus femoris
However, “hip flexors” usually refers to the psoas and iliacus that form the iliopsoas muscle. A powerful duo, these muscles, together, are the strongest and most important hip flexors. Consequently, when iliopsoas contracts, it supports standing, sitting, and overall lower body movement.
How To Do The Cable Reverse Crunch
The cable reverse crunch requires a little more setup and training experience compared to more basic abdominal exercises.
This section will guide you through the proper step-by-step process including machine setup, pre-set routine, and finally, the cable reverse crunch.
- Slide the cable pulley to the lowest notch on the railing. Then attach an ankle strap.
- Sit on your butt facing the machine, then wrap the strap around your ankles and make sure it’s secure, and will not come off. Tip: Start with a very light weight and do a few reps to test the secureness of the ankle strap.
- Now lie back on the floor and lift your knees up so you’re upper legs are vertical or perpendicular to the floor, and the legs are bent at a 90-degree angle. Extend your arms forward next to your butt and place the palms flat on the floor. Press your lower back flat on the ground.
- Lift your shoulders and head off the floor like you’re doing an upper ab crunch, as shown in the video example below.
- Tense your core muscles, then pull your knees into your chest and lift your butt off the floor. Focusing on curling the pelvis toward the ceiling, and squeeze both your lower and upper abs hard.
- Slowly drop your hips and move your legs forward in the starting 90-degree legs bent position. Then repeat for the preferred number of reps. That’s one set!
Watch a video demonstration of the cable reverse crunch, below.
- If you’re a beginner to exercise or direct ab training, start with the bodyweight variation first. It should be very challenging without extra resistance.
- If you don’t have access to a cable machine but still want to benefit from weighted leg crunches, you can do hanging leg raises, strap on some ankle weights, or hold a dumbbell, or exercise ball between your feet.
- Focus on curling the pelvis and remember to lift the butt off the floor to really engage the lower abs. Don’t just focus on pulling the knees back as it’s more about what’s happening with the butt!
- Target Muscle Group: Rectus abdominis
- Secondary Muscles: Obliques, hip flexors
- Type: Strength, hypertrophy
- Mechanics: Isolation
- Equipment: Cables and ankle strap
- Difficulty: Intermediate
Benefits of Cable Reverse Crunch
The cable reverse crunch fits a specific role, not really offered by other options. Besides the main benefits of training the abdominals, there are bonus benefits too. Here’s why we like it.
Add resistance to bodyweight lying leg crunches
A basic lying leg crunch can become boring and unchallenging for those who are more advanced in their training. The cable variation is a gamechanger because you can add incremental weight, and most people will never outgrow the full weight stack. Although, you don’t need much weight anyhow.
It’s also more convenient to use ankle straps, and not have to hold a weight between your feet. You can focus more on the actual exercise.
Awesome hanging leg raise alternative
Numbered weights are the easiest way to track and make progress. With bodyweight variations and banded movements, it’s harder to do. How else can you measure strength progress using your legs during ab training?
Easier to measure gains!
Numbered weights are the easiest way to track your progress, and that’s something cable training offers. Unlike bodyweight and banded exercises where you need to be more strategic about measuring your gains!
Drawbacks of Cable Reverse Crunches
While the cable reverse crunch is a sweet movement, there could be some potential drawbacks.
Requires a decent level of fitness and core strength
While it is a weighted variation, reverse crunches are hard enough without the added resistance. They require strong ad mobile hips, plus decent strength from the deeper and more superficial abdominal muscles. Therefore, we can see why weighted cable reverse crunches are not the best for beginners or those out of shape.
Cables are ideal, but not required
Cables allow you to easily track your progress using a numbered weight stack.
Unless you have regular access to a cable machine, the other variations and alternatives (like the ones below) may require a little more planning and strategy, as you cannot as easily add resistance or measure the weight loads as accurately.
Cable Reverse Crunch Variations and Alternatives
One of the exciting things about training is there are so many different ways to train a muscle. Not only does this combat workout boredom, but using different angles and techniques will undoubtedly get you the best results. The following exercises add extra resistance to your lower ab crunches.
Check out our favorite cable reverse crunch variations and alternatives…
Banded reverse crunches
Resistance bands are the natural alternative to using cables because, when used correctly, they should provide constant tension, not allowing your muscles to take a break at any point during a repetition.
- Wrap one end of a loop resistance band around a heavy, stable object close to floor level as shown in the video example below.
- Sit on the floor and wrap the other end of the band around the top of your feet.
- Lie back and bring your knees up so the upper legs are vertical and your lower legs are horizontal.
- Engage your core, drive your knees back, and lift your butt off the ground, curling the hips upward. Squeeze your abs, then drop your butt down to the floor, and return your legs to the starting angle.
- That’s one rep… Now do several more to complete your set!
- Start with a light band and focus on performing the exercise with a full range of motion, and feeling the abs contract. If you can do 15 easy reps, it’s time to add more resistance!
- Keep your feet pointed toward the ceiling and toes curved back, or the band will snap back toward the base, throwing off your set.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to make leg crunches more challenging is to recline your body, so that your legs are at an angle, forcing gravity to create more resistance for your abs.
- Sit in the center on the long side of a bench.
- Grab the edge of the bench on either side of your thighs.
- Lean back, keep your back straight, and raise your feet off the ground while keeping your feet together. Your core should tense naturally.
- Now simultaneously pull your chest and knees into each other while squeezing your ab muscles hard.
- Reverse the motion and repeat as many times as needed.
Related: 13 Best Hanging Leg Raise Alternatives For Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced Levels
Hanging leg and hip raise
If you have access to a pull-up bar, hanging leg raises are a must. The core works extra to stabilize the trunk, and you’re working the abs against the full weight of the legs, unlike a basic lying leg crunch. A more functional option than the cable reverse crunch, hanging variations should be in your top five!
- Reach up and grab the bar with your hands spaced roughly shoulder width apart. Pull your shoulders down.
- Hold your feet together and tense your core muscles.
- Now bend your knees and lift them up past your waist, then curl your pelvis up and lift your butt to engage the lower abs. Contract the lower core, then slowly drop your legs to the starting position, but don’t fully straighten them.
- Repeat until your set is finished.
Pro tip: For more lower ab engagement, lift your butt even higher than what’s demonstrated in the video provided below.
TRX/suspension trainer knee tuck
You can also flip around and use a suspension trainer like TRX or alternatives to imitate a similar movement. It’s more challenging than a lying bodyweight reverse crunch because you’re in a high plank position and the feet are elevated several inches the ground. There are a lot more muscles involved too, making suspension crunches a more functional, and mental fortitude building exercise.
- Adjust the suspension handles to roughly mid calf height.
- Place the top of your feet in the loops as shown in the video demonstration.
- Get in a push-up position with your hands shoulder width apart, elbows locked out, and arms vertical. Keep your body straight.
- Push your feet down into the straps to keep them stable, then tense your abs, and pull your knees to your chest and squeeze your core.
- Extend your legs and repeat for the desired number of reps. Do not allow your hips to sag.
Stability ball ab tucks
A perfect home variation, if you have a decent level of fitness ability. Exercise ball knee tucks are harder than a basic lying ab tuck, and the stability requirements work your abs overtime!
Note: Use a quality ball and make sure it’s properly inflated.
- Assume a push-up position with your hands roughly shoulder width apart, palms aligned with the lower chest, fingers pointed forward, and arms fully extended.
- Prop your lower shins and feet on top of the ball keeping your legs close together. Your body should be straight with the butt slightly lifted.
- Now pull your knees into your chest and squeeze your abs.
- Extend your legs back to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Dragon flags need no convincing, used by none other than legends Bruce Lee, Sylvester Stallone, and pro trainer/ fitness celebrity Jeff Cavaliere (Athlean X YouTube channel). It’s a more advanced core exercise that uses just the body weight for resistance. Static in nature, you must use more muscles to stabilize, balance, and create the movement.
The challenge comes from extended legs, which creates a longer lever arm.
- Lie flat on your back and grab a stable section of your chosen object behind your head. Ideally, you can grab underneath and apply upward force.
- With your legs and feet pressed together, use your hips and core to lift your feet toward the ceiling. Your body should form a straight line. This is your starting position.
- Now brace your core strong and squeeze your butt muscles, then slowly drop your legs until they’re at a roughly 45-degree angle to the surface you’re lying on.
- Pull your legs back to the starting spot and repeat!
- Grip matters! Ideally, you can anchor yourself down by holding an object from underneath with the palms facing the sky.
- Work on just eccentric phase to build strength by cheating your legs to the top and slowly fighting against gravity as it pushes your body back down. There’s a progression in the video example below.
- Squeeze your glutes! Your butt muscles are important for hip extension (straightening the legs), so they need to be activated, especially during the lowering phase, do this exercise effectively.
- Watch the video below to see the important form cues.
Here’s a detailed video that we recommend watching if you have a few minutes to spare!
Below you’ll find answers to some common questions about cable reverse crunches.
What are the best sets and reps for cable reverse crunches?
It depends on your level of experience, goals, and current routine. We generally recommend using a variety of sets and rep ranges to get the benefits of increased core strength, more muscle development, and building a more resilient and athletically capable midsection.
Below we listed a few examples of ideal rep ranges for each desired outcome.
- Stronger core: 6-8 reps
- A little strength and muscle growth: 8-12 reps
- Ab development and endurance: 15-25 reps
Note: You should be using a weight that challenges you in the last few reps of each set.
Do cable reverse crunches train the entire abs?
Yes, it’s impossible to entirely isolate one part of the abdominal muscles. While leg crunches emphasize the lower abdomen, the abs are a pair of long muscles that split down the center and run parallel. Therefore, a crunch activates the length of the abs.
We said the cable reverse crunch was a powerful ab variation and we meant it. Unlike using the forces of gravity (e.g., decline crunches and hanging leg raises), and your body weight, this exercise uses adjustable resistance, and replicates the same lying position as conventional ab crunches.
There are few downsides except you need access to a cable machine and decent fitness ability. But we’ve also shown you other effective options too if that’s ever the case.
Program cable reverse crunches to take your core gains to the next level!
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