Unless you were blessed with godly ab development that you never had to work for (lucky bastards), chances are you (most of us) can benefit more from advanced core training techniques, like weighted crunches.
Sure, you can keep doing 200 bodyweight crunches every night (a good way to burn some extra calories). But if your goal is to have a stronger midsection, it’s more efficient to challenge yourself in a lower rep range that will build strength and new muscle tissue.
In this guide, you’ll learn the best way to get results with weighted crunches by using proper technique, optimal loads, and ideal sets and reps ranges. You’ll also learn about the benefits, common mistakes, and best variations and alternatives.
Muscles Worked During Weighted Crunches
Crunches are a classic abdominal-focused exercise that’s been around for decades, and experts still agree it’s one of the best core training techniques. Learn about the target muscles of this legendary movement below.
Rectus abdominis is the scientific term for the abdominal six pack muscles located between the chest and waist. Crunches replicate the anatomical function of the rectus abdominis through curling the ribcage and pelvis toward each other. Although, variations involve crunching either the top or bottom part of the ab muscles.
The oblique muscles are better emphasized with a side crunch or rotational exercise. However, they get some action in weighted crunches too. These smaller trunk muscles are located on either side of the rectus abdominis and they contribute to the aesthetics of a good looking midsection.
Benefits of Weighted Crunches
Why should you strive for a stronger core? We can think of a few reasons!
Weak abs, weak performance
Anyone who knows anything about serious training understands the crucial role of strong core muscles. We need to maintain a solid trunk for optimal force transfer and to create trunk stability, which, in turn, allows us to train heavier and be stronger in all aspects. While yes, your abs do technically get stronger with heavy squats, deadlifts, etc, direct ab training is the cherry on top.
There’s also a common belief that because the abs are involved in so many daily activities, they can benefit from extra training.
Progression from basic bodyweight crunches
The most obvious benefit of weighted crunches is that it makes a basic ab crunch more challenging, and hence more effective. Crunches are one of the most convenient, proven core movements. But it doesn’t take long for them to become too easy.
Simply holding a five pound dumbbell will create a little more resistance. Then, you can gradually add more weight each week, and you can load it relatively heavy.
An effective home or on-the-go ab exercise
Why is the most common bedroom or hotel room ab exercise an abdominal crunch or its variations? Why do most experts design ab training workouts around bodyweight core exercises? Because they’re proven, simple, equipment-free, and there aren’t many other equipment-free options. You might even call them the GOAT (Greatest of all time) of bodyweight-only core training.
If you don’t have weights, no problem, you can also use objects around your home (e.g., water jug, cans, etc).
Crunches are, and will continue to be the go to ab exercise choice for budget, and minimal equipment home workouts.
How To Do Weighted Crunches
If you’ve already mastered basic bodyweight crunches, it’s time to try weighted crunches. Below we’ve included detailed step-by-step instructions that include getting into position safely, and proper movement execution.
- To avoid dropping a weight on yourself, first, place the weight on the floor, and then sit next to it.
- Then, hold the weight with both hands in front of your chest, lie on your back, and lift both legs up while keeping your knees bent at 90 degrees. Your lower back should be flat on the floor.
- Press the weight up over your chest and lock out your elbows.
- Engage your core, and use your ab muscles to crunch up and forward while reaching for your toes. Squeeze your core muscles hard.
- Slowly roll back to the starting position but don’t allow yourself to rest. Immediately perform the next repetition and continue until the set is completed.
Here’s a video example of what the exercise is should look like performed properly.
- Inhale before the crunch, and exhale while performing the crunch.
- Focus on curling the torso forward toward your feet to fully activate the abdominals.
- The arms should be angled toward the feet and not perfectly vertical for optimal efficiency when performing weighted crunches.
- There shouldn’t be a space between your lower back and the floor.
- Target Muscle Group: Rectus abdominis
- Secondary Muscles: Obliques
- Type: Strength, hypertrophy
- Mechanics: Isolation
- Equipment: Weight plate, dumbbell, medicine ball
- Difficulty: Intermediate
- Best Rep Range:
- Hypertrophy: 8-20
- Strength: 6-10
Common Mistakes While Performing Weighted Crunches
Weighted crunches should be simple and effective. Don’t make these common mistakes and make them harder than they need to be or less effective.
Using too much weight
As with any exercise, you should add weight in small increments and progress over time. The problem is many exercisers don’t treat ab training as seriously as they do the bench press. It’s like an afterthought. So they load up on the weight or max out the ab machine weight stack, do a few sets, and maybe do it again weeks later.
This is both dangerous and unsustainable.
Instead, follow an ab training regime where you incorporate a few weighted core movements and aim to progress slowly. You’ll see much better gains that way.
Using too little weight
While it’s possible to go too heavy, you can also go too light… if your goal is progression. Adding five pounds will add extra resistance at first. But it won’t do much for progress in the long run. Add incremental weight on a weekly or biweekly basis until you’re in a low rep range.
Short range of motion
While not a full sit-up, you should still achieve a decent range of motion when performing crunches. That means curling your torso forward as much as you can without involving too much of the hip flexors. Some people do micro movements, and that’s not the best way to train your abdominals.
Resting at the bottom
You shouldn’t be resting at the bottom of a crunch because it takes tension off the muscle. Yes, it’s far too tempting to relax and think about your day in between reps, while you’re lying on the floor (might as well take a nap while you’re down there too).
Then, you have to re-engage the abs each time, and they aren’t working at max capacity which creates results. Make crunches challenging and push yourself until your abs are toasted!
Not keeping the core muscles engaged
This is why avoiding the previous common mistake (resting at the bottom) is so important. The abs should be active the entire time to create a beneficial response. Keep it moving and let your abs do the work.
3 Variations and Alternatives Of Weighted Crunches
The weighted crunch does its job well as a raw, no-frills bodyweight ab exercise. But who doesn’t like variety? Try these other options that offer a unique spin on the floor ab crunch. We’d rate these variations as some of the best.
1. Straight leg weighted crunches
Fully activate the lower and upper abdominals by keeping the legs long and perpendicular to the floor. Straight leg crunches are a lot more challenging because the abs are even more engaged for the entirety of each rep. It’s an incredible variation if you have the flexibility to keep your legs up in the air.
- Choose a flat, level surface to perform the exercise, and place your weight down on the floor.
- Sit on the floor and pick up the weight, holding it in front of your chest with both hands.
- Lie back flat on the floor and press the weight above your chest with both arms fully extended.
- With your feet close together, lift both legs as vertical as you can. Don’t worry if you cannot keep your legs completely straight or vertical.
- Keep your head neutral, and use your abs to lift your body off the ground. Focus on contracting your lower, middle, and upper abs. Exhale during this portion of the movement.
- Slowly reverse the motion by lowering your torso back to the floor while maintaining the contraction of your core muscles. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.
- Your lower back should be flat against the floor. If there’s a space between your lower back and the floor, your legs are not vertical enough.
- Keep your head straight and aligned with the rest of your body when you perform straight leg crunches.
2. Cable/machine weighted crunches
If you train at a gym or have access to equipment, machine and cable crunches are a safer and very efficient way to load the abdominals. Many modern machines are extremely ergonomic, and oftentimes, they’re preferred over floor crunches because of how good they feel.
Cable and machine crunches are as good as it gets for building stronger, more muscular abdominals. However, we recommend incorporating a combination of body weight and machine crunches for best results.
Cable crunch steps
- Adjust the cable pulley so that the rope or handle is just above your head while in a tall kneeling position on your knees.
- Setup in front of the machine and grab the handles firmly.
- The proper way to do the cable crunch is to keep the butt high while leaning forward at the torso, then you’ll crunch down by contracting your abdominals. Your head should ideally be down and tucked into the chest while holding the rope handles by your ears or at upper chest level.
- Use your abs and not hip flexors and curl your upper abs toward your belly button.
- If new to cable crunches, choose a light weight to start and add more weight after you can perform 15 good reps with proper form.
- Keep your chin tucked into your chest and maintain a round in your back.
- The handle should be just above your head while in a tall kneeling position. If the weight hits the rest of the weight stack, it’s the pulley is too low.
Check out the 15 Best Cable Ab Exercises For Ripped Core.
3. Decline ab crunch
Performing crunches at a decline will naturally add more resistance because you have to overcome more gravitational forces to lift your body up. So you’re creating a more challenging exercise by changing your body angle, as opposed to crunching on a level surface.
- Adjust the bench at an optimal decline angle relative to your level of experience. More decline makes the exercise more challenging.
- Sit on the bench with your knees over the top foam roller and feet under the bottom foam rollers, if using a dedicated decline bench.
- Lie back against the bench and place your hands gently behind your ears or cross them in front of your chest.
- Tense your core muscles and curl your torso up as high as your abs will allow, but stop before your torso is completely upright. Make sure to exhale on the way up.
- Control the descent as you return to the starting position while inhaling, but don’t allow your shoulders and upper back to touch the bench. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
- Master decline crunches using just your body weight first, and then consider adding more weight after you can complete 15 good reps.
- Avoid resting on the bench between reps. Try to keep the core muscles engaged and under constant tension.
Frequently Asked Questions
In this section, you’ll find answers to some of the common questions about weighted crunches.
How many sets and reps of weighted crunches should I do?
Most people will see good results with 2-4 sets of 7-15 reps. This is a good range for building strength and muscle. Weighted crunches are not as effective when used as a max load or endurance focused ab movement. So avoid going too heavy or too light.
What should be the goal of weighted crunches?
The aim should be to strengthen and improve the appearance of the core muscles with direct, highly-focused ab training.
Who should not do weighted crunches?
People who suffer from back issues, absolute beginners, and those rehabbing from injuries should avoid weighted ab crunches.
Weighted crunches are one simple modification to a basic bodyweight ab exercise that is worth doing! It’s a useful and convenient progression that can be utilized anywhere to train your core muscles. Not to mention, exercisers of advanced novice to a more advanced level of training experience can use it to scale their core gains.
Just make sure to load them with a challenging weight without overdoing it, and focus on correct form, and engaging the abdominals.
There aren’t many exercises that beat crunch variations for their versatility, and they’ll help you build a strong and ripped midriff!