7 Crunch Variations That'll Work All Your Ab Muscles

Time to mix up your core workout routine.

Originally Published: 
Different types of crunches to work all your ab muscles.

Instead of doing 100 run-of-the-mill sit-ups to work your abs, trainers recommend adding different types of crunches to your core workout routine. That way you aren’t training the same muscle over and over again, but effectively hitting all the ab muscles in your core.

Not only is it more fun to mix things up, but it’s also worth the effort. “We utilize our core all the time when doing regular daily activities,” says Alayna Curry, an AFAA-certified fitness instructor and owner of Workout With Mom. “Having a strong core will help you maintain balance and execute moves with proper form, while also improving your posture and strengthening your back.”

The best part? Curry says you don’t have to exhaust yourself doing 30 minutes of core work a day. “The way to build a strong core is through consistently training it,” she tells Bustle. “I recommend adding five minutes of core training to the end of each workout session, ideally about four to five days a week.” Focus on doing different types of crunches, and you’ll effectively target all the areas of your abdomen, too.

As Curry explains, there are three areas of the core that you’ll want to target. “The obliques are the muscles along the sides of your core. The rectus abdominis is the front layer of the abdominal wall, which most people refer to as the ‘6-pack.’ And the transverse abdominis is the deeper layer of the abdominal wall, which wraps around the waist.” Here’s how to work them all with trainer-recommended crunch variations.

1. Cross-Body Crunch

Curry suggests cross-body crunches to train your obliques.

- Lie down with both feet planted on the floor, or put one ankle up on your knee to create a figure-four shape.

- Gently place your hands behind your head for support.

- As you lift your upper body, turn towards the knee that’s in the air, trying to connect your elbow to your knee.

- Return back down.

- Do this 10 times and then switch sides.

- Lift up again and twist the other way, bringing your other elbow to your opposite knee.

- Repeat 3 rounds on each side.

2. Swimmer’s Crunch

This move targets the upper core or rectus abdominis, Curry says.

- Lie down with your feet planted on the ground.

- Your arms will be straight and overhead with your hands touching like you’re about to do a dive.

- With control, lift your upper body for a crunch.

- Keep your arms in the same position.

- Repeat 12 times.

- Continue for a total of three rounds.

3. Crunch & A Half

Curry also likes this move to hit the upper core.

- Lie on your back with your feet on the floor.

- Gently place your hands behind your head for support.

- Using your core strength and not your arms, lift your upper body up for a full crunch.

- Lower down to the ground and then come back up half that distance for a half crunch.

- Repeat this pattern 10 times.

- Continue for a total of three rounds.

4. Bird Dog Crunch

Because this move asks you to balance, it effectively trains the deep transverse abdominis muscles in your core, Curry says. It also trains the muscles in your back, for a full-core workout.

- Start in a tabletop position.

- Lift and extend your right leg out behind you.

- Lift and extend your left arm, reaching out in front of you.

- Simultaneously, start to bring your elbow and opposite knee together to meet in the center, hover in the air, and then extend to the starting position.

- Continue to crunch this way for 10 reps and then switch to the opposite side.

- Do a total of three rounds on each side.

5. Leg Lowers

Emily Skye, a certified trainer and creator of the Emily Skye FIT app, recommends leg lowers. “Maintain a steady pace, aiming to feel the contraction in your lower abs,” she tells Bustle.

- Lie flat on your back with your arms above your head to aid balance, or gently at your sides.

- Engage your core.

- Keep your feet together as you raise your legs into the air to create an L-shape with your legs and torso.

- Lower your legs towards the floor, then bend your knees and draw your thighs back up towards your torso, followed by your feet to return your legs to an upright position. Be careful not to let your back arch.

- Aim for 10 reps.

- Do three sets.

6. Reverse Crunch

According to TJ Mentus, a certified personal trainer with Garage Gym Reviews, a reverse crunch targets the lower abs — and it’s easier on the spine than a standard crunch. “Instead of raising the upper body you will raise the lower body,” he says.

- Lie on the floor or on a workout bench.

- Keeping your knees bent at 90 degrees, lift your legs up and pull your knees towards your chest.

- Slowly lower your legs back down to the ground.

- Repeat 15 to 20 reps.

- Do four sets.

7. Bicycle Crunch

Mentus also likes this twisting crunch to work the obliques, as well as the rectus abdominis.

- Lie on your back with legs raised slightly up and hands next to your head.

- In a twisting motion, bring your opposite knee to your opposite elbow while keeping the other leg straight and off the ground.

- Switch sides, twisting the other elbow to its opposite knee and straightening the leg that was just bent.

- Continue to cycle back and forth in a smooth motion.

- Repeat for 30 seconds to one minute.

- Do three sets.

Studies referenced:

Saeterbakken, AH. 2019. The effects of performing integrated compared to isolated core exercises. PLoS One. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0212216.


Alayna Curry, AFAA-certified fitness instructor

Emily Skye, certified personal trainer

TJ Mentus, certified personal trainer

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