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Cable Crunches?

Okay…just checking with you guys…

Am I seeing another great exercise being morphed into some weird, useless one?

I’ve always felt that with Cable Crunches, there should be VERY little flexion at the hips. The movement should begin with a full stretch, hands above your head, grasping the rope, back arched. THE MOVEMENT SHOULD THEN BEGIN WITH TUCKING THE HEAD, slowly rounding the back, until you end looking like a hunching cat, SQUEEZING the abs. Hold. Slowly back to starting position.

What I’ve seen is some type of weird, hip flexion exercise with little ab involvement.

What do you guys think? (P.S. blah, blah, blah…I don’t care what other people do in the gym either…just checking my form with you guys!)

I don’t arch my back at the top of the movement - I found that it actually lessened effectiveness for me. Especially since I keep my abs tight throughout the movement. AND I also keep my knees not together but a little separated and I “hunker down” more so that I really feel it in my lower abs.

I also think that people forget about exhaling at the bottom of the movement and to NOT take in a whole lot of air aferwards. By taking in alot of air, you won't be able to keep you abs tight during the exercise. Or any ab exercise for that matter.

hey youre right on there! I’ve always found the cable crunch one of the hardest exercises to teach people how to do correctly…no matter how much i demonstrate or explain people always want to to it as a hip flexion exercise instead of a crunching type of exercise

very little hip flexion is good, but its curious that you include that step, prob to eliminate hip flexor activity, (another discussion) but you indicate the first move is tucking your head. Unless your sternocleidomastiod muscle has some really odd distal attachment, why would you start with head movement? I always see people flexing their thoracic spine, (upper back) during supposed ab exercises, and I wonder what for.

Not sure about your question, Jay…

I guess the more correct thing to say is that I tuck my head by flexing my abs. (The neck/head/and arms are actually pretty stationary during the movement).

So Mufasa, you’re talking about kneeling cable crunches, where you kneel on the floor and use an overhead cable? I think this is a really poor substitute for the cable crunch machine, since the hips are basically free to move (whether it’s proper or not). Something you can do to more closely duplicate the machine (assuming you don’t have a machine available) is to use a slant board with a pad under the back (to force the arch), and hold a plate on top of your head, then tuck as you described.

there is a hell of a lot of hip flexion on cable crunches when the West side guys do it…

I know from reading your posts you have a clue, not to lump you in with the t-less masses. Here is my 2 questions. 1) why do people make their first move that of their neck and rolling their upper spine? shouldnt neck be held stationary shoulders be square and maintained? and 2) Why and where is it read that hip flexors have to be removed from “ab” movements? do knee bending isolates them, and shouldn’t there be an equal amount of hip flexion to hip extension work done?

Read Pavel’s “Beyond Crunches”. That will answer your question regarding the hip flexors.

Yeah, you got it, big man. It is hillarious watching other ppl do things in the gym… The greatest is when myself and my room mate see phys ed, phys therapy, and athletic trainers (complete w/ shirt that tells you they are) doing horrible, bastardized versions of things that i am sure once were intended to be exercises…

Thanks, guys…this is EXACTLY why I run things by you; you guys are great!

Some points:

1)We need to consider the function of the rectus abdominus (or the “six-pack” muscle or the “showy” muscle of the abdomen). Others are more “important” (in terms of core strength and stability), but the crunch is not the main exercise to work them. They actually are worked best with things like wood chops, twisting/circular movements, and would you believe, deads and squats?

Anyway…the Rectus functions to pull the hip and chest closer to each other, NOT to pivot or flex us at the hip. (Therefore the name “crunch”). To pivot at the hip does not work the Rectus, but the hip flexors.

2)Jay; thanks, bro!

With the action of the rectus as described, you must “crunch” the upper body (as noted above) to effectively work the rectus. You’re right in the sense that the head, arms and neck are kept “fairly” neutral, but the necessary spine flexion causes the upper body to “tuck” as you move it toward the hip.

The hip flexors are VERY strong muscles, that while important for power movements, running, squats, deads, etc., are not the muscles you work to build the rectus. You effectively take the rectus out of any movement that involves pivoting and/or flexing at the hip.(By the way…the West Side guys are “power” guys. They move some hellacious iron, baby! They actually “need” strong hip flexors for their power movements. Also…I don’t think these guys are “exactly” known for their “six-packs”!).

3)Brider; Thanks too, bro!

Yea…I’m talking about kneeling cable crunches. I don’t really have access to a crunch machine. (To tell the truth, I’ve never seen one to real life, just in books and mags! I guess my gym is behind!). So…what I posted was an attempt to maximize my kneeling movement by running it past you guys. Also…thanks for the “pearl” on maximizing that movement.

4)Pat; thanks!

Doesn’t an “arch” at the top of the movement increase pre-stretch on the rectus, making it a MORE effective movement? I’m probably reading you wrong. I’m intrigued on increasing the effectiveness of the movement on my lower abs. Let us know.

Well…keep it coming guys! I never stop learning! Isn’t that what this should all be about?


I found that I had been doing my kneeling cable crunches wrong when a former Mr. Japan gave me a few pointers. No matter how often I do the exercise his way, it leaves my abs burning…

Anyway, here’s the set-up. First, get yourself a low (like 4- to 5-inch) pad of some sort and place it under your knees. This gets your shins up off the floor, which allows your feet to dangle a bit, which for some weird reason makes the exercise better. (Don’t ask me why.) If you don’t have a pad you can do them just kneeling on the floor, but I’ve found that they aren’t as effective.

Make sure that your thighs form a 90-degree angle with your shins, and maintain this angle throughout the movement. This is the most important point! Where people lose form is usually during the crunch, when they “sit back” a bit and their thighs move down towards (sometimes to the point of actually contacting) their calves. Don’t do this. Instead, starting with the arch in your back, curl your torso down so that your elbows touch your knees (or maybe even a bit below - another advantage of using the pad). I usually use a short “broomstick” handle on the cable, holding it behind my head, wrists by my neck. For an added twist, try touching your right elbow to the outside of your left knee and vice-versa.

I find that the biggest problem with keeping the thigh-shin angle is balance. So you might have to get someone to hold your hips in place the first few times. But hey, this just gives you an excuse to go talk to that hottie you’ve been eyeballing…

I’ve see a lot of people doing these on their knees. I started doing them standing, since I didn’t want to bang up my knees. I like the pivoting V-grip, and hold it behind my head. I usually hold everything rigid from the chest up, and I do pivot at the hips as I crunch my abs. The trick was to use enough weight to offset the counterbalance effect of my upper body as I bent forward. As already mentioned, it’s difficult to find the right motion, but once I did, this became the first exercise to really hit my abs hard. For variation, I sometimes pull to the left or right as I arch forward, recruiting more of the muscular skirt on the sides. Unfortunately, this development raised my waist measurement. It’s more about having a functionally strong core, I guess.