Cable Crunches – Ultimate Beginners Guide
Cable Crunches are one of the most effective exercises out there to build a strong stable core and perhaps, more importantly, getting those chiseled abs you’ve been dreaming about.
Here’s everything you need to know about this exercise.
Summer’s coming in hot (Pun intended) and you know what that means, the sun, the beach, the parties. It also means that you’ll be spending a lot more time with your shirt off. You better have your tanning done, and get those abs popping.
For a lot of us, life got in the way and we weren’t quite able to get the much-coveted six-pack (not beers, the other kind of six-pack) and that means we have no time to lose.
If you want to draw looks of admiration and envy every time you pop off your shirt at a pool party, then you came to the right place and I’ve got just the thing for you.
The Cable Crunch exercise has for a long time been a bodybuilder’s secret weapon when it comes to getting a set of washboard abs. Even Arnold was doing them back in his “Pumping Iron” days!
So what are cable crunches and how do I do them correctly?
What are Cable Crunches?
There’s a lot of misinformation going around in fitness circles about how to get a six-pack.
Articles go around telling you to do thousands of reps of different styles of crunches and flashy exercises. Unfortunately, I can tell you from experience that these flashy movements look cool, but don’t work.
While bodyweight exercises and stability work definitely has a place in ab training, there is a better way to build core strength and get a noticeable six-pack.
The answer is simple really, your abs are a muscle. How do you make a muscle more noticeable? YOU MAKE IT GROW!
When you’re trying to grow your chest, do you do a thousand push-ups, or do you do several sets of heavy bench press or chest press?
For those that don’t know the answer, you do heavy bench press or very heavy chest presses on the hammer machine.
Your abs are no different. If you want a muscle to grow it needs weight training.
The cable crunch is the best way to weight train your abs.
The cable crunch is the best way to make your abdominal muscles grow. This is because instead of taking the thousand-rep approach, it copies traditional exercises and incorporates weight training.
How To Do Cable Crunches
Listed below is the step-by-step guide on how to perform cable crunches exercise correctly
Step #0.1 – Equipment
Here’s what you need to get started with the cable crunch:
- Cable tower
- Rope attachment
- Exercise mat
All of this should be provided by just about any public gym.
If you don’t have some or any of those you don’t have to miss out though.
If you don’t have access to a cable tower, a lat pulldown machine, or one of those power racks with a lat pulldown feature, you can use resistance bands attached to a high point above you, maybe a pull-up bar or even your door.
Any other attachments for the cable tower can be used (like handles) but the rope attachment is ideal for better form.
If you’re missing the exercise mat (you can make do with yoga or MMA mat, too), use a towel or just tough it out.
Step #1 – Set Up
To begin with, kneel in front of the cable tower while holding the cable attachment. Use a light load, while it is a very safe exercise, until you learn the proper form, there could be some risk of injury.
I find that kneeling about arm’s length away from the cable tower gives me the proper leverage. Once you learn to perform the exercise try it out and see what gives you a better contraction.
Step #2 – Form
There are two things that you need to keep in mind to achieve proper cable crunch form and avoid injury:
I.- Hip position
You need to keep your hips elevated and in place during the whole exercise.
This is because if you move your hips when you’re pulling down you are actually using your bodyweight.
Furthermore, this also activates your hip flexors, which will reduce the load on your abdominal muscles.
The best way to avoid this is to have your legs in an “L” shape, your shins flat on the ground, and your quads straight up at a 90-degree angle.
The only movement in this exercise should come from the spine caused by the contraction., or crunch, of your abs.
A great tip I give when coaching is to have a medicine ball in between your calves and your butt. You should not sit on it, just keep contact between your butt and the ball to help you remember the right position.
II.- Hand Position
The way you place your hands will determine your range of motion for the exercise and the leverages used.
This is why it’s important to get it right to get the most out of every rep.
Some people will tell you to place the rope attachment over your neck and hold your hands at the sides. However, this is actually not the best way to perform cable crunches.
What you should do is hold your hands together and make your thumb knuckles touch your forehead.
This will place your elbows out of the way of the crunch and create better leverage so that you can get more stimulus on your abdominals with less weight.
Another thing you should do is tuck your chin towards your chest to stabilize the neck. If this is hard you can use a tennis ball between your chin and chest to hold the position better.
Step #3 – CRUNCH
Alright now that you have the basic form down, its time to perform the exercise.
This is an illustration of this exercise
When coaching, there are a few cues I like to give my trainees.
Tips for Beginners
Listed below are just a few of the tips to keep in mind when performing the cable crunch exercise
1. Mind Muscle Connection
The human body is very efficient. This is usually a good thing, but when we are trying to hit a particular muscle, it often works against us.
If you don’t pay attention, you’ll find your arms, hips, and bodyweight will take a lot of load out of your abdominals thus making the exercise less useful for strengthening your core.
I’ve found that the best way to isolate my abs is not to focus on pulling down the rope, but on getting a deep contraction on my abs.
If you do this right, it will bend your spine and bring down the rope.
2. Range of motion
In order to get the most out of cable crunches, you want to get as deep a contraction as possible.
In order to do this, you should start each rep with your spine at least neutral. The more upright you are at the beginning of the exercise, the more work your abs have to do.
You should try to feel a slight stretch in your abs at the top of each rep, then crunch down focusing on your midsection, as described above.
At the bottom of the rep, you should try to roll your elbows against your thighs as much as you can. If you can’t curl your spine enough to reach your thighs, you should focus on touching the ground with your elbows.
Sets and Reps
Now that you know how to perform a cable crunch, you might be wondering how to fit these in your ab routine.
How much weight you should do, and how many reps you should do?
While you might be tempted to go for super heavy weights to maximize your growth, this is not always best and I actually recommend against this.
Start off with a lighter weight until you get comfortable with the movement and can perform the exercise correctly.
Then up the weight a little so that you could squeeze out 20 reps if you really wanted to. But instead of trying to knock out as many as you can, only shoot for 10-15 reps and focus on making the muscles burn. Make them work, and squeeze them and stretch them at the bottom and top of each rep.
Although some fitness buffs prefer single set training, where they hit 1 set to failure, I recommend three or four sets of ten to twelve reps for optimal training, more so for beginners.
Video Demonstration on How to Perform Cable Crunches
How To Do Oblique Cable Crunches?
Oblique cable crunches are a simple variation of the cable crunch explained above.
They are very useful for getting that “V” shape on the bottom of your hips.
To perform one, simply start the rep as you would a regular cable crunch, once your spine is parallel to the ground, twist your torso so that your elbow touches the opposing knee.
Now you can either perform all of the reps on one side and then switch to the other side, or alternate between sides and have a longer set.
It might take a couple of tries to really feel it in your obliques if you have never trained them before, you just need to keep trying until you develop good mind-muscle connections and can work the exercise to its potential.
Listed below are the muscles worked by the cable crunch exercise
1. Front Abs
The front abs or rectus abdominus is the muscle group responsible for giving you a six-pack and the main target of this exercise.
Their main function is to “curl up” and cause spinal flexion. This is why the cable crunch is such a great way of causing hypertrophy in your abs.
Doing double crunches, water crunches, or regular crunches will also work this area, make sure to not overwork yourself though like I did before when I tried doing 500 crunches per day!
Obliques are the muscles located on either side of your front abs. They stretch out all the way from right below your armpit to the top of your groin.
When you see ripped bodybuilders that have serrated abs and a V shape leading to their groin, that’s because they have great obliques.
Their main function is to provide stability for your torso and to twist the thorax.
While the regular cable crunch works the obliques as an accessory muscle that provides stability, it is better to do targeted isolation exercises and workouts like the oblique cable crunch mentioned above to get them to grow and show.
3. Indirect Muscles Worked – Lats
I know what you’re thinking, I’m doing an Ab exercise! Why does it work my back!?
The lats, which comprise both upper and lower lats, are the biggest muscle group in your torso, responsible for the V-taper that gives the illusion of a huge back and tiny waist.
Unfortunately, as I said before, our bodies are very efficient. That means our muscles are not meant to work by themselves, but to assist each other to generate more strength.
What that spells out for us is that even with perfect form, the lats are gonna take over a little bit on your cable crunches.
However, if you do them right, you should still feel a crazy burn on your abs when you do this exercise.
Benefits of cable crunches
Listed below are the benefits of performing the cable crunch exercise
1. Make Your Abs Grow
After reading this far, you should know this one. This exercise is designed to make your abdominal muscles grow bigger and stronger.
This leads us to the next benefit
2. Washboard Abs
Obviously, a bigger muscle will pop out of your frame more and be more visible.
Now that doesn’t mean one set of cable crunches will give you 10-pack abs and have you looking ready for a magazine cover, it still takes time like any other muscle.
Related Reading: How Many Crunches Should I Do a Day?
But it does mean that if you are consistent and perform this exercise a couple of times a week, when the time comes you’ll be itching to take your shirt off and show off your shredded muscle lines.
3. Core strength and stability
Believe it or not, your abs are not only for show. They are responsible for keeping your spine stable and straight.
If you’re familiar with compound lifts like the bench press, squat and deadlift, then you understand how important a stable core is.
The beauty of the cable crunch is that by making your abs stronger, it makes them able to keep your core tight under heavier loads.
What this means is that cable crunches have carryover advantages to most compound lifts and will probably make you stronger overall, most definitely will allow you to support heavier weight.
That, in turn, brings us to the last benefit
4. Improved Posture
Your core muscles are what keeps you upright when you’re walking around day-to-day.
It’s no wonder then that having stronger muscles will help improve your posture and stand up straighter. Which in turn will help you look more confident and help show off your physique!
However, this is a double-edged sword. If you only focus on your core, it could create imbalances that harm your posture, so be sure to have a well-rounded strength training program.
Other key areas to target include the back, shoulders, arms, chest and legs – for those who love to bench and squat on the same day.
You can do this in a routine, after chest day, you may work the shoulders, some prefer to work arms after chest day, then the back, and then usher in the leg day… figure out which sequence works best for you.
FAQ Most Beginners have about cable crunches
Listed below are some of the most common questions that most beginners have about cable crunches
Are cable crunches effective at building and shredding abs? – yes
Are cable crunches bad for your back? Not if done correctly. Do as we say above.
I’ve seen bodybuilders with eight packs or even ten packs, how can I get one? – Unfortunately, the shape of your abdominal muscles is determined by genetics, what you can do is get a bigger muscle so that it shows more.
My abs are uneven! Help!– Same as above, your abdominal shape is determined at birth, however, no matter how crooked your abs may be, they still look way better than a flabby belly.
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Hi there! I'm Ben, main author and chief editor at Fitlifefanatics.com. I have been obsessed with Strength Training and Fitness for 16 years now.
My passion for living a happy fit lifestyle is what made me realize that fitness is what I wanted for my future.
I went on to earn my Masters in Sports Training & Biomechanics.
My passion for Strength training & fitness and my love of helping others is what made me start Fitlifefanatics.
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