How to do the kneeling cable crunch
and is it good for the abs

The most common exercises for the abs, such as sit-ups and crunches, always come with one big caveat—lower back pain. And this problem is even more exacerbated once weights are incorporated into the routine.

But did you know that you can still perform crunches without hurting your back? You read that right: a pain-free crunch session is possible, all thanks to the kneeling cable crunch.

This exercise, which enables you to work the abdominal muscles using strong resistance without compromising the spine, could be the death of dull, regular crunches.

What is a kneeling cable crunch?

The kneeling cable crunch is the creative and more effective variation of the standard crunch that requires the use of weighted cables to strengthen and define the abs.

Unlike standard crunches with weights that can restrict movement and range of motion, crunches using weighted cables provide greater resistance which provides a more natural range of movement.

The kneeling cable crunch mainly targets the abdominal muscles, but more specifically the rectus abdominis, which is responsible for the flexion and extension of the spine. Other muscles worked during this exercise are the internal & external obliques, serratus, and lower back muscles, all of which are in charge of bending and twisting movements.

How to do the kneeling cable crunch

  1. Begin by kneeling in front of a cable machine with the pulley at the highest notch possible.
  2. Hold one end of the rope attachment in each hand and place your wrists against the sides of your head.
  3. Flex your hips to lower your torso and let the weighted cable lift your upper body so that your lower back is curved upward.
  4. Breathe out as you pull the rope down, and keep your hips fixed and your core tightened as you do this to make sure your back becomes arched.
  5. Breathe in as you untighten your core and let the rope lift your upper body to return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat according to your desired number of reps.

Tips for a more effective kneeling cable crunch

Here are a few more reminders to ensure that you are doing the kneeling cable crunch properly to get optimal results.

Lock the hips

Keep your hips high and locked in place at all times to avoid using your bodyweight and recruiting your hip flexors. This position will ensure that the movement comes only from the spine and provide a better range of motion that will enable you to do a full crunch, something that will not be possible if your hips drop too low.

Get a good grip

The placement of your hands will also play an important role in achieving the full range of motion. Not only should you hold the rope attachment with a firm grip, but you must also put your hands together with your thumb knuckles at the top of your forehead, instead of just pulling them over your shoulders with your hands on your upper pecs.

Once you are ready to do the pulling, slightly tuck your chin in, roughly two inches away from your chest, and stay in this position throughout the exercise to keep your neck neutral. Not only does this get your hands and arms out of the way of the crunch, but it also allows the core to get more stimulation.

Control the movement

If you used to do regular crunches endlessly and rapidly, you need to forget that in the kneeling cable crunch. To get the full range of motion, the focus should be more on getting as much flexion in the spine as possible. It should be neutral at the top of the movement and extended at the bottom while doing it in a controlled manner throughout the exercise.

Kneeling cable crunch mistakes to avoid

But while the kneeling cable crunch is an effective exercise to develop your abs, there are a few blunders you need to watch out for to make sure you are making the most out of it.

Not rounding the back

Arching your back upward prevents you from contracting your rectus abdominis through a full range of motion, and if you are unable to contract your core muscles, you still have a long way to go before you get that six-pack.

While most exercises are not supposed to be performed with a rounded back, in a kneeling cable crunch you will have to. This is to unlock the arch in the lumbar spine to shorten the muscle fibers of the rectus abdominis. Since the spinal erectors are antagonists to the rectus abdominis, this means that when one is contracting, the other is being stretched.

So if the spinal erectors are not stretched, then the rectus abdominis cannot contract. And if the rectus abdominis cannot contract, it will not grow.

Using the hands to pull

The kneeling cable crunch is an isolation exercise for the abs, so you have to make sure that your rectus abdominis is doing all the work. To ensure that you are recruiting your abs and not your arms or shoulders, hold both ends of the rope attachment beside your head then lock everything in place. Your upper body and arms should move in one fluid motion, with the rope and your arms in the same position relative to your head at the bottom of each rep, just like it is at the top of the movement.

Sinking back

Avoid letting your lower body sink back as you reach the bottom of the movement. Doing this will let you lose the isolation on your abs because you are engaging your shoulders and digging your hips through your legs to complete the crunch. Remember to keep your lower body fixed and steady to ensure that the movement takes place only in your abs.

Tucking in the chin too much

Tucking your chin too much into your chest puts unnecessary pressure on your cervical spine and doesn’t contribute to abdominal contraction in any way. So if you keep doing this, you are essentially hurting yourself for nothing.

Avoid doing this by imagining an orange between your chin and sternum and making sure you are careful not to squeeze them as you crunch. This allows you to fully engage the abdominal muscles more and ensure that they are doing all the hard work.

Cable crunch variations to try

Can’t get enough of cable crunches yet? Here are a few more variations to try.

Standing cable crunches

Begin by standing straight with your feet hip-width apart and your back to the pulley. Grab the ends of the rope attachment in each hand and hold them above your shoulders away from your neck. It is advisable to not go heavy on the weights at first while trying to find your balance to make sure you get into the position you are most comfortable with before proceeding with the exercise.

Once you are all set, flex at the waist and bend forward then pull down as you would in a kneeling cable crunch.

Since the weighted cables provide constant tension throughout the exercise, your abs will not be able to rest. This is will help you achieve optimal results because you will be forced to maintain as much tension as you can, from the moment you pull down until you return to the starting position.

Weighted cable crunches

As previously stated, the biggest advantage of the kneeling cable crunch—or any cable crunch variation for that matter—over the regular crunch is the extra resistance created by adding weights while providing a more natural range of movement.

Instead of doing hundreds of reps as you would in a standard crunch, weighted cable crunches will have you increase the weight and lower the number of reps instead.

High cable crunches

The only difference of this variation from the kneeling cable crunch is the height and angle from which you pull. Doing cable crunches this way gives you more chance to effectively target other abdominal muscles which are not worked in a typical kneeling cable crunch.

This means that if the pulley is placed higher, the resistance will further increase, and pulling down will require more effort and demand more contraction of the abdominal muscles.