How to Do a Crossover Crunch: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Also Known As: Cross-body crunch

Targets: Abdominal muscles

Equipment: Mat (optional)

Level: Beginner

The crossover crunch is a beginner ab exercise that works more than your front abdominal muscles. It also targets your side abs, helping you feel more "pulled in" at the waist. Add this movement to your core strengthening workout for a tighter midsection.

How to Do a Crossover Crunch

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

While it's not required, you may want to use a mat for this exercise. If you don't have a mat, carpeting or a towel can provide some cushion during the movement. Lay back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Place your hands behind your head, elbows out.

  1. Cross your right ankle over your left knee.
  2. Exhale as you contract your abdominal muscles and slowly raise your upper body off the mat, similar to a basic crunch.
  3. Twist your torso to your right as you squeeze your abs, bringing your left elbow to your right knee until they touch (if you can).
  4. Reverse the twist and inhale as you slowly lower your upper body back to the mat.
  5. Repeat the same movements on the other side once you've completed your desired reps.
  6. End the exercise by returning both feet to the mat, as in the starting position.

Benefits of the Crossover Crunch

The crossover crunch targets the external and internal obliques. These are the muscles on each side of your midsection. They assist with movements such as twisting your trunk from side to side or turning your upper body while your lower body stays stationary.

Some athletes benefit from strong obliques when playing their sport of choice. Baseball players, for instance, rely on maximal trunk rotation during pitching and batting. A training program that builds the obliques can also help improve sprint time.

For non-athletes, having a strong core can do more than enhance your physique; it also benefits your overall health and strength. Strong abdominal muscles can improve posture, prevent injuries, and even help manage, reduce, or prevent back pain.

Adding the crossover crunch to your fitness routine can even improve your ability to perform everyday activities, such as twisting in your chair to pick up something that fell on the floor beside you or when moving a grocery bag from the cart to your trunk.

Other Variations of a Crossover Crunch

You can modify the crossover crunch to better suit your level of fitness and address any movement-related limitations.

Different Hand Position

If you want or need to change your hand position, either because placing them behind your head is uncomfortable or you simply want to change things up a bit, try these variations:

  • Place your fingertips on the side of your head, just behind your ears.
  • Place your fingers gently behind your head, cradling the base of your skull. (Make sure you aren't using your arms to pull your head up as you crunch.)
  • Place the fingertips of one hand at the side of your head and extend the other arm out to the side, so it's perpendicular to your body.

Different Leg Position

You can also perform the crossover crunch without crossing your ankle over your knee. This may be beneficial if you have lower back pain or if you otherwise find it difficult to lie in this position (due to knee or pelvis issues, for example).

The exercise is essentially the same, except that both feet remain on the mat. Then, when you twist your upper body up and to the side, you'll bring the opposite knee to meet your elbow. You can leave the legs completely stationary to reduce the intensity even more.

BOSU Ball Crossover Crunch

When your core becomes stronger, you'll want to change things up to keep your muscles working hard. This variation accomplishes this by introducing an unstable surface (the BOSU ball), forcing your core to maintain balance while strengthening your stabilizer muscles.

To do this crossover crunch, place the BOSU ball under your torso, along the natural curve of the middle of your back. Then, perform the crunch as instructed, making sure to do the same number of reps on each side.

Common Mistakes

To get the maximum benefits of this exercise and prevent injury, avoid these common mistakes when doing crossover crunches.

Pulling Your Neck

Even experienced crunchers are prone to this mistake. When lifting your upper body from the mat or floor, make sure you aren't pulling your neck up. You may be overshooting your crunch or crunching higher than you need to.

Try picturing a tennis ball under your chin. That's about how much space you want to maintain between your chin and chest as you crunch. Check in with your hips, too, making sure you aren't lifting your pelvis off the floor.

Falling Back

If you let your body just fall back to the mat during the lowering phase, you're not following through on the move. To get the full benefit of the exercise, you have to do it fully. This means engaging your core as you crunch up and keeping it engaged as you come back down.

Try aligning your breath with each direction of the move. This will also help you avoid another common pitfall: forgetting to breathe.

Going Too Fast

Another mistake with crunches is breezing through the movement as you build momentum. This can increase your risk of injury or strain while also reducing the effectiveness of the exercise.

Slow down and make each step deliberate. Remember: crunches don't need to be big and fast. Instead, aim for smaller, slower, and more targeted movements.

Doing Too Many Reps

With abdominal exercises, more isn't always necessarily better. You don't need to do 100 crunches a day to see results—especially if you're varying your technique to target different muscle groups.

Doing fewer crunches with excellent form is more beneficial than doing more crunches where your form isn't great or lapses as you start to get fatigued.

Safety and Precautions

Basic crunches or variations like the crossover crunch are a beginning exercise that most people can perform as long as they use proper form. However, if you've had an injury involving your neck or back, you may want to avoid any crunch-based exercises.

If the injury is recent, ask your doctor or physical therapist when you can resume exercise or how to regain strength without risking further damage. Also talk to your doctor if you've recently been pregnant or given birth and want to start a postpartum ab workout.

If you have a condition called diastasis recti (the muscles of your abdomen have separated), you may need to avoid exercises that work your core until you're healed.

When performing crossover crunches, if you feel any discomfort in your neck—especially while your arm is extended or with your fingertips behind the ears—you may need to try a different position to support your neck. Stop the exercise completely if you feel pain.

Begin with one set of 12 repetitions. As you get stronger, add more sets. A good goal is to work your way up to three sets of 12 reps on each side.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Niewolna N, Zwierko. The effect of core stability and functional exercises on selected speed and strength parameters in expert female footballers. Central Eur J Sport Sci Med. 2015;12(4):91-97. doi:10.18276/cej.2015.4-10

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Want Improved Posture? Try Strengthening Your Core With This Move.

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  6. Cleveland Clinic. Why a Strong Core Can Help Reduce Low Back Pain.

By Elizabeth Quinn
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.