It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional powerlifter, a classic physique bodybuilder, a weekend warrior, or a casual lifter who wants to have a nice midsection for the beach, training abs is a necessity to better your body.
When we think about doing sit-ups and crunches it’s easy to only think about growing our abs to make them more defined and visible, but it’s important to remember strengthening them as well is crucial for injury prevention and increase your lifts. This is why it is important to not skip ab training whether you are deep in the offseason and bulking up, or two months out from your Palma De Mallorca beach trip.
There are countless abdominal and oblique exercises out there to try, but in this article we will be focusing on one that is easily forgotten about. Alternating heel touches are a great exercise that can be done quite easily by beginner and advanced athletes to activate and grow their midsection. We will be focusing on how to perform the exercise, what muscles it works, as well as the few variations that exist.
How To Perform Alternating Heel Touches & Variations
Compared to some more advanced ab exercises, heel touches are quite tame and simple to perform. Begin by laying on your back on a mat (or on the floor, if it isn’t too hard for your back to rest on comfortably), and bend your knees at about a 90-degree angle with your feet flat on the ground. Your arms will be on your side, with your hands open and facing your legs. Keep your head and neck on or barely off the ground, as long as you are looking at the ceiling and not straining in any direction.
To start the exercise, bend at your midsection to one side while keeping your arms slightly bent or straight and reach until you can touch your heel. Exhale as you reach, and focus on contracting your oblique. As you come back to the starting position take a breath in and repeat on the other side of your body. Since this exercise is unweighted and rather easy, it is best done to a high rep count in the 30-50 or more range.
The obliques are the main muscle worked during the alternating heel touches, but the rectus abdominis is hit to a degree, especially if you can slightly crunch your upper back off the ground during the exercise. This abdominal exercise is uniquely difficult to create a lot of variations for because of the position it puts your body in.
While you can’t use much weight, it is possible to hold a light dumbbell or weight plate (probably under 10 pounds or 5 kilos) in your hands if you hold them facing up. You will need to go slower to both feel the contraction of the exercise as well as not result in straining one of your abdominal muscles. You won’t be able to touch your heels of course with a weight in your hand but you should try to get as close to touching your feet as possible.
The one other variation that might be a bit easier to perform involves a resistance band. You will want to find a machine or bar to wrap the band through in front of you, as you will hold onto both sides of it with your hands. If you lay down the right distance away (which will be unique to the amount of resistance your band has) to have a decent about of pull on both sides in the starting position, it will add a good amount of difficulty when reaching to one side or the other.
Once this exercise becomes too easy with weights or a resistance band for 50+ reps, you can advance to standing oblique exercises like, woodchoppers or weighted side bends!
Take Home Message
This ab exercise should be part of a balanced routine and can be added to the tail end of any type of workout, whether it be chest day, pull day, or a lower body day.
Since there are so many ways to hit the abs for optimal growth, make sure to add a few to your routine throughout the week to adequately work the obliques, upper abs, lower abs, and transverse abdominis. Of course aesthetic abs are always good, but don’t let an offseason or powerlifting routine where you might be at too high of a body fat level to see them stop you from training them. Working out your abs in the offseason is extremely important to get them strong, but also because it is when you will build the most muscle in your midsection (which you definitely want, to have your six-pack or v taper “pop”).
With all that being said, give alternating heel touches a try and add them to your routine if they are to your liking!