Written by Patrick Dale, PT, ex-Marine
Although no one has ever counted, there are probably more exercises for the abs than any other muscle group. There are bodyweight, cable, kettlebell, freeweight, floor and mat-based, standing, kneeling, isometric, and isotonic exercises for the abs.
The most likely reason is that almost everyone who works out wants a six-pack and, as such, spends a disproportionate amount of time training their abs.
Sadly, you need more than lots of abs-specific exercises to get a six-pack. That’s because, to see your abs, you also need a low level of body fat. Simply put, if you aren’t lean, your abs will be obscured by a layer of fat, and you might not be able to feel them, let alone see them.
So, if you want abs, you must eat according to your goal. That said, direct abs training will thicken your abdominal wall, making it more visible at a higher percentage of body fat.
As already mentioned, there are hundreds of abs exercises to choose from, and some are better than others.
In this article, we explain why and how to do heel touches and provide you with a few useful variations and alternatives.
Technically speaking, heel touches, also known as alternating heel taps, are an isolation exercise because they involve movement at just one joint – the spine. However, because there are two movements happening at once, heel touches actually work several important core muscles simultaneously.
The primary muscles trained during heel taps are:
The rectus abdominus is the long, flat muscle on the front of your abdomen. It’s separated by lines of ligamentous tissue, which give it a six-pack appearance. However, it’s important to note that this six-pack shape is only visible if body fat levels are low enough. How low depends on gender and genetics, but 10% is typical for men and 15% for women.
The main functions of the rectus abdominus are:
The obliques are located on the side of your abdomen. There are external and internal oblique muscles, but because they work together, most people refer to them as one muscle, simply called the obliques.
The main functions of the obliques are:
Where the rectus abdominus runs vertically up the front of your abdomen, the transverse abdominus runs horizontally. Acting a lot like a weightlifting belt, your transverse abdominus encircles your abdominal contents and, when it contracts, helps increase intra-abdominal pressure to support and stabilize your spine.
While you can’t see the transverse abdominus, no matter how lean you get, it is still a critical muscle. It is directly involved in every abs exercise you do, especially those where you brace your midsection, i.e., planks.
The main functions of the transverse abdominus are:
Get more from heel touches while keeping your risk of injury to a minimum by following these guidelines:
Do not hold your breath during this exercise, as doing so will starve your working muscles of oxygen and stop you from training as hard or as long as you otherwise could. It can also lead to significant rises in blood pressure. Instead, breathe in time with your movements.
Not sure if heel touches are the right exercise for your abs workouts? Consider these benefits and then decide!
While heel touches are a mostly beneficial exercise, there are also a few drawbacks to consider:
Heel touches are a highly effective abs and obliques exercise, but that doesn’t mean you need to do them all the time. There are several variations and alternatives you can use to keep your workouts productive and interesting:
The biggest drawback of heel touches is that there is very little resistance to lateral flexion. In other words, your obliques don’t actually have to do a lot of work to pull you from one side to the other. Oblique crunches pits your muscles against gravity for a much more demanding waist workout.
Side planks are a classic core exercise that emphasizes your obliques. During this exercise, your muscles work isometrically, i.e., statically, to maintain your position. Your core often has to work like this in nature to maintain spinal stability, e.g., when carrying a heavy object in one hand.
Side planks provide your obliques with a good workout, but, like most bodyweight abs exercises, all too soon, they will lose some of their effect, and you’ll need to do them for longer and longer. This side plank variation involves a leg raise which makes them more challenging. You can also do this exercise for reps instead of a predetermined time.
The two main functions of the obliques are lateral flexion and rotation. Where heel touches emphasize the former, Mason twists are all about the latter. It’s generally best to train a muscle using all its available functions, so Mason twists are a great supplement to heel touches.
We’re the first to admit that this exercise looks nothing like heel touches, yet it works the same muscles as well as your arms and shoulders. Also, just like heel touches, this exercise requires no equipment, so you can do it anywhere and anytime.
No, you haven’t accidentally clicked on a chest training article! In fact, single-arm dumbbell bench presses are a very effective abs and obliques exercise. That said, they do hit your chest, shoulders, and triceps, which makes them a very time-efficient compound exercise.
This exercise is a whole lot harder than heel touches, but if you are ready for a challenge, this is the move for you. The good news is that you don’t need any equipment to do this exercise, making it ideal for home workouts.
When time is short, don’t do your core training at the gym. Instead, focus on the exercises you can’t do at home, like squats, bench presses, and deadlifts.
Then, when you have a few minutes spare, drag out your gym mat and work your core at home using bodyweight exercises. Just a couple of 10 to 15-minute workouts per week are all you need to develop a stronger, firmer midsection.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of bodyweight abs exercises that are perfect for home use, and now you can add heel touches to the list. You can still train your abs even if you can’t make it to the gym; there really is no excuse for skipping core workouts!
Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine, gym owner, and fitness qualifications tutor and assessor. In addition, Patrick is a freelance writer who has authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos. He’s not just an armchair fitness expert; Patrick practices what he preaches! He has competed at a high level in numerous sports, including rugby, triathlon, rock climbing, trampolining, powerlifting, and, most recently, stand up paddleboarding. When not lecturing, training, researching, or writing, Patrick is busy enjoying the sunny climate of Cyprus, where he has lived for the last 20-years.
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