If your go-to core workout includes all the same sit-ups and crunches you learned in middle school gym class, it’s probably time to shake things up.
A good option for a new ab exercise? Vertical leg crunches.
This challenging variation on the traditional crunch will enhance your abs workout by adding variety—an important component of any training plan.
Why is diversity important? Because the body is an efficient adapter. Subject it to the same crunch exercise or routine day after day and it will reach a plateau and you will see limited improvement.
If you want to see progress (eg muscle growth and strength gains) you need to change the stimulus on the body by changing the movement, increasing the difficulty of the exercise (via variables such as tempo, rest, intensity, etc.). or removing stability.
A simple combination with standard crunches, vertical leg crunches add a lot of variety to challenge your body.
How to do vertical leg crunches with perfect form
- Lie on your back and raise your legs until they are perpendicular to the floor. Keep them straight and pressed together.
- Use your hands to support your neck by placing your palms gently behind your head.
- Engage your abdominal muscles and lift your shoulders and upper back off the floor. Instead of rounding your shoulders, think about lifting your chest to the sky.
- Hold the crunch for one second and slowly lower the upper body to the starting position and repeat.
How to make vertical leg crunches harder
Winding through your ab routine and looking for a new challenge? Try to hold the abdominal contractions at the top of the movement and try to do small crunches or “blows”.
“By maintaining the contraction (as opposed to touching the back to the floor) you get more time in tension, a proven stimulus for increased development,” says CSCS Cody Brown.
You can increase the difficulty of the vertical leg crunch by lowering the leg to a 45-degree angle from a vertical position. “By lowering the leg, you’re demanding more of your core to stabilize as you crunch,” says Brown.
How to make vertical leg crunches easier
If you find that tight hamstrings make it difficult to keep your legs straight during vertical leg crunches, Brown suggests bending the knees (but keeping them pressed together).
You can also convert vertical leg crunches back to standard crunches by placing your feet on the floor.
This variation provides more stability and allows you to gradually build strength in your core muscles.
Bonus tips for vertical leg crunches
It’s not uncommon for people to rock back and forth while doing crunches, using momentum to exercise your core muscles instead.
“To execute vertical leg crunches, you want to actively press your lower back into the ground as you ascend in the crunch as well as the descent,” says Brown.
This will make the exercise harder, but doing it with proper form will help you get the most out of it.
Benefits of vertical leg crunches
Six-pack aspirations aside, vertical leg crunches help strengthen the ab muscles, which are integral to everything from walking and standing to lifting weights and playing sports.
“Standing leg crunches help strengthen the rectus abdominis, which is a major muscle that helps stabilize your spine,” says Brown.
Additionally, because of the position of the feet, vertical leg crunches are more challenging than standard crunches.
“When you step up, you reduce the amount of contact points with the ground, which reduces stability,” Brown explains.
The less stability, the greater the likelihood of core muscle activation.
Muscles targeted by vertical leg crunches
Like all crunch exercises, this move targets the rectus abdominis. But, by raising the leg to a vertical position, you also engage the hip flexors.
The rectus abdominis, the muscle that drives the length of the abdomen, is what defines a chiseled midsection.
When well developed, the rectus abdominis pushes against the connective tissue, giving the appearance of “six-pack abs”.
Originating in the pelvis and inserting into the ribs and sternum, the rectus abdominis flexes the torso and spine.
It works in conjunction with other core muscles to create intra-abdominal tension—what happens when you “brace” your core.
Hip flexor muscles, primarily iliac And psoasPull the thighs and torso toward each other.
Together, these are known as muscles iliopsoaswhich arise from the pelvis and lumbar vertebrae and insert into the femur or upper leg bone.