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October 26, 2022 9 min read

When conversations turn to six-packs, sculpted abs, and carved obliques, an endless list of ab exercises and workouts comes to mind. There are bodyweight exercises, kettlebells, cables, free weights like dumbbells, mat- and floor-based, kneeling, standing, isotonic, and isometric exercises for the abs.

Planks and crunches tend to get boring, and mixing up exercise routines to build overall core strength can keep you going.

A great exercise to include is heel taps, which allows you to specifically target the muscles that give you that chiseled six-pack look you desire.

What are Heel Taps?

Heel taps are core exercises that use the body weight to target the midsection, abdominal and other muscles. Heel taps are beneficial for all, from fitness workouts for beginners to strength-training workouts for bodybuilders and weightlifters.

Heel Taps – Image from Shutterstock

The full range of motion comprises a simple, short exercise that requires no more than your body weight and a yoga mat for comfort. Heel taps are done lying flat on your back with bent knees and your feet firmly on the floor. It isolates and targets your abdominals, obliques, lower back muscles, and hip flexors.

The repetitive  squeezing of the abdominal muscles  is what strengthens your core. When heel taps are done with the proper form and technique as part of a frequent workout routine, sculpted abs could be your reward. As you progress and your fitness level improves, you can add weight or resistance to the routine to up the ante.

How to do Heel Taps?

The benefits of heel taps and their uncomplicated nature is what makes them a great exercise. However, doing them correctly and consistently is crucial if you want to reap the benefits. Using incorrect techniques may bypass the targeted muscles.

Furthermore, incorrect techniques increase injury risks.

To properly execute heel taps and limit injury risks, follow these guidelines:

Starting position: Lie down face-up, flat on the floor, or on your yoga mat. Place both your arms extended at your sides with your fingers pointing toward your feet.

Bend your knees at a 90-degree angle and place your feet flat on the floor—shoulder-width apart. Ensure your pelvis and spine are in a neutral position.

  1. Squeeze your abs and side oblique muscles while you inhale and slowly raise your shoulder blades and your head. Bend to your right and reach with your right hand to tap your right heel while exhaling.
  2. Ensure your movement is controlled. Tuck your chin in to keep your neck and spine aligned and engage your torso. Pull up with your core, not your neck. Squeeze your glutes and drive them into the floor to maintain a horizontal lower body.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position and pause for a second before repeating the movements with your left hand. Lift again and turn sideways to reach down and tap the left heel with your left hand, thereby completing one rep.

HOW MANY SETS & REPS SHOULD YOU DO FOR HEEL TAPS

The sets and reps to do are not set in stone. Instead, your fitness level should be considered. Most importantly, you should understand what is best for you and adjust the sets and reps to make the heel taps more challenging as you progress. don’t be overeager or set unrealistic goals that could lead to injuries.

With that said, here are general guidelines to use in your workout routine planning:

  • Beginners — start with 10-12 reps and aim for 2 to 3 sets.
  • As you progress, try increasing your repetitions to 12-15 reps on each side, keeping the sets to 2 or 3.
  • If you are already at an advanced fitness level, aim for 2 to 3 sets of 15-20 reps per side.

Important safety guidelines

Although heel taps appear to be a simple exercise, they are advanced and comprise multiple movements that could go wrong if incorrect techniques are used.

For example, the side-bending movement involves lateral flexion, and the rotation motion can cause injuries like bulging discs, muscle spasms, or compromised, worn spinal joints.

  • If you have existing back pain issues, you must consult a medical professional before starting any exercise program. Your physician can help you understand which muscles are weak and what exercises are best and safe for you to perform.
  • Follow the breathing guidelines carefully and do not hold your breath throughout performing the heel taps. Doing so will cause oxygen starvation for your working muscles, limiting the intensity and length of time you can spend working out.
  • Incorrect breathing can also cause significant rises in your blood pressure. Instead, a steady breathing pattern, in time with your movements, will keep the body relaxed and help you maintain even tension in your abdomen throughout the routine.
  • Don’t arch your lower back, keep it flat on the ground, and avoid straining your neck muscles. Keep your head free from all the effort you put into the exercise. Instead, keep your head focused on inhaling and exhaling for the exercise.
  • When performing heel taps, pay attention to your movements. At no time should your body be curved. Move in a horizontal line, and don’t hunch forward to tap your heels. Rest for a second every time you reach the starting position, inhale, and move into the crunch position for the next rep. Don’t rush when alternating heel touches. That one-second pause is what stops you from using momentum instead of muscle strength to do the heel taps.

What are the benefits of heel taps? Defines abs – Image from Shutterstock

  1. Strengthen Body Core

Core workouts are important because core strength is essential for your overall fitness. The core covers a portion of your upper body, and lower back. The torso muscles give strength for body balance and posture and keep the body upright. One way to maintain the strength of these muscles is by heel tap exercises, as long as you use the proper technique and breathing.

  1. Strengthen Abs

The primary target of heel taps is to give the front and side abdominal muscles sturdiness, strength, and agility. Strengthening those muscles gives you chiseled and toned abs.

  1. Enhance Oblique Muscles

The oblique muscles are slanting muscles on the front and side of your abdomen. They form a part of the core muscles targeted by heel tap exercises, unlike other core exercises that work mainly on the front abdominal muscles.

  1. Improve Spinal Flexibility

In addition to the front and side core muscles, heel taps benefit your entire torso and lower back muscles. This ensures strengthened spine stability and abdominal muscles, reducing risks of lower back pain.

  1. Improve Posture

Reportedly, a significant percentage of Americans live sedentary lifestyles behind desks, sitting hunched over computer keyboards for the majority of daytime hours. Therefore, it is not surprising that so many people have bad postures that do their body structure and self-esteem little good.

With strengthened core muscles, your lower back is held up better giving you a correct body posture.

  1. No Equipment Required

While many strength trainers use weights, added restraints, dumbbell side bends, cable crunches, and other gym equipment, you can develop your own chiseled six-pack without any equipment. All you need is your body weight, a yoga mat for comfort, and a space to lie down. As you progress it will be up to you to step up the intensity of your training. With  no equipment  required, there’s also no set-up time. You can get into the starting position and get a set of heel taps going in seconds—ideal for fast-paced workouts like supersets, circuit training, and HIIT.

  1. Easy to Learn

The heel tap exercise is an easy-to-learn routine that requires you to lie face-up on the floor and do side bends to tap your heels. Although there are specific techniques and breathing requirements, it is a great exercise to do at home without the need for a personal trainer.

  1. Spine friendly

Heel taps exert minimal compression on your spine if done correctly. It is spine-friendly and often suggested for people with mild low back issues.

What muscles do heel taps work?

Most abdominal exercises such as sit-ups and crunches mainly focus on your frontal abdominal muscle groups. In contrast, heel taps activate the front and side abdominal muscles of the upper, mid, and lower abdominal area, including rectus abdominis, and transverse abdominis, along with hip flexors and some upper back muscles.

Abdominal Muscles – Image from Shutterstock

 

The primary muscles that heel touches work are:

Rectus abdominus

The flat, long muscle on your front abdomen is the rectus abdominus. Lines of ligamentous tissue separate the rectus abdominus to give it a six-pack look. It’s separated by lines of ligamentous tissue, which give it a six-pack appearance. However, body fat levels must be low for the six-pack shape to be visible. The amount of fat varies, typically 15% for females and 10% for males.

Rectus abdominus main functions:

Lateral flexion – side-ways bending of your spine

Spinal flexion – forward bending of your spine

Abdominal contents compression — such as what happens when you exhale or cough

Obliques

Obliques are the slanting muscles located on the side and in front of your abdomen. There are internal and external oblique muscles that work together, and they are mostly referred to simply as the obliques.

People who spend most of their time sitting at their desks, or constantly carrying a heavyweight are more likely to have bad posture. If they don’t change their lifestyles, their backbone can take on a curved shape increasing the risk of chronic back problems.

Obliques main functions:

Lateral flexion – side-ways bending of your spine

Spinal rotation – twisting of your spine

Abdominal contents compression — such as what happens when you exhale or cough

Transverse abdominus

Unlike the rectus abdominus which runs vertically up the abdominal front, the transverse abdominus runs horizontally. If you have worn a weightlifting belt you will understand this because the transverse abdominus encircles your abdominal contents similarly. When your transverse abdominus contracts, intra-abdominal pressure supports and stabilizes the spine like the belt supports the weightlifter’s spine.

You can’t see the transverse abdominus because it is not a superficial muscle located close to the skin surface. However, not being visible does not take anything away from its importance in all abs exercises.

Transverse abdominus main functions:

Stabilizing the pelvis and lumbar spine before movement of the upper and lower limbs can occur.

Abdominal contents compression — such as what happens when you exhale or cough

Hip Flexors

You might be surprised that heel taps activate your hip flexors. They connect your legs to your trunk and work when you bend your knees and place your feet closer to your lower body, or bend at your waist to meet your legs.

Upper back muscles

The upper back muscles assist in improving body proportions and posture. Every time you lift your shoulders up to crunch forward, your upper back muscles activate. Also, when you return to the starting position for the one-second pause, you can feel your upper back muscles relax.

How can you increase the difficulty of heel taps?

There are a few ways to increase the difficulty of heel taps. In its regular range of motion, heel taps are no more than a bodyweight exercise. However, as your fitness improves, there is nothing to stop you from being a bit creative and implementing a few ways to make your heel taps more challenging, and also more effective.

Chiseled Abs – Image from Shutterstock

Here are some suggestions:

The easiest change is to add another set as a burn-out to increase the difficulty of the heel taps.

Slow down your repetitions — hold your body in the position when you tap the heel on the right side for 1 or 2 seconds before returning to the starting position, and again when you tap the heel on the left side.

Moving your feet closer together or further from your body will be more challenging because it will increase the range of your repetitions.

Wrap a resistance band around your back and looping it in each hand will add resistance.

Adding light to moderate weight to hold in each hand, such as dumbbells will also add more resistance.

A decline bench is a more advanced addition, which will certainly challenge your ability to do heel touches.

Conclusion

Heel taps are the perfect in-between workout for people with limited spare time to get to the gym. A bit of advice—if you used your limited gym time to do the workouts that involve deadlifts, squats, and bench presses. Heel taps and other core bodyweight exercises need no equipment and can be done at home.

You can firm up your abs by doing a couple of 10 to 15-minute sessions per week when you have a few minutes to spare.

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. 

However, don’t be so fixed on your six-pack that you forget your health.

After intense workouts, your body needs help to recover.  HyperAde  quickly replenishes muscle glycogen and electrolytes that are depleted from intense bursts of energy.

HyperAde is a non-stimulant electrolyte glycogen supplement that fuels your most grueling training sessions and powers your body to train longer and harder. It is the superior alternative to sugar-filled sports drinks, with a full profile of BCAAs, and it’s available in 3 delicious flavors.