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June 13, 2022 6 min read

To achieve visible abs, you need a healthy balance of exercise, recovery, and nutrition. You may find yourself doing endless sit-ups to try to get there, but if you get bored easily, it's good to have different ab exercises to choose from.

Aside from variety, different core exercises can target different areas of the abdominal muscles, which can help contribute to a stronger, more sculpted core.

Heel touches recruit all the main muscles in your abdomen and can be a great bodyweight exercise to improve strength and stability. 

Muscles Worked by Heel Touches 

The abdominals are a muscle group consisting of different parts that each contribute to a stronger, more stable body.   

Rectus Abdominis 

When contracted, the rectus abdominis can be seen and is often referred to as a six-pack, and people with a low percentage of body fat may have a constantly visual set of abs. Proper nutritionthat includes sufficient protein can help promote muscle growth and help those glamor muscles stick out.

These muscles may look good, but they do more than just that. The rectus abdominis is mainly responsible for moving the body between the ribcage and pelvis. It helps to stabilize the spine and tense the abdominal wall.

If this muscle is weak, you may experience lower back or hip pain, and even spinal problems. 

Some of the common causes of a weak rectus abdominis are inactivity or Diastasis recti, or abdominal separation. This can happen after pregnancy and can cause weakness, low back pain, or a bulge in the abdomen. Training this core muscle can help strengthen the abdominals and help heal the separation. 

Transverse Abdominis

One of the primary muscles that helps stabilize the lumbar spine is the transverse abdominis. It's the innermost muscle in the abdomen, and although you may not be able to see it, it's important for stabilizing the back, pelvis, and core, as well as maintaining tension in the abdominal wall and protecting internal organs.

Training the transverse abdominis helps build overall core strength and can reduce the risk of lower back pain and poor posture. 

Anytime you move your arms or legs, your transverse abdominis is recruited for movement and stability. So it may come to no surprise that if this muscle is weak, it can affect more than just your abs. 

Obliques 

Often neglected abdominal muscles are the obliques. They're located on the outermost part of the abdominal and help to sculpt the sides of your body. They are primarily responsible for rotating and bending at the torso, as well as helping stabilize the spine.

If your obliques are weak, it can affect your balance, and you may find it more difficult to bend down, walk, or even stand up. 

Strong oblique muscles can help contribute to a stronger core overall and can help lower your risk of injury in and outside the gym. 

Benefits of Heel Touches 

The aesthetic of a trained core is just one benefit of heel touches, but the abdominals play a huge role in other aspects of your life.  

Core Stability

The benefits of having a strong core are pretty substantial and can improve your overall performance and wellness. Performing an exercise like heel touches can contribute to core strength and stability, which is important for anyone, not just athletes, to have.

With a more stable core, your posture, balance, and function can be better.

Your core is called that name for a reason because it's the foundation of your movement, so if it's not stable, simple daily movements could suffer.      

Reduced Low Back Pain 

Low back pain is a common issue that will affect over 80% of adults, ranging from mildly inconvenient to needing to go to the emergency room for it. One of the causes of low back pain can be a lack of core stability because the abdominal muscles play an important role in stabilizing the lumbar spine.

The transverse abdominis especially helps support the lumbar spine, and strengthening it through heel touches could help reduce the risk of low back pain.

 

Improved Running Performance 

Although your lower body is essential for running speed and endurance, your upper body also can play an important role for movement and efficiency. The core can provide support to the spine while just standing, but it's also important for force generation during athletic activities like running.

Improving your core strength can help your running economy, kinematics, and breathingall of which are important for sprinters and long distance runners.   

Injury Prevention 

Musculoskeletal injuries can be common, especially in athletes, and could potentially set an individual out for months at a time. Building a stronger core through exercises like heel touches can help improve your movement and control, which can be especially crucial during powerful movements. Because of this, core stabilization exercises have been used to aid in the prevention of injuries.  

How to Do Heel Touches  

Heel touches aren't a complex move and can be great for beginners, but knowing how to get the most out of the exercise could be the difference in getting the results you want. Check out the exercise guide to start building a stronger core.  

Here's how to do Heel Touches: 

  1. Find a flat, comfortable surface to lie on. This move requires no equipment, but you can use the floor or a yoga mat if you need one. 
  2. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and heels planted into the floor.  
  3. Engage your core by squeezing your abdominal muscles and think about bringing your belly button into your spine. Maintain this position throughout but don't forget to breathe. 
  4. Using your abs, lift your upper back slightly off the floor and relax your head, so you don't strain your neck. This is your starting position. 
  5. Lean to the right side of your body as your right hand reaches for your right heel. Touch your heel or go as far as your range of motion allows.
  6. Since these are alternating heel touches, move back to a neutral position, then reach for the left heel on the left side. Continue to repeat for reps.  

Heel Touch Variations

An important benefit of the heel touch is that it can directly target the obliques. You may spend time trying to achieve a six-pack through various types of crunches and sit-ups, but these variations below help work shape the whole abdominal through oblique work.   

Side Plank 

Similar to the conventional plank, the side plank requires you to balance on one side of your body instead of both sides. It targets the obliques like the heel touch does, but you also get the added bonus of hip, back, and shoulder work. This variation can help improve your balance and core and spine stability. It can be more difficult than heel touches, but it can be easily modified to fit your needs. 

How to do the Side Plank:

  1. Lie on your side with your body in a straight line from your head to toes.
  2. Push your body off the floor and support yourself with only your elbow and feet. 
  3. Hold this position until fatigued.

Bicycle Crunches 

Requiring a little more coordination is the bicycle crunch. It targets the abs and the obliques as your body twists from side to side. Bringing your opposite elbow to your opposite knee may require more flexibility and coordination on your part, but once you get the rhythm down, you can start to improve them. 

How to do Bicycle Crunches: 

  1. Lie flat on your back with your hands behind your head. 
  2. Keep your core engaged as you bring your opposite knee to opposite elbow.
  3. Repeat on the other side and continue to alternate.

Side Bends 

For side bends, dumbbells are typically used for extra resistance, and it can be great for targeting the obliques. They help to not only strengthen your sides, but they can also help improve spine mobility. This variation can be beneficial for those looking to build muscle mass in that area to help create a wider appearance. Since you're flexing your spine, you'll want to be cautious with this one and make sure you're doing it properly and safely. 

How to do Side Bends: 

  1. Stand up tall with one dumbbell in one hand and the other on your hip for support. 
  2. Keeping your head up and back straight, bend at your waist, lowering the weight to your side as far as you can.
  3. Return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat on the other side. 

Build a Strong Core for a Strong Body  

A good core workout routine can be important for warming up or improving your strength training and cardio. It can enhance stability all throughout your body, so day-to-day life can feel a little easier.

Incorporating calisthenics through core exercises can be a low-impact way to build muscle and strength, while contributing to overall performance. 

Heel touches are simple, effective, and convenient, making them a great exercise from beginning to advanced lifters and athletes to perform. The way you choose to incorporate them into your workout, whether it be warming up, cooling down, or in between, is up to you. But knowing and understanding the proper form and the benefits this exercise can provide is what truly will help you set and reach your goals.