Alternate Heel Touches: Benefits, Muscles Worked, and More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
December 16, 2022

The muscles that run along the lateral sides of the abdominal wall are referred to as the obliques, and these muscles control movements that include bending to the side and twisting at the waist. Exercises like the alternate heel touches that focus on the obliques help shape and define the waist, tone the abdominal wall, and pull the abdominal muscles closer together.

The alternate heel touches are an excellent workout for people of all fitness levels because they develop and strengthen the abdominal muscles, particularly the obliques. Depending on how fit someone is, they may perform the exercise with nothing but their body weight or with additional resistance. 

As you reach for each heel in turn, the oblique muscles will get tighter as they get squeezed with each heel tap. Having well-toned obliques is visually pleasing and an essential aspect of core strength, supporting the back and providing better posture for greater balance and stability.

What are Alternate Heel Touches?

Alternate heel touches are a calisthenics-based exercise that concentrates on the abdominal and oblique muscles.

Heel touches are a modification of the traditional crunch exercise that includes lying on your back, clenching the muscles in the abdominal region, and bending side to side to reach out with alternate hands and touch the heels one at a time.

alternate heel touchers

It is vital to train the obliques, one of the muscles primarily responsible for side-to-side bending and torso rotation. While there's nothing wrong with aspiring to have a six-pack and performing exercises to strengthen this muscle, the obliques should never be underemphasized because they primarily help stabilize the torso and increase the core's rotational strength, which adds power to punches and kicks.

How to Perform Alternate Heel Touches

To perform the exercise, lie on the floor with the knees bent at a 90-degree angle and the feet planted flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. The arms should be at the sides of the body. Next, lift the head and upper back off the floor, crunching forward towards the torso. This will become the starting position.

Start reaching for the heels one hand at a time by bending the body at the sides. Bend on both sides of the body alternately. Exhale when going for the heels and inhale when the body is back in the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions. By doing this exercise at least three times a week, most people will achieve excellent results. 

Benefits of Alternate Heel Touches

Strengthens the Core

Not only does it look nice to have tight obliques, but it also helps support the back and improves general posture. This helps avoid injuries and discomfort when we rotate our body, particularly in the lower back. The muscles in our abdominal region and back all contract and extend in the opposite direction on each side while providing support and stability for the trunk.

Building up one's abdominal muscles is essential for improving one's overall level of physical fitness. Alternate heel touches work not just the obliques but also the rectus abdominis and the transverse abdominis to build stronger and better-looking abdominal muscles. 

Stronger obliques and abdominal muscles help in the transmission and generation of power, especially in the lower limbs. It also helps transfer the kinetic chain from the lower limb to the upper body by providing rotational power to the torso.

Improves Stability and Flexibility

Alternate heel touches strengthen the obliques and abdominals and develop flexibility due to the body's side-to-side bending motion. When one side contracts, the other side stretches. One can add difficulty to the exercise by moving the feet further away from the body to enhance greater flexibility.

Well-developed oblique muscles provide better stability for the body as they help reduce the load on the lower back muscles and spine, allowing better muscular coordination of the core muscles.

Muscles Worked by Alternate Heel Touches

The frontal abdominal muscle groups are the primary focus of the vast majority of abdominal workouts.

alternate heel touchers muscles

Alternate heel touches, on the other hand, work the front and side abdominal muscles of the upper, middle, and lower abdominal regions. It isometrically activates the rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis while dynamically stimulating the obliques.

Rectus Abdominis

The uppermost layer of your abdominal muscles is called the rectus abdominis, most often referred to as the "six-pack." It consists of two muscles that are flat and parallel to one another and are separated by connective tissue.

The rectus abdominis is a muscle that runs down the front of the abdomen and has an appearance similar to that of a six-pack because it is separated into sections by bands of ligamentous tissue. However, the percentage of body fat must be somewhat low for the six-pack form to be discernible. 

The main functions of the rectus abdominis are to bend the spine forward, assist in core stability, and help compress the abdominal contents.

Transverse Abdominis

The transverse abdominis goes in a horizontal direction, while the rectus abdominis goes in a vertical direction along the front of the abdomen. Intra-abdominal pressure supports and stabilizes the spine when the transverse abdominis muscle contracts. This is because the muscle wraps around the abdominal organs.

The transverse abdominis is the deepest of the six abdominal muscles. It wraps around the trunk from front to back, extending between the ribs and pelvis. These muscle fibers run horizontally.

The primary function of the transverse abdominis and the other core muscles is to support the torso by keeping the abdominal wall tight, stabilizing the spine and pelvis before the limbs can move, and keeping the internal organs in place to protect them. 

Internal and External Obliques

The internal obliques are a pair of abdominal muscles that lie immediately inside the hip bones. When you twist your trunk to the left, the external oblique on the right side needs to contract in conjunction with the internal oblique on the left.

The external obliques are two muscles on each side of the rectus abdominis. They are the largest of the lateral abdominal muscles, as well as the one that is the most superficial. The trunk will twist to the side opposite where an external oblique muscle is contracting.

When the oblique muscle and other abdominal muscles are weak, the chance of an abdominal hernia increases.

Final Thoughts

Alternate heel touches can also be performed with added resistance by utilizing resistance bands. One can wrap a resistance band on each ankle and grab the other end with the hand to add more tension to the exercise. Another option is to slow down each rep and hold it for a second or two when tapping the heels. A decline bench is another option for adding resistance to the movement.

References

1. Urquhart DM, Barker PJ, Hodges PW, Story IH, Briggs CA. Regional morphology of the transversus abdominis and obliquus internus and externus abdominis muscles. Clinical Biomechanics. 2005 Mar 1;20(3):233-41.

2. Rath AM, Zhang J, Chevrel JP. The sheath of the rectus abdominis muscle: an anatomical and biomechanical study. Hernia. 1997 Oct;1(3):139-42.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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