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How Many Toe-Touch Crunches Should I Do For Solid Gains?

And what muscles do toe-touches work, anyway?

There are lots of popular ab exercises, and while toe-touch crunches are often neglected in ab workouts, the toe-touch crunch can be a great exercise for strengthening your abs.

But, when planning your workouts you may wonder, “how many toe-touch crunches should I do based on my fitness level?”

In this guide, we will discuss how to perform toe-touch crunches, the benefits and muscles worked, how to modify toe touches to add variety to your ab workout routine, and ultimately answer your question, “How many toe-touch crunches should I do in my workouts?

Let’s jump in!

A toe touch crunch.

How Do You Do Toe-Touch Crunches?

Before we look at how many toe touches you should do to strengthen your abs, let’s look at how to perform toe touch crunches in core workouts.

There are several variations of toe touches that you can do in ab workouts, but the basic toe touches exercise involves lying on your back and then reaching up toward your feet, which are perpendicular to the floor.

Toe-Touch Crunches In 4 Steps:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight up in the air perpendicular to the floor, knees straight, and the soles of your feet facing the ceiling. Place your arms straight overhead on the floor above your head.
  2. Engage your abs to crunch up, lifting your head, neck, and shoulder blades off the floor as you reach both arms straight up toward your toes. Make sure that you keep your shoulders down and pulled away from your ears.
  3. Squeeze your abs in the top position, holding for 1 to 3 seconds.
  4. Slowly lower your upper body back down, keeping your legs straight up into the air. Try not to bring your arms all the way down to the floor, but hover just above before beginning the next rep by engaging your abs and crunching back up toward your feet. Do not use momentum to help you crunch up.

What Are the Benefits of Toe-Touch Crunches?

One of the benefits of toe touches is that this ab exercise is a functional core exercise because it trains your abs to work together across several planes of motion, which replicates real-life applications.

Particularly if you do cross-over toe touches, you will incorporate some transverse plane motion, frontal plane motion, and sagittal plane motion.

The muscles worked by toe touch crunches are primarily the abs—which include the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, and transversus abdominis—but also the hip flexors.

A strong core not only makes you a better runner and improves athletic performance, but also protects your back, supports efficient movements1Sasaki, S., Tsuda, E., Yamamoto, Y., Maeda, S., Kimura, Y., Fujita, Y., & Ishibashi, Y. (2019). Core-Muscle Training and Neuromuscular Control of the Lower Limb and Trunk. Journal of Athletic Training54(9), 959–969. https://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050-113-17, and helps maintain your posture.

Variations of Toe-Touch Crunches

#1: Standing Toe Touch Crunches

You can also do standing toe-touch crunches if you cannot get down on the ground and you want to improve your hip and ankle stability. 

This is also a great dynamic warm-up exercise before running because it helps get your neuromuscular system firing, improves coordination, and stretches out the hamstrings, glutes, upper back, and shoulders.

Here are the steps:

  1. Stand upright with good posture, core muscles engaged, shoulders back and down, chest up, and feet hip-width apart.
  2. Lift your right arm straight up with your fingertips pointing to the ceiling as you lift your left leg off of the ground.
  3. Using your abs and hip flexors, lift your left leg straight up into the air, keeping the knee straight as you bring your right hand down in front of your chest, keeping the elbow straight. You should be trying to reach your hand towards your ankle/toes.
  4. Keeping the arm and leg straight, swing them back to the starting position, meaning that the right leg shoots straight up towards the ceiling and the left leg goes back down to the starting position
  5. Perform 15 to 20 reps and then switch to the right leg and left arm.

#2: Crossover Toe Touches

Crossover toe-touch crunches strengthen the entire abdominal wall (lower abs, transverse abdominals, external obliques, and internal obliques).

You get even more activation of the oblique muscles than you do with the double toe-touch crunch exercise because you are crossing over with your opposite arm to the opposite foot. 

Here are the steps for how to do crossover toe touches:

  1. Set up in the same way as if you are going to perform toe touch crunches.
  2. As you contract your abs to reach up towards your toes, instead of crunching straight up and aiming your left hand towards your left toe and your right hand towards your right toe, crunch up to the right, twisting your torso so that your two hands reach up to the outside of your right foot in the space parallel to your legs. If you envision your feet pointing to 12 on a clock, when you crunch to the right, aim for a one or two on the clock and when you crunch to the left, aim for what would be 10 or 11 on the clock.
  3. Pause at the top position for 1 to 3 seconds.
  4. Slowly lower your upper body back down, twisting back to a neutral spine position by using your obliques.
  5. Crunch up to the opposite direction, alternating sides with each crossover toe-touch rep.

#3: Alternating Toe Touches

With alternating toe touch crunches, you will reach a single arm towards a single leg across your body and then switch sides. 

This helps engage your obliques and improves coordination.

Additionally, because it is more of a unilateral movement, you can better detect and correct muscle imbalances in the core.

Here are the steps for how to do alternating toe touches:

  1. Lie flat on your back with your arms straight overhead and your feet straight out in front of you rather than starting with your legs perpendicular to the floor.
  2. Instead of reaching up with both arms to both feet, bring just your right arm up as you crunch up while simultaneously bringing the left leg straight up into the air to the perpendicular position, making sure to keep your knee straight. 
  3. Crunch up with that right arm towards your left foot.
  4. Pause and squeeze your abs for a full breath.
  5. Then, keeping your right arm and left leg straight, lower them back down towards the floor, hovering each just above the ground but not fully touching down. This will keep tension in your abs to build muscular endurance.
  6. Beginners can rest them back on the floor and then switch sides in between each rep to perform alternating toe touches. Advanced athletes should perform all of their reps with one side and then switch to the other arm and leg.
A toe touch crunch.

How Many Toe Touch Crunches Should I Do?

As with any strength training exercise, the number of toe-touch crunches you should do depends on your fitness level, training goals, and the other workouts and exercises you are performing for the muscles worked by toe-touch crunches.

Generally, because toe touch crunches are a bodyweight ab exercise, they are performed for muscular endurance, meaning you do more reps and sets of toe-touch crunches than with a strictly strength-based weightlifting exercise.

That said, if you are an advanced athlete using dumbbells with toe-touch crunches, perform fewer reps to build strength rather than increase muscular endurance.

Here are a couple of guidelines for how many toe-touch crunches you should do:

Note that with any of these recommendations, you should stop if you feel that you are using momentum rather than your abs.

How Many Toe-Touch Crunches Should Beginners Do?

For beginners, a good starting place for how many toe touch crunches is two sets of 10 to 20 reps.

Build up to three sets of 10 to 20 reps. Take at least 60 seconds of rest in between each set.

A toe touch crunch.

How Many Toe-Touch Crunches Should I Do to Build Strength?

Because toe-touch crunches are just a bodyweight exercise, if you are advanced and have strong abdominal muscles, you might need to hold dumbbells or a medicine ball to add resistance.

Perform 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps using a heavy weight. 

Make sure to move slowly and focus particularly on slowly down the eccentric portion2Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D. I., Vigotsky, A. D., Franchi, M. V., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Hypertrophic Effects of Concentric vs. Eccentric Muscle Actions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research31(9), 2599–2608. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001983(lowering back down).

How Many Toe-Touch Crunches Should I Do to Build Muscle Endurance?

To build muscle endurance, you need to do longer sets of toe touches, so long as you can maintain proper form.

Try going for time instead of reps, beginning with three sets of 30 seconds and building up to 60 seconds per set.

Cut down the rest to 30 seconds in between sets.

If you want to strengthen your abs, check out our 30-day abs challenge here.

A toe touch crunch with kettlebells.

References

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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