The vertical leg crunch is a challenging abdominal-focused exercise that takes the basic crunch and adds additional elements that potentially make it a more effective core strength and muscle builder.
It does require some flexibility to perform so not the perfect choice for everyone including beginners, however, if you’re putting together a core training program, then we recommend adding this exercise in the rotation.
In this guide, we’ve explained the benefits of doing this exercise and how to get the best results from it, plus we’ve included some variations to mix up your ab training and you’ll learn some of the best methods for including it in your workouts.
In This Exercise
- Target muscle Group: Rectus Abdominis
- Type: Strength, hypertrophy
- Mechanics: Isolation
- Equipment: Floor Mat
- Difficulty: Intermediate
The vertical leg crunch targets the muscles of the core. Below we’ve included brief descriptions of each so that you can understand how they function and why performing the exercise correctly will yield optimal gains
Core muscles anatomy and function
The core consists of many different muscles that include the rectus abdominis, also known as the abdominals or abs, the obliques, deep core muscles, and spinal erectors.
The abs are the most familiar core muscle to most people and it functions to curl the pelvis and rib cage toward each like when you perform a crunch.
The obliques are located on either side of the abs and are responsible for rotation or twisting the torso. Then you have the deeper core muscles such as the transverse abdominis and internal obliques that help to draw the belly button to the spine and stabilize the trunk.
This creates a rigid core which is important for safe heavy lifting and even playing sports for example.
Other important core muscles are the back extensors that allow us to stand up straight from a bent-over position and lean backward.
How To Do The Vertical Leg Crunch
It’s recommended to learn how to do an exercise correctly before jumping in. This prevents injury and wasting time doing a movement incorrectly.
It’s important to note that the term vertical leg crunch could describe a few different variations such as the raised leg only and the version where the arms and legs are extended and remain in this position throughout the movement.
We’ve included instructions for the latter version but to do the other variation, you’d simply keep your hands out of the movement and place your fingertips behind your head.
- Grab a mat or choose a comfortable surface to lie on.
- Lie on your back and get into a comfortable position.
- Keep your legs together and raise them vertically in the air. It’s perfectly ok to have a small bend in your knees if necessary.
- Extend both arms above your chest by reaching toward the sky.
- Tighten your core muscles and ensure that your lower back is touching the ground.
- Remembering to keep your head neutral during the movement, use your abs to pull your upper torso off the ground, and as you do this, focus on contracting your lower, middle, and upper abs. Exhale during this portion of the movement.
- Slowly reverse the motion by lowering your torso back to the floor while maintaining the contraction of your core muscles.
- Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.
Here’s a video that explains the movement and offers some tips that we’ve also included below.
Vertical leg crunch tips/what not to do
- Your lower back should be in contact with the ground throughout the entire movement. You can ensure this by remembering to maintain a tensed and flex midsection. If your lower back creates a space between the floor, you’re not maintaining tension in the muscles, therefore reducing the effectiveness of the exercise.
- Don’t rush the movement. You want to slow it down and focus on engaging the muscles of the midsection, allowing them to facilitate the motion. It’s especially important to remember to go slow during the negatives (laying back down on the floor) because oftentimes, people will drop down too quickly and this removes the tension and consequently, the benefits.
- Because this is a bodyweight-focused exercise, it’s even more imperative to move slowly as this is how you’ll progress and get something from the movement. Fast and uncontrolled movement utilizes other muscle groups and takes away from what the core should be doing.
- You can bend your knees slightly to ensure you get a decent range of motion.
- Do not try to overextend the range of motion. Let the muscles perform the action as they’re designed and stop when you feel maximum tension.
Vertical Leg crunch benefits
This exercise has a few benefits that make it worth including in your ab workouts.
The vertical leg crunch movement primarily involves the abdominal muscles. These muscles help to keep the midsection rigid and strong when performing physical activities such as heavy lifting and sports. If they were weak, you’d collapse under heavy loads and you wouldn’t be able to perform daily tasks as easily.
This is a great exercise for strengthening the core muscles especially since keeping the legs vertical in the air adds an additional challenge. More advanced exercisers can really benefit from the strength-building properties of this movement.
Improve ab muscles aesthetics
Of course, a desirable side effect of doing any form of resistance training is that you’re building the muscles underneath.
No equipment needed
This one is quite obvious but all you need really, well, is you! That means it’s possible to get in a workout essentially anywhere and no heavy equipment or complex tools are needed.
Advanced crunch variation
regular crunches are effective no doubt and if you do them right, they are not as easy as many would think. However, the vertical leg crunch is definitely a step up and a variation you could use to replace the regular ab crunch.
Great for progression
Some of the best ab exercises require you to maintain a solid core while also involving the legs. This makes things more challenging and because this exercise is an advanced crunch, it should help you to transition into harder core movements.
Teaches core control
Learning how to properly tense your core muscles is non-negotiable if you’re going to build the body of your dreams. The vertical leg crunch teaches you how to properly tense the different parts of your core and perform a crunch and this actually subconsciously reminds you to maintain a solid midsection when doing other movements.
You start to become more in tune with your body this way.
While very minor, there are a few drawbacks to the vertical leg crunch.
Requires some mobility and flexibility
Unlike a lot of simple exercises like a biceps curl, the vertical leg crunch does require you to have some mobility and flexibility. You need to be able to, first of all, get into a lying position but you also have to bend at the hips and keep this position while raising the torso up off the ground.
While this movement is more challenging when the legs are fully extended, it’s perfectly acceptable to bend the knees a little if needed.
But you should work on your mobility and flexibility whether you want to do this exercise or not.
May become too easy
While most people should be able to continually make progress using the vertical leg crunch especially if they do it slow and controlled, focusing on proper technique, if you’re very advanced, it could become less effective.
If it does, there are plenty of great variations to help you keep progressing.
While the vertical leg crunch is an effective exercise and we think it fits great into any ab training program, we also think you can get more from your workouts by performing variations of certain movements for better results.
Weighted vertical leg crunch
The vertical leg crunch is a bodyweight-focused exercise as it’s typically performed. Therefore, at some point, the exercise will become less challenging especially for more advanced exercisers. Most exercises can be made harder by holding a weight in hands and this one is no different.
Just adding 5-10 pounds can make a huge difference.
V-ups are similar yet so different compared to the vertical leg crunch. That’s because instead of keeping the legs and arms extended above during the movement, you’re moving them down and up to form a V at the top. It also works more of the hip muscles too.
While you cannot necessarily target specific core muscles, the motion of moving all limbs may elicit a better stretch before you contract the muscles. It’s a good option for mixing things up.
The dead bug is a unique exercise that looks exactly as it sounds. You lie on your back and look like a dead bug.
The arms and legs are raised in the air but it’s more of a functional exercise for the core, spine and lower back plus it’s beneficial for total-body stability and improving coordination.
There are also many variations of the dead bug.
Hollow holds are even more difficult but once you get good at the aforementioned exercises give them a try. It involves holding your arms and legs off the ground in a position that allows gravity to cause you to have to fight harder to maintain the position. It’ll really challenge your core and so many more muscles too.
How To Incorporate The Vertical Leg Crunch Into Your Training Regime
There are a few ways to do this and it’s not necessary to make things complicated. The vertical leg crunch is simply a core exercise variation and should fit in with your other ab exercises. Here are some ideas.
Alongside your other ab exercises
A core workout should be complete with various movements that emphasize or target different areas or muscles.
But you want to make sure you’re not doing the same type of exercise one after the other. Your time would be better spent utilizing different exercises.
For example, you could do a hanging leg raise or captain’s chair crunch, followed by the vertical leg crunch, and then you could include a standing movement such as cable wood chops and finish off with oblique crunches.
Standalone ab movement
Whether you include it with your other exercises or can only pick one ab movement due to limited equipment, the vertical leg crunch can fit either role and very effectively.
There are few core movements we could recommend instead when resources are limited. It’s more advanced and can give a really good workout using nothing but a floor.
Supersets are two exercises performed back to back with no rest in between. For example, a biceps curl and triceps pushdown makes for a great superset. Something you could do is perform 4 sets of the vertical leg crunch supersetted with an exercise that challenges the obliques.
A circuit is several exercises performed one after the other with little to no rest in between. You could include this exercise to mix things up.
If you’re short on time and need something that’s going to work your core muscles intensely after your regular workout sessions, the vertical leg crunch is a really good choice considering it’s more advanced and no equipment is needed.
Sets and reps
For this exercise, we recommend 2-4 sets and a rep range of 10-20. Although, this is just a suggestion. If you perform the exercise slowly and controlled, this range should be challenging and effective for most people.
Also check out these 12 Crunch and Sit-Up Alternatives That Will Give You A Shredded Midriff
If you’re looking for an incredibly effective and more challenging core exercise variation than the standard crunch, then there are few better than the vertical leg crunch. It requires no equipment or setup, is more advanced than the standard crunch and other variations and makes for a good progression to other more difficult core movements.
We hope this guide was plenty helpful in getting you started with the vertical leg crunch or maybe you just need some training ideas to add some zest to your core training.