Skip to content
Home » Strength Training

The Vertical Crunch Is a Slept-On Ab Exercise

The vertical leg crunch can be an awesome crunch variation for anyone wanting to target their core. This variation is similar to the traditional crunch but elevates the legs to change their movement pattern slightly.

There are endless ways to train the core and crunches are a go-to for beginners and those working out at home. I regularly program the vertical leg crunch for myself and my client’s when traveling.

In my vertical leg crunch guide, I’ll cover how to perform this exercise properly, discuss some benefits that come along with them, and cover the muscles they work.

The vertical leg crunch can be an awesome core exercise for anyone wanting to level up their traditional crunch. This exercise can be an awesome crunch progression and it can be performed anywhere with no equipment.

How To Vertical Leg Crunch

Lay flat on your back and elevate your legs

On a yoga mat, lie flat on your back and extend your arms to the sky and bring your legs up while maintaining a soft bend in the knees.

How To Vertical Leg Crunch Step 1

Ground the lower back, crunch, and reach

Press your lower back into the ground to engage your core. Once you’ve done this, think about reaching up towards the sky using the core muscle to lift your chest and torso.

How To Vertical Leg Crunch Step 2

Lower yourself back down slowly

Once you’ve hit your end range of motion, slowly lower your torso back down to the floor using your core to resist gravity. I like to coach thinking about unrolling the core muscles one at a time when lowering back down from the lower, middle, to upper core muscles.

How To Vertical Leg Crunch Step 3

Vertical Leg Crunch Benefits

There are multiple benefits that come with performing with the vertical leg crunch. These exercise benefits will ebb and flow based on how you’re using the vertical leg crunch and what your goals are.

How To Vertical Leg Crunch Step 2

1. Useful Crunch Progression

The first benefit that comes with performing vertical leg crunches is that they can be an awesome tool for progressing your crunch and making them more difficult without changing too much.

I’m a big fan of progressions that don’t require a ton of tweaks to an exercise. By elevating the legs in the vertical leg crunch, we’ve shifted how we move slightly when performing this exercise and we’ve created a heightened demand on the core in doing so.

Vertical Leg Crunch Benefits

This is great for beginners and newer lifters that are trying to build a solid level of foundational core strength and want to nail the basics before moving into more complex core exercises like the ab wheel rollout.

2. Easy to Perform With No Equipment

In the context of “when” I perform the vertical leg crunch the most, it’s generally when I’m traveling and on the road. Another vertical leg crunch benefit is that you don’t need equipment to perform them.

This is one of the easiest exercises to perform virtually anywhere and you don’t need special gear to do so. Whether you’re traveling or working out at home with bodyweight exercises, the vertical leg crunch can be a great exercise to use and experiment with.

3. Great for Biasing the Upper Ab Muscles

Another benefit that can be a little more subjective with the vertical leg crunch is their ability to target the upper ab muscles. If you’re trying to focus primarily on the “upper abs” then you may want to explore this variation.

Vertical Leg Crunch Muscles Worked Benefit

When performing vertical leg crunches the upper torso will be doing the greatest degree of flexion. In terms of muscle action, the rectus abdominis plays a major role in torso flexion and if you want to hit the upper abs then you want that section of the core to do more work.

The vertical leg crunch will bias the upper abs because with the feet elevated you’ll have less flexion through the lower core. This essentially means that your range of motion with the vertical leg crunch will be heavily dictated by your ability to flex the upper abs.

Note, this is one of the times when you’ll want to experiment and play with this exercise before blindly assuming they’ll only work your upper abs. This is a benefit that myself and my clients have found, but I’m a big believer in everyone playing with exercise to see what they “feel” and find works best for them.

4. May Be Useful for Abdominal Endurance

The last subjective benefit that I have with the vertical leg crunch is that they may be useful for improving abdominal muscular endurance in untrained and beginner populations.

When training the core, I think it’s important to train the core for different training adaptations. For example, programming strength, power, and endurance-focused work can be useful to build well-rounded core performance.

Vertical Leg Crunch for Ab Endurance

The vertical leg crunch can be a useful exercise for anyone who wants to improve their core’s ability to flex at a higher volume without accumulating a ton of fatigue. For beginners, this can be a great exercise to build the core’s tenacity to perform for longer durations.

Vertical Leg Crunch Mucles Worked

When it comes to the muscles the vertical leg crunch trains, there aren’t many (if any) studies that focus on the muscles used with this exercise directly. However, since this exercise is close to a crunch we can likely safely extrapolate crunch data for the vertical leg crunch.

Vertical Leg Crunch Muscles Worked

Core Activity of Vertical Leg Crunches

Vertical Leg Crunch Muscles Worked

  • Rectus Abdominis
  • External Oblique

*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement

It’s important to note that the vertical leg crunch will also train the deeper core muscles and hip flexors, too, but to a much lesser degree. If you’re performing vertical leg crunches then it’s most likely for the rectus abdominis benefit.

How Many Vertical Leg Crunches Should I Do?

If you’re wanting to know “how many” vertical leg crunches you should do you’ll want to select an amount that makes sense for your goals and your training age.

For example, how many vertical leg crunches a beginner should perform will look different than an experienced lifter who’s using this exercise as a core training means while traveling.

How To Vertical Leg Crunch Step 3

Generally speaking, I’ll program vertical leg crunches for time or use high rep sets when training with this exercise. Since they’re unweighted, we can typically perform higher volumes with this exercise without accumulating too much fatigue.

  • Time-Based Sets: 3 x 20-sec continual reps with 30-sec of rest in-between.
  • Standard Sets and Reps: 4 x 15 with 30-45 sec of rest in between.
  • Tempo-Focused Upper Ab Sets: 3 x 12 with a 2-3 sec concentric/eccentric with 30-45 sec of rest in-between.

The above are three ways I like to program vertical leg crunches. I’d suggest exploring different means of programming this exercise to see what feels and works best for your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is a vertical leg crunch?

A vertical leg crunch is a core exercise that resembles a traditional crunch, but when performing them the legs will be elevated towards the sky throughout reps.

How many vertical leg crunches should I do?

The ideal number of reps to perform with vertical leg crunches will be influenced by your goals and training history. I typically program this exercise for time, so as many reps as possible in 30-seconds for multiple sets, or I'll program higher rep sets ranging from 15-25 reps at a time.

What muscles do vertical leg crunches train?

The vertical leg crunch will primarily train the rectus abdominis which is the core muscles on the front of the torso. This exercise will also indirectly train the deeper core muscles, too.

Is vertical leg crunch good for beginners?

The vertical leg crunch can be a great exercise for beginners wanting to level up their traditional crunches. This variation will typically feel a little tougher than normal crunches and it can be used a crunch progression.

Takeaway Thoughts

The vertical leg crunch can be an awesome exercise for beginners and lifters from all walks of life wanting a simple core exercise. This exercise requires no equipment and can be used as a crunch progression.

I also like the vertical leg crunch for occasions where you want to train the upper abs and increase your focus on targeting this specific section of the rectus abdominis.

If you have additional questions about the vertical leg crunch, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of That Fit Friend. He's often regarded to as a go-to resource in various performance shoe communities. He’s been formally reviewing shoes and training gear for over 7 years and has hand-tested over 400 pairs of shoes. Jake is known on the internet and YouTube for blending his review process with his educational, strength sports, and personal training background.

Jake has a Masters in Sports Science, a Bachelors in Exercise Science, a CSCS, and he's been personal training for over 10 years helping hundreds of clients get stronger, lose weight, and accomplish their goals. He uses his exercise science brain and personal training background to make curated and thoughtful review content on the fitness gear he's testing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *