Start Position
End Position

Starting position:

  1. Lie flat on your back and straighten legs upward (keeping a slight bend in the knees). The soles of your shoes should be facing the ceiling.

Upward movement/concentric phase:

  1. Looking at the ceiling, extend your arms and reach towards your feet while lifting your shoulder blades off of the floor.
  2. Once you reach the top of the movement, hold this position for one second.
  3. Maintain head and neck in the same position throughout the entire movement, accommodating to your eyes looking at the ceiling. Do not tuck your chin into your chest or flex your neck.

Downward movement/eccentric phase:

    1. In a controlled fashion, slowly return back to the mat.
    2. Keep legs straightened upward until the set is complete.
Do not bounce shoulder blades off of the floor when proceeding to the next repetition/concentric phase. Do not hold your breath. Exhale during the concentric phase and inhale during the eccentric phase.


Exercise Data

  • Primary Muscles: Rectus abdominis
  • Synergists: External oblique, internal oblique
  • Stabilizers: Transverse abdominis
  • Type: Strength, hypertrophy, muscular endurance
  • Mechanics: Trunk flexion
  • Equipment: Floor mat
  • Lever: 3rd class lever
  • Level: Beginner to advanced
  • FAQ'S & FACTS ABOUT Toe-Reach

    What Is A Toe Reach

    A toe reach is a variation of the abdominal crunch, which involves the abdominal muscles, primarily the rectus abdominis. This exercise is performed lying on the floor or exercise mat on your back and legs straightened upward. The concentric portion of the exercise is flexion of the vertebral column, lifting your shoulder blades off of the floor. The eccentric portion is extension of the vertebral column, which involves the descent of the body back to the floor.

    The purpose of toe reaches is to strengthen the abdominal muscles while promoting the hypertrophy (increases in size) of this muscle group.

    Why Do A Toe Reach

    Toe reaches stress the upper region of the rectus abdominis, helping define the top portion of the “6-pack” of the rectus abdominis. The suspension of the legs in the air stresses the lower region of the rectus abdominis to stabilize this position.

    Strengthening the abdominal muscles offers protective effects for the lower back as the abdominals play a role in stabilizing the torso. Stronger abdominals also complement exercise and sports performance as they can contribute to biomechanical efficiency during physical activity and exercise.

    Anatomy Of A Toe Reach

    The abdominal wall is made up of broad, flat sheet-like muscles that are layered. The rectus abdominis is a vertical muscle that extends from the pubic crest and symphysis (at the pelvis) to the rib cage (xiphoid process and costal cartilages of ribs 5-7). The rectus abdominis is segmented by three tendinous intersections that run horizontally across the rectus abdominis. This tendon outlines the “6-pack” of the rectus abdominis along with the linea alba, a tendinous seam that runs down vertically, dividing the “6-pack” in half.

    The oblique muscles assist the rectus abdominis with flexion of the vertebral column. The external oblique muscle runs downward and medially and forms the inguinal ligament of the groin area. Its origin is at the outer surfaces of the lower eight ribs and it inserts into the linea alba via a broad aponeurosis. Some of the fibers of the external oblique insert into the pubic crest and iliac crest.

    The internal oblique, as its name suggests, is located below the superficial external oblique. Its fibers run in an upward and medial direction. Its origin is located at lumbar fascia, iliac crest and inguinal ligament. Its insertion is located at the linea alba, the pubic crest and the last three or four ribs.

    The transverse abdominis is the deepest muscle of the abdominal wall with fibers running horizontally. This stabilizing muscle compresses the abdominal contents. Its origin is located at the inguinal ligament, lumbar fascia, iliac crest and the cartilage of the last six ribs. It inserts at the linea alba and the pubic crest.

    Variations Of A Toe Reach

    Abdominal crunches, bent-knee abdominal crunches.

    How To Improve Your Toe Reaches

    The abdominal muscles are working all day, every day, when you are physically active. Therefore, a greater overload stimulus is required to stimulate growth of the abdominals when isolating them during exercise. One way to do this is – is to take shorter rest periods (e.g. 30 seconds) between sets. Another way is to hold the peak of the concentric contraction/upward phase for multiple seconds until volitional failure at the end of a set. Adding resistance by holding a plate or medicine ball can increase the intensity of toe reaches.

    Incorporating various abdominal exercises complements the performance of toe reaches, especially as you advance in exercise difficulty (e.g. V-ups, hanging leg raises).

    Emphasis on eccentric contractions, prolonging the descent phase back to the mat, may also be incorporated with an abdominal training program focused on increasing strength. This should be implemented accordingly and with adequate muscle recovery as eccentric contractions cause substantial damage to muscle tissue and/or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

    It’s important to note that your repetition and set volume will depend on your goals (e.g. strength, hypertrophy, muscular endurance). Strategically varying your intensity, rest times and volume (number of repetitions in a set) will optimize abdominal development with time.

    Common Mistakes When Doing Toe Reaches

    It is common to see an individual use their hands to lift their head and neck when doing abdominal crunch variations including toe reaches. This minimizes the activation of the abdominals. Reaching your hands upward toward your feet prevent this from happening. It is also important to control the concentric and eccentric contractions to avoid momentum minimizing abdominal activation.

    When incorporating abdominal training into your exercise regimen it is important to evaluate what other exercises you are doing in that training session. For example, it may not be best to train abdominals on the same day as performing deadlifts and squats as those exercises fatigue the abdominals substantially. Training abdominals before or after a training session that involves smaller muscle groups (e.g. calves, biceps, triceps) may be suitable, as it will not interfere with the quality of the overall training session.

    Injuries Or Ailments & Their Effects Regarding Toe Reaches

    While performing abdominal exercises with added resistance can improve strength gains, increasing the weight beyond the lifter’s capacity can result in injury to the abdominal tissue.