Knees To Elbows

Knees To Elbows (How To, Benefits & Alternatives)

Knees To Elbows are a great, often overlooked, core exercise that provides a ton of benefits. They’re as close to a total body movement as an ab exercise can get.

In this guide, I’m going to teach you how to do a proper Knees To Elbows, what their benefits are and a few alternatives in case you need a substitution.

How To Do Knees to Elbows

Equipment Needed

  • Pull-Up Bar – Ideally a stand-alone pull-up bar or one connected to a squat rack although any sturdy object you can hang from will technically work.

Muscles Worked

  • Abdominal Core Muscles (Rectus Femoris, Obliques Externus Abdominus)
  • Quadriceps, Rectus Femoris
  • Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL)
  • Secondarily: Back, Biceps and Forearms

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Find yourself a pull-up bar and grip the bar with an overhand grip
  • Engage your lats so your body doesn’t go limp once you begin to hang
  • Now hang from the bar and flex your arms to about a 90-degree angle at the elbow
  • Lift the knees up and slightly roll the hips forward until the knees touch the elbows
  • Actively drive your legs down and straight and then repeat.
  • Don’t allow your legs to ‘just fall’ after touching your knees or you’ll swing uncontrollably.
  • Repeat for the designated number of reps

Coaching Points

The biggest issue that most of my athletes run into when doing Knees To Elbows is how to keep from swinging.

To keep from swinging, you have to actively lower your legs back down. If you ‘let your legs go’ and just allow gravity to take over you’ll completely lose control of the movement. Timing and rhythm are both important for Knees To Elbows and you can’t achieve either if you’re not in control of your legs throughout the movement.

Knees To Elbows Benefits

The most obvious benefit of Knees To Elbows is that they are a great core exercise. Specifically, they target the lower abs (and hip flexors). The majority of core exercises – situps, crunches, etc – involve flexing the shoulders toward the core. Far fewer involve driving the legs toward the core and Knees to Elbows are a great example of one of those movements.

The benefits extend well beyond just the abs though. They are a great way to sneak grip training into your routine. A set of 15 to 20 Knees To Elbows will take most lifters 20 to 30 seconds (or potentially multiple sets). Three full sets can account for about 90 seconds of Bar Hang time.

And don’t forget about the back, biceps and shoulders as well. Having to stabilize the position of the upper body and maintain the flexed arm position can be a workout in itself.

Hopefully, you can see now why Knees To Elbows can be such a powerful addition to your strength training routine. You really do get a whole lot of ‘bang for your buck’ with them.

Knees To Elbows Variations

Looking to change up your workout a bit, or maybe you need to make Knees To Elbows more (or less) challenging? Here are a few variations you can try out.

Hanging Knee Raises

Hanging Knee Raises

If you’re finding Knees To Elbows a little too difficult, then you could switch up to Hanging Knee Raises. You’re still going to be hanging from the bar, but you can keep your arms mostly straight instead of having to hold the 90-degree flexed position.

In addition to that, you don’t have to raise the knees as high. The combination of the two makes Hanging Knee Raises more beginner-friendly.

Toes To Bar

Need to actually ramp up the difficulty of Knees To Elbows. Try Toes To Bar. As the name implies (both of these movements are pretty specific with their names), Toes to Bar is roughly the same exercise but the legs are kept straight and are raised until – you guessed it – your toes touch the bar.

Knees To Elbows Alternatives

If you can’t do Hanging Knee Raises, for whatever reason (lack of equipment, injury, etc), here are a few alternatives that you can try to substitute in their place.

Suitcase Crunches

Suitcase Crunches

If you don’t have a pull-up bar or just aren’t ready for Knees To Elbows yet, Suitcase Crunches are a great alternative.

Suitcase Crunches are pretty close to the exact same movement, but with your butt on the ground instead of hanging in the air. Sit on the ground with legs extended straight out, six inches off the ground, and your torso leaning back at about a 45-degree angle.

Now, drive your knees and chest together (like closing a suitcase) and then extend back out. Keep your back and feet off the ground throughout the exercise.

Cross Body Mountain Climbers

Cross Body Mountain Climbers

Most of us probably did Mountain Climbers at some point in gym class growing up.

Cross Body Mountain Climbers ramp up the ab involvement big time. From a pushup position drive one knee up, cross-body, to the opposite elbow. Alternate back and forth until all reps are completed. You might be surprised just how much these can light your abs on fire.

More Links and Info

Looking for more Core Exercises? I have a growing collection in my Exercise Library, all with step-by-step instructions and all for free.


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