V ups are one of my favorite abdominal exercises ever, which is why you see them included in so many of the 12 Minute Athlete workouts.
Yet despite being relatively simple to do (no equipment needed, no complicated moves to remember, etc.), I get quite a few emails from people telling me that their V ups look more like a dead fish than a proper gymnastics-style V up.
If this is you, don’t worry—V ups are tough! Not only do they take quite a bit of abdominal strength to do correctly, they also require coordination and the ability to synchronize the movement of the arms and legs—something easier said than done.
Based on your feedback, I thought it was about time that I went over the basic proper progressions for V ups and how to modify them for both beginners and more advanced athletes.
Here’s how to get started with V ups:
Hollow body position
The first step in the v up progression series is to master what’s known in the gymnastics world as the hollow body position.
Everyone is going to look a little different in this position due to body mechanics and current strength level, so here’s how to get started in it:
Step #1: Lay on the ground with your back flat to the ground and your arms and legs pointing straight up.
Step #2: At the same time, slowly lower your legs towards the ground. Make sure to keep your back flat to the ground—this is super important to maintain good form.
Step #3: As soon as you feel your back start to want to come off of the ground, hold that position. Your legs should be slightly off the ground (see photo). If you can’t get that close to the ground, keep practicing and you’ll get there with time.
Step #4: Raise your arms above your head so that you end up in a banana-like position.
You should definitely feel like you’re working in this position—if not, try pressing your core further into the ground by trying to bring your belly button towards the floor (I know, I know, cheesy, but it works!).
The hollow body position will be your starting point for all of the v up progressions. Practice it a little and get comfortable with it, and then go ahead and move onto the next progression when you’re ready.
After you’re comfortable with the hollow body position and are able to hold it for at least 5-10 seconds, the next progression to help you improve your strength and master V ups is the tuck up.
So, from the hollow body position, bring your knees and arms towards each other at the same time, hugging your knees at the top position. Keep your core pressed down, and try not and rock in this position. Straighten both your arms and legs so that you’re back in the hollow body position, before tucking up again.
From a tuck up, you have two choices: you can move on to what’s informally known as the single leg v up, or you can practice a straddle up from hollow body.
The straddle up will probably feel funny (and to be honest, it does look kind of odd) to those of you who have never done any sort of gymnastics and aren’t focused on your handstands at all, but it will definitely help your V ups if you’re willing to sacrifice looking cool in order to build function and strength (sometimes it’s just necessary!).
To do it, start from a hollow body position, then rather than tucking your knees towards you, straddle them out to the side and upwards so that they’re slightly wider than hip-width apart, reach up and touch your toes. I know it feels weird, but try and point your toes if you can—this will help make sure you’re engaging all of your muscles properly as well as make the exercise more efficient. As with the hollow body and the tuck up, make sure and keep your core tight.
Single leg V ups
The single leg v up is probably a little bit more “normal” looking and will still help you build up the strength and coordination for a clean full V up, so if you want to skip the straddle up and go straight to this progression after doing tuck ups, go for it.
Again, you’ll want to start in the hollow body position, than bring both arms and one leg up at the same time while the other leg remains in the same position. Lower the top leg and switch legs.
Don’t go too fast on these—you want to make sure you’re really using your core strength and not just relying on momentum to get your legs up and down.
Full V ups
Once you’re pretty comfortable with straddle and/or single leg V ups, you can go ahead and move on to full V ups.
These will really work your core and also get you used to your arms and legs working together (which will help you in handstands!).
To do a full v up, start in the hollow body position, then raise your arms and legs up at the same time so that you end up touching your toes or getting close to them. Try not to rock in this position (this can be tough if you’re on a hard surface), and focus as much as possible on pointing your toes (to help you engage your leg muscles) and bringing your core into the floor.
Return to the hollow body position before starting again.