The Best Knees to Elbow Workouts for Great Abs and a Stronger Core

Knees to Elbow are a fantastic core and abs exercise with many full body ancillary benefits. Normally used as a progression for Toes to Bar, they are highly effective in their own right.

What are Knees to Elbow?

Knees to Elbow are a core exercise that involve hanging from a bar, bracing the body then propelling the legs upwards until the knees touch the elbows.

The Knees to Elbow workouts that are included in this article will allow you to easily add them into your training, and each workout contains an additional scaling option so that people of all ability levels can try them.

What are the benefits of Knees to Elbow?

Knees to Elbow are more accessible than Toes to Bar. They can easily be adapted (depending on how high you bring your knees) to almost any ability level yet still delivers results.

They will help you to build a strong core that will in turn improve many other outdoor fitness activities such as climbing, trekking, kayaking, stone lifting and trail running over rough ground. A strong core helps you to stabilise and control every different type of movement that your body makes, and Knees to Elbow are a highly underused abs exercise that you should add into your training.

Knees to elbow exercise by male athlete
Build a stronger body ©Luis Vidal

What Muscles do Knees to Elbow Work?

Knees to Elbow primarily target your entire core including the:

  • Rectus abdominis (trunk flexors)
  • Erector spinae (back extensors)
  • Transverse abdominis
  • Internal and external obliques
  • Multifidi

They also improve grip and forearm strength; test your hip flexors and enhance shoulder mobility, movement and strength.

How do you do Knees to Elbow?

  • Jump up and grip the bar with an overhand (pronated) grip slightly wider than shoulder width apart
  • Inhale and brace your core, grip and glutes
  • Bend the knees
  • Tense your abs and core in order to initiate the movement
  • Open you shoulder and imagine pushing down on the bar as you bring your knees upwards towards your elbows
  • Pull the knees upwards until they touch the elbows
  • Slowly lower your legs to the starting position. Exhale during this part of the Knees to Elbow
  • Repeat

Training Tips for Knees to Elbow

For efficiency, try keeping your feet squeezed together and toes pointed at the bottom of the rep.

Make sure your shoulders are tight and activated at all times.

Squeeze your grip as tight as you can at all times. This will help your entire body to stay engaged and strong throughout the full range of motion with every rep.

athlete hands with chalk in gym
Knees to Elbow build an iron grip ©Luis Vidal

KNEES TO ELBOW WORKOUTS

With the following workouts, if you are unable to perform the full Knees to Elbow movement then simply bring your knees as high as possible during each rep.

WORKOUT 1

21-15-9 Reps for Time

  • Push Presses (135/95 lb)
  • Knees to Elbow

Take the barbell from the ground. Do not use a rack.

Scaling

Lower the weight of the push presses.

WORKOUT 2

AMRAP in 20 minutes

  • 25 Wall Ball Shots (20/14 lb, 10/9 ft)
  • 18 Alternating Dumbbell Snatches (70/50 lb)
  • 12 Knees to Elbow

Perform as many rounds as possible of the work prescribed in 20 minutes.

Your score is the total number of fully completed reps. Each round as a whole consists of a total of 55 points or reps.

Scaling

  • Scale Wall Ball Shots to Jumping Air Squats
  • Lower the weight of the Dumbbell Snatches
athletes training in gym together
Train with your tribe ©Luis Vidal

WORKOUT 3

4 Rounds for Time

  • 10 Devil Presses (2×50/40 lb)
  • 20 metre Dual Dumbbell Overhead Walking Lunges (2×50/40 lb)
  • 10 Knees to Elbow

The workout consists of four rounds for time of the prescribed exercises above, on a clock for time.

Score in this workout is based on the amount of time taken to complete the prescribed amount of work.

Scaling

4 Rounds for Time

  • 10 Devil Presses (2×40/30 lb)
  • 20 metre Dual Dumbbell Overhead Walking Lunges (2×40/30 lb)
  • 10 Knees to Elbow

The Devil Press is a potent, full-body movement that combines the movement pattern of a Burpee with the load of a dumbbell or kettlebell. The athlete will challenge their strength, flexibility, and – when performed at higher speeds – cardiovascular endurance.

Set-Up: Stand tall. Dumbbells lie on the ground, just wider than the shoulders.

Execution: Hinge at the hips and grab the dumbbells on the floor. Jump or step the feet back into a Plank. Lower the chest and thighs to the ground. Chest lands between the two dumbbells. Perform a Push-Up to get back to the Plank position. Jump or step the feet forward so they land just outside the dumbbells. Snatch or swing the dumbbells from between the legs and use powerful hip extension to get the dumbbells overhead, to a locked-out position.

Points of Performance: To get a “good rep,” ensure the following:

  • The chest and thighs make contact with the ground
  • The dumbbells finish in the locked-out, overhead position with the arms fully extended

Pro-Tip: Keep the dumbbells extremely close to the body as they travel from between the legs to the overhead position. The closer they are to the body, the faster and more efficient the movement will be.

WORKOUT 4

For Time

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 reps of:

  • Knees to Elbow
  • Romanian Deadlifts (135/115 lb)

Romanian Deadlift starts at the top and lowers until the hamstrings come on tension and stretch.

Scaling

For Time

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 reps of:

  • Hanging Knee Raises
  • Romanian Deadlifts (95/75 lb)

WORKOUT 5

AMRAP in 20 minutes

  • 22 Air Squats
  • 12 Knees to Elbow
  • 9 Burpees

Wear a weight vest (20/14 lb)

Scaling

Don’t wear the weights vest.

Don’t have any equipment or can’t get to the gym? Try these excellent workouts at home.

WORKOUT 6

AMRAP in 13 minutes

  • 50 foot Double Kettlebell Overhead Walking Lunges (2×53/35 lb)
  • 50 Double Kettlebell Deadlifts (2×53/35 lb)
  • 50 foot Double Kettlebell Overhead Walking Lunges (2×53/35 lb)
  • 20 Knees to Elbow

Movement Standards

Double Kettlebell Overhead Walking Lunge: Both KBs must be OH and cannot be touching the athlete’s head. Elbows do not need to be locked out. Knee touches the ground with each step and hips must pass through full extension. The lunge is set up w/ 25ft turnaround. 25ft=1 rep. 25ft must be completed without dropping KBs for a rep to count. Both feet pass line with KBs still OH and hips/ knees at full extension to finish the rep.

Double Kettlebell Deadlift: Feet must be set between KBs (no sumo). Hips/ knees/ and shoulders must be in a straight line at top of the rep. Shoulders must end in line with the middle of the KB.

Scaling

AMRAP in 13 minutes

  • 50 foot Double Kettlebell Overhead Walking Lunges (2×35/26 lb)
  • 50 Double Kettlebell Deadlifts (2×35/26 lb)
  • 50 foot Double Kettlebell Overhead Walking Lunges (2×35/26 lb)
  • 20 Knee-Ups

WORKOUT 7

For Time

21-15-9 Reps of:

  • Single Arm Dumbbell Snatches (39/26 lb)
  • Sit-Ups

Then,

15-12-9 Reps of:

  • Single Arm Dumbbell Snatches (39/26 lb)
  • Knees to Elbow

Finally,

12-9-6 Reps of:

  • Single Arm Dumbbell Snatches (39/26 lb)
  • Knees to Elbow

Use a single dumbbell.

Scaling

If you can’t perfect perform the Single Arm Dumbbell Snatches then switch to Jumping Jacks instead.

KNEES TO ELBOW WORKOUT 8

For Time

From 0:00-4:00, perform:

  • 45 Double Unders
  • 21 Knees to Elbow
  • 21 Handstand Push Ups

Then, from 4:01-8:00, perform:

  • 45 Double Unders
  • 15 Knees to Elbow
  • 15 Handstand Push Ups

Finally, from 8:01, perform:

  • 45 Double Unders
  • 9 Knees to Elbow
  • 9 Handstand Push Ups

Scaling

Change the Handstand Push Ups to Press ups.

Switch the Double Unders to Single Unders (Rope Jumps)

Build a powerful core with these Farmer Carries Workouts

WORKOUT 9

  • 40-30-20-10 Reps for Time
  • Kettlebell Swings (32/24 kg)
  • Goblet Squats (32/24 kg)
  • Knees to Elbow

Scaling

Lower the weight of the kettlebell swings.

Remove the load for the Goblet Squats and simply perform Air Squats instead.

WORKOUT 10

21-15-9 Reps For Time

  • Russian Kettlebell Swings (53/35 lb)
  • 200 metre Run

Rest 5 minutes

Then, AMRAP in 6 minutes of:

  • 5 Knees to Elbows
  • 7 Burpees
  • 9 Double Unders

This is a two-part workout. As fast as possible, perform 21 Russian Kettlebell Swings and a 200 metre Run before moving on to 15 Russian Kettlebell Swings and 200 metres, and finally, 9 Russian Kettlebell Swings (swing the kettlebell up to eye level) and a 200 metre Run.

For the second part, complete as many rounds and repetitions as possible (AMRAP) of 5 Knees to Elbows, 7 Burpees, and 9 Double Unders for 6 minutes.

This workout has two scores. Score A is the time it takes to complete the first part of the workout. Score B is the total number of repetitions completed in the 6-minute AMRAP.

Scaling

Switch the Double Unders to Single Unders.

Lower the weight of the Russian Kettlebell Swings.

WORKOUT 11

  • AMRAP in 15 minutes
  • 3 Front Squats (135/95 lb)
  • 3 Knees to Elbow
  • 6 Front Squats (135/95 lb)
  • 6 Knees to Elbow
  • 9 Front Squats (135/95 lb)
  • 9 Knees to Elbow
  • etc…

Continue adding 3 additional reps for each movement after each round until time is up.

Score is total number of repetitions completed.

Scaling

Lower the weight of the Front Squats.

WORKOUT 12

This Knees to Elbow workout is all about movement. It will make you roll, climb, jump and flex, testing and improving your mobility and strength in new and functional ways.

5 Rounds for Time:

  • 3 Forward Rolls
  • 5 Wall Climbs
  • 7 Toes-to-Bar
  • 9 Box Jumps (30/24 in)

Scaling

Switch the Forward Rolls to Hollow Rocks.

Change the Box Jumps to Box Step Ups

WORKOUT 13

Four Tabatas in 16 minutes

  • Wall Ball Shots (20/14 lb)
  • Knees to Elbow
  • Row (Calories)
  • Power Cleans (135/95 lb)

Each Tabata is 8 rounds of :20 seconds of work, :10 seconds of rest.

Complete 8 full rounds of each movement prior to starting the next (:10 seconds rest between movements).

Score is total reps but also count reps for each movement.

Scaling

Use a lighter ball for the Wall Ball Shots or substitute them for Air Squats.

Switch Power Cleans to Dumbbell Snatches.

WORKOUT 14

AMRAP in 12 minutes

  • 60 Knees to Elbow
  • 50 Bar Facing Burpees
  • 40 Deadlifts (225/155 lb)
  • 30 Handstand Push Ups

Scaling

AMRAP in 12 minutes

  • 60 Hanging Knee Raises
  • 50 Bar Facing Burpees
  • 40 Deadlifts (155/105 lb)
  • 30 Strict Presses (50-60% bodyweight)

Movement Standards

Bar Facing Burpees: Chest must touch floor at bottom of each rep, feet must leave floor simultaneously, STEP-up is allowed.

Deadlifts: Hips & shoulders extended at the top. No “bouncing” on reps. No sumo.

WORKOUT 15

For Time

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 reps of:

  • Deadlifts (225/155 lb)
  • Knees to Elbow

1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 reps of:

  • Power Cleans (155/105 lb)
  • Bench Presses (155/105 lb)

Scaling

Swap Power Cleans for Dumbbell Snatches

Lower the weights for the Deadlifts and the Bench Presses

KNEES TO ELBOW WORKOUT 16

AMRAP in 24 minutes

24 calorie Assault Air Bike

24 Thrusters (95/65 lb)

24 Bar-Facing Burpees

24 Knees to Elbows

Scaling

Lower the weight of the Thrusters.

WORKOUT 17

AMRAP in 20 minutes

  • 250 metre Run
  • 30 Box Jump Overs (24/20 in)
  • 20 Wall Ball Shots (20/14 lb)
  • 10 Knees to Elbow

On a 20-minute clock, perform as many rounds and repetitions as possible (AMRAP) of the work as written. Each round starts with the Run and ends with the Toes-to-Bar.

Score is the number of rounds and repetitions completed before the 20-minute clock stops.

Intended Stimulus

Designed to work the entire system but not over tax any single muscle group so the athlete can keep moving for the entire 20 minutes with minimal rest breaks.

All 4 movements are fairly explosive but not super high skill, which makes it accessible for a range of fitness levels. The reps are descending which helps the flow of the workout from a mental perspective.

Tips and Strategy

Break the bigger sets up from the beginning in a way that you can maintain throughout the entire workout. Intermediate athletes should shoot for 4-5 rounds total (complete one round every 4-5 minutes).

Scaling Options

Box Jump: Substitute Step-Ups or Kettlebell Swings (1.5/1 pood)

Wall Ball Shot: Substitute Goblet Squats (1.5/1 pood)

WORKOUT 18

For Time

  • 100 Press Ups
  • 100 Kettlebell Swings (24/16 kg)
  • 100 Knees to Elbow
  • 100 ft Rope Climbs (accumulate over multiple ascents)

For the rope climb, accumulate 100 ft total. If you are climbing a 15 ft rope, 17 ascents are required (round up from 16.66).

Scaling

Substitute the Rope Climbs with Lat Pull Downs. 1 rep = 1 foot.

Press Ups can be done on the knees, or with partial reps.

WORKOUT 19

6 Rounds for Time

  • 9 Burpees
  • 9 Box Jumps (24/20 in)
  • 9 Pull Ups
  • 9 Thrusters (40/20 kg)
  • 9 Knees to Elbow

With a weight vest (20/14 lb)

Scaling

  • Remove weight vest.
  • Use a band for the Pull Ups or perform Ring Rows instead.
  • Lower the weight of the Thrusters.

KNEES TO ELBOW WORKOUT 20

AMRAP in 35 minutes

  • 50 Wall Ball Shots (20/14 lb)
  • 40 Box Jumps (24/20 in)
  • 30 Knees to Elbow
  • 20 Deadlifts (145/115 lb)
  • 800 metre Run

Scaling

Reduce the weight of the Wall Ball or perform Air Squats instead.

Lower the height of the Box Jumps or swap the movement for Box Step Ups.

Decrease the weight of the Deadlifts.

WORKOUT 21

AMRAP in 21 minutes

  • 3 Handstand Push Ups
  • 6 Renegade Rows (75/50 lb)
  • 9 Single Arm Dumbbell Snatches (75/50 lb)
  • 12 Dumbbell Lunges (75/50 lb)
  • 15 Knees to Elbow
  • 18 calorie Assault Air Bike

Movement Standards

Renegade Rows

Scaling

Switch Handstand Push Ups for Press Ups.

Lower the weight of the Renegade Rows.

Lessen the load of the Single Arm Dumbbell Snatches and Dumbbell Lunges.

KNEES TO ELBOW WORKOUT 22 – PARTNER WOD

For Time (with 3 Partners)

Buy-In:

  • 1 mile Run
  • 2000 metre Row

Then, 5 Rounds of:

  • 30 Synchronized Wall Ball Shots (20/14 lb, 10 ft)
  • 20 Synchronized Knees to Elbow

Cash-Out:

  • 100 foot Synchronized Dumbbell Overhead Walking Lunges (50/35 lb)

Time Cap: 27 minutes

The workout begins with all four athletes standing under the pullup bar. At the call of “GO”, athletes advance and begin the 1 mile run and 2k row. Two athletes will be working at the same time and teammates may substitute as desired.

Next, the team will move to the rig and begin 5 rounds of 30 synchronized wall ball shots and 20 synchronized Knees to Elbow. Teams will work in mixed gender pairs, 1 female and 1 male. Wall balls must be completed before moving on to Knees to Elbow. Athletes may substitute as desired throughout the 5 rounds. There must always be mixed genders working simultaneously.

Wall ball shot synchronization begins when both athletes are below parallel in their squats. Balls will be thrown and must successfully hit the target for the rep to count. If a shot is missed, athletes must restart the rep in the synchronized squatting position.

Synchronized Knees to Elbow reps will be scored when athletes’ toes touch the bar at the same time.

Finally, the team must perform 100 feet of synchronized dumbbell overhead walking lunges. All athletes will lunge the first 50 foot with their right arm holding weight overhead and complete the second 50 foot with their left arm holding weight overhead.

To perform lunges, the male athletes will synchronize their steps and lunge down the floor until they clear the first 50’ segment. Once they finish, female athletes will follow suit. Once the females finish the first 50’, male athletes will begin the second 50’ segment. Once they finish, the females will follow suit.

The workout will end once all four athletes complete the second 50’ segment, place their dumbbells on the floor, then cross the finish line. Once the last athlete crosses the finish line, time will stop.

Dropping the dumbbell is not permitted at any time. If this happens, your team will be assessed a 10-second penalty for each drop.

KNEES TO ELBOW WORKOUT 23

2 Rounds for Time

  • 20 Knees to Elbow
  • 40 Push Presses (95/65 lb)
  • 20 Burpee Box Jump Overs (24/20 in)
  • 40 Front Squats (95/65 lb)

With a running clock, as fast as possible perform the prescribed work in the order written for 2 rounds.

Score is the time on the clock when the last round of Front Squats is completed.

Movement Standards

Toes-to-Bar: If we are working towards the capacity to hold 20 unbroken Toes-to-Bar, perform 10 or 15 based off your current capacity. If we have an injury or limitation that prevents us from performing abdominal flexion, perform a 20-second Plank Hold off your forearms.

Push Press: If the load of the Bar or Dumbbell exceeds our current capacity to perform 20 unbroken reps, perform 30 reps total. If we have an injury or limitation that prevents us from going overhead with one of our arms, perform Singe-Arm Dumbbell Push Presses. If we have an injury or limitation that prevents us from going overhead with both arms, perform Dumbbell Floor Presses.

Burpee Box Jump Over: If performing 20 Burpee Box Jump Overs will take us over 90 seconds, perform 10. If we have an injury or limitation that prevents us from going all the way to the ground, perform a Squat Thrust (top of the Push-Up), and just continue to jump up and over the Box after that. If we have an injury or limitation that prevents us from jumping, perform Step-Ups, and cut the reps to 10 or 15 to go faster.

Front Squat: If the load of the Barbell or Dumbbell exceeds the current capacity to perform 20 unbroken reps, perform 30 reps total. If we have an injury or limitation that prevents us from squatting, perform Deadlifts.

Intended Stimulus

The 20 Knees to Elbow should be something that we could complete unbroken if asked to, although we don’t have to in the workout. If we don’t have a Bar, we will perform V-Ups. They should take no longer than 1 minute at the longest to complete.

Our 40 Push Presses could be performed either a Barbell, or Dumbbell. For the Dumbbell, it could be performed with a single arm and alternate after 20 reps, or with both if we have 2 Dumbbells. Regardless of equipment, we should be able to perform 20 unbroken if asked so the weight should be on the light/moderate side for us relative to our current capacity. They should take us no longer than 2 minutes to complete.

The Burpee Box Jump Overs should be an option that will allow us to complete the reps in under 2 minutes. They will be performed facing the Box today. Lastly, the Front Squats should be a weight similar to the Push Press in terms of total rep capacity and loading. The 40 total should take us no more than 2 minutes on the long end. Our target time should be somewhere around 12-14 minutes if we are modifying this effectively!

Scaling

2 Rounds for Time

  • 20 V-Ups
  • 40 Push-Ups
  • 20 Burpees
  • 40 Air Squats (2-second pause in the bottom)

These Knee to Elbow workouts will enhance your core strength and conditioning in a wide variety of different ways. Choose the ones you like, add them into your training and improve your body and functional fitness.

A strong core will also protect you in the long run. It will help to establish good posture for your body, a well-protected spine and prevent back issues later in life. Whether you love to climb, hike, kayak, surf, run or workout, there are no downsides to a powerful, stable and functional core.

Want to improve other parts of your fitness? Try these Dead Hang, V ups or Chest Workouts.