Bicycles are one of the most common crunch variations, and for good reason: They may have a rep for being an amazing obliques exercise, but they sneakily target your entire core.
“It’s very common for people to isolate each of their core muscle groups and do different exercises for them individually, but this can sometimes lead to muscle imbalances,” FitFusion trainer Kenta Seki tells SELF. “The bicycle crunch is a very effective movement that engages three of your major core muscle groups all at the same time.” Your entire core will become even stronger when these muscles learn to work together instead of in isolation.
“Lifting your head and shoulder blades during bicycle crunches engages your rectus abdominis, the upper muscles of your abs that are worked when you do crunches,” he explains. “The bicycling of your legs engages the transverse abdominis, which is worked when you do leg raises.” (These are the deepest of your abs muscles, and can be tough to target.) Finally, “the twisting of your upper body engages the external obliques, or what some people call their ‘side abs,'” says Seki.
With so many moving parts in one exercise, though, there’s even more room for error—and if you’re not doing it correctly, you won’t experience all of the awesome benefits of this superstar move (not to mention, you risk injuring yourself). Here’s how to do bicycle crunches the right way.
- Lie on your back with your heels out in front of you and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle (so your heels aren’t close in to your glutes). “This ensures you properly engage your quads and transverse abdominus,” says Seki.
- “Place your fingers lightly on the back of your head with your elbows open wide,” he says. “Closing your elbows can decrease the range of motion during the twisting movement, which decreases the engagement of your obliques. Also it increases the likelihood that you’ll pull on your neck.” If you find yourself pulling on your neck, don’t interlace your fingers.
- Lift your chest up so your shoulder blades are just barely touching the floor—if you’re not lifted high enough, your upper abs won’t be as engaged as they should be. Keep your chin away from your chest and gaze slightly forward, because dropping your head too far back can strain your neck, say Seki.
- Now, it’s time to twist. “Inhale, and as you exhale extend your left leg straight out, and twist your torso so that your left underarm rotates toward your right knee.” Think of it like you’re trying to touch your shoulder to your knee, not your elbow. “Make sure your left shoulder blade is completely off the floor and your right shoulder is still floating. This is to ensure your abs are doing the work, not your arms,” says Seki.
- Bring your left leg back in as you extend your right leg out, twisting towards the other side.
- That’s 1 rep. Do 20, and repeat the set three times.
Seki suggests incorporating this circuit two to three times per week during your usual workout routine. These crunches are definitely no bike in the park, but your abs will thank you later.
You may also like: A Simple Fat-Burning Workout You Can Do At Home