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Tone your entire core with this 1 ab exercise

Bicycle crunches have all the same benefits of the standard crunch, plus work your internal and external obliques, too.
TODAY Illustration / Stephanie Mansour

The bicycle crunch is the perfect move to spice up your core workout. It gives you all the same benefits of the standard crunch, plus it works your internal and external obliques, therefore requiring more movement and consistent core engagement.

However, bicycle crunches can be hard on the back and hips if done incorrectly. Because they are so commonly thrown into exercise routines, it’s not uncommon for trainers to skip the instructions. That’s why it’s important to learn how to safely and correctly perform a bicycle crunch.

What do bicycle curls do for the body?

Bicycle crunches can help tone your midsection and slim your waist, making it a perfect move to incorporate into your pre-summer workout. Because bicycle crunches require more leg movement than standard crunches, they’re also great for improving stability, flexibility and coordination.

From picking up heavy grocery bags to climbing the stairs, a strong core is required for a lot of everyday activities and can even help prevent common injuries or strains. Twisting and reaching is also required for everyday activities like getting things off of shelves, putting things away in cabinets, and playing with kids.

The common mistakes people make when doing crunches

When performing bicycle crunches, many of my clients tend to rush through their reps without properly engaging their abs. Bicycle crunches aren’t actually about speed. Instead, they require full core engagement and deliberate movement, which means that going slow actually helps.

It’s also common to allow your hip flexors to take control and end up relying on momentum instead of core engagement, which is definitely not what we want when we’re trying to target our abdominals. Additionally, it’s important to listen to your body. If you feel like you’re straining your neck or back, try readjusting your positioning. Here are some solutions to the common mistakes I see:

  • If you find yourself picking up the pace and relying on momentum to carry you through the exercise, take a quick break and reset. Remember to actively engage your core muscles with each crunch.
  • Listen to your body while performing bicycle crunches. This means repositioning your body if your neck or back begin to hurt, or lowering your head down closer to the ground instead of curling up so high.
  • Make sure you’re not allowing any other muscle groups to take over. Squeeze your core with every crunch and refrain from allowing your hip flexors to take over. This is a core and ab exercise; not a leg exercise.

How to do a modified bicycle crunch

Gaining the core strength and coordination necessary to perform a proper bicycle crunch takes some time. That’s why there are plenty of modifications available for those who aren’t comfortable hopping right into the move.

For a modified bicycle crunch, perform the move standing up. Standing up eliminates any neck or back pain you may experience while performing the move on the floor, allowing you to focus on form. With your feet shoulder-width apart and your elbows bent with your hands behind your head, begin raising your right knee while you twist your left elbow across the body towards the knee. Alternate between legs.

How to perform a bicycle crunch correctly

If you’re feeling confident in the modified version, move on to the full move. Follow these step-by-step instructions to ensure proper form and maximum core engagement.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground as wide as your hips.
  2. With your hands behind your head and your elbows bent out to the sides, use your abs to lift your left shoulder blade off the ground.
  3. At the same time, bring your right knee to meet your left elbow.
  4. When your right knee is bent, straighten your left leg and reach it out in front of you at a 45-degree angle.
  5. Perform on the opposite side, bringing your left knee to your right elbow, straightening the right leg.
  6. Continue alternating legs and squeeze your core. Brush your inner thighs together as you switch sides to ensure you’re hugging your legs in towards the midline of your body.

4 exercises that will help you master the bicycle crunch

If you need a little extra practice before performing the bicycle crunch correctly, these four moves can help develop your core strength.

Bird-dog

This move works the same muscles as the bicycle crunch, but does so in a different position that reduces the risk of straining your neck and recruiting your hips. Get on all fours with your palms directly below your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Straighten your left arm straight out in front of you and your right leg out behind you. After that, bend your left elbow and your right knee, crunching your abs, until they touch underneath your stomach. Repeat using your right arm and left leg. Alternate between sides, performing 10 times on each side.

Seated bicycle crunch

This is a great move for strengthening the core without worrying about any complicated movements. Simply sit on the ground with your legs bent and feet on the ground. Place the hands behind your head, and cross your right elbow towards your left knee. Switch sides, and squeeze your core with each movement. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Wall sit

Wall sits train your abs to engage while the legs are doing something in this case, holding you upright! Simply find a wall and lean your back against it. Squat so that you’re creating a 90-degree angle. Hold this position for 10 seconds, then stand back up. Repeat 10 times.

Modified sit up

Sit ups are a go-to core exercise and help strengthen your entire midsection. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Put your hands behind your head with your elbows pointed out towards your sides. Squeeze your core to lift your upper body off the ground. Repeat 10 times and gradually increase the amount of reps as you gain confidence in your core strength.

More ways to master the move: