Crunches and situps are good foundational moves, but they can get stale. Once you’ve mastered these basic ab exercises, it’s time to up the ante with some more challenging moves. One of my favorites? Windshield wipers. The move literally looks like windshield wipers on your car — your legs are the wipers!
The windshield wiper is a little more challenging than your everyday situp or crunch, requiring more core strength and recruiting the obliques as well. Although the move appears simple, windshield wipers are much harder than they look. So I suggest starting with a modified version and working your way up to the full exercise.
What does the windshield wiper do for the body?
The windshield wiper works the obliques and rectus abdominus. However, the move also requires support from your glutes and hip flexors, making it a full core workout in one exercise. A strong core makes everyday activities easier and can help you feel more stable and in control of your own body.
Research suggests that training programs are most successful when they start with exercises that target specific core muscles and gradually build to include moves that are more complex. The windshield wiper is a great next step for those who have worked on their core pretty consistently and are looking for a bigger challenge.
The common mistakes people make when doing the windshield wiper
When performing the windshield wiper, it’s easy to rely on momentum instead of core strength to guide the movement of your legs. A lot of my clients report hip or back pain due to lack of abdominal support or too much reliance on the hips for movement.
While performing this move, remember that it’s meant to be a core workout. That means that while the exercise is challenging and you are moving your legs, it doesn’t mean you should rely on other muscle groups to get you through it. This can cause strain and devalue the move. In order to avoid this, follow these guidelines:
- Squeeze your abs when moving your legs from side to side. If you feel yourself starting to rely on momentum, slow down.
- If you feel pain in your low back, stop the exercise and try a modified version. It’s important to avoid injury and strain so that you’re able to properly perform the move in the future.
- If you feel the exercise mostly in your legs or hips, you’re probably not engaging your core. Reset and try again, really focusing on pulling the naval in towards the spine.
How to do a modified windshield wiper
Windshield wipers are a more challenging ab exercise. However, there are a few different modifications that make this move a little easier while still giving you the ab workout you're looking for. Once you’ve mastered the modified move, you’ll feel a lot more confident moving on to the traditional windshield wiper.
Lie on your back with your arms straight out at your sides forming a "T" shape with your body. Lift your legs off the ground, but instead of lifting them straight up to the ceiling, bend them into a tabletop position with the shins parallel to the floor. Keeping your knees bent at this angle provides more stabilization, making the move slightly easier. From this position, perform the same side to side movement with your legs and hips, squeezing your abs as you go.
For a progression, extend your legs after you turn to one side, and then bend them before moving through center, extending them again when you get to the other side.
How to perform the windshield wiper correctly
Understanding proper form is the most important part of mastering this move. Without proper form, the windshield wiper just looks like a lot of sloppy movement relying on momentum, which is not what we want. Remember to keep your core engaged and follow these steps:
- Lie on your back with your arms straight out at your sides in a “T” position for stabilization.
- Lift your legs up, first with knees bent in a tabletop position, and then straightening your legs towards the sky, engaging the core.
- Using your abs to control the movement, slowly lower your legs to the right hovering a few inches off of the floor.
- When your feet get close to the floor, reverse the movement of your legs, moving them back through center and down to the left side of your body.
- One movement of the legs from the right to the left completes one rep. Repeat the move 10 times.
4 exercises that will help you perform the windshield wiper better
The windshield wiper is a complex movement, which means it’s not easy to jump right into. If you’re struggling with the move, don’t worry. These other exercises target the various muscle groups that make up the core and will help you build the strength needed to perform the windshield wiper correctly.
Russian twists target the obliques. Sit down on the floor with knees bent in front of you and hands pressed together at your chest. Keeping your feet on the floor in front of you, lean your torso backwards slightly. Begin twisting from side to side, reaching the hands to the floor as you go.
Side plank dips
Side plank dips are a more challenging variation of the traditional side plank. Lie on your side, keeping your right forearm and right foot on the ground. Lift your body up into a side plank, keeping your left hand on your hip. Using your obliques, drop your hips to the floor and raise them back up for one rep.
Lie on your back with your feet lifted into a tabletop position. Keeping your core engaged, lower your right foot to the ground, tapping your toe to the mat. Raise your right foot back up to the starting position and lower your left foot to the ground. Continue alternating.
This move works your obliques and rectus abdominis in a similar way as the windshield wiper. Begin in plank position with your hands flat on the mat. Squeeze your abs and keep your legs together as you jump your feet to your right elbow and back to starting position. Then, jump your feet towards your left elbow and back to starting position. Continue alternating.