How to Do a Bicycle Crunch

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Bicycle Crunches
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Abdominals

Level: Beginner

The bicycle crunch is the best ab exercises you can do, reaching not only the usual abs but also the deep abs and the obliques. If you want to work your core, this air bicycle maneuver is a great choice. It's a no-equipment, beginner's level exercise you can do anywhere. Use it as part of your core strengthening workout or add it to a full body workout.

Benefits

The bicycle crunch is excellent for activating the rectus abdominis, your upper abdominal muscle, and it is second only to the captain's chair for activating the obliques—your side abdominal muscles. Because you are raising your legs, you also engage the transverse abdominis, which is the deep ab muscle that is hard to target. Besides working your abs, you will also be toning your thighs as both your hamstrings and quads will be involved with bicycling.

A strong core will help you with maintaining good posture and performing well at your daily tasks. It is also a key component of good performance in sports and physical activities. Doing a variety of ab and core exercises ensures you are engaging your muscles in different ways.

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Watch Now: Bicycle Crunch Exercise for Your Obliques

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground and knees bent. Your feet should be on the floor and your hands are behind your head.
  2. Contract your core muscles, drawing in your abdomen to stabilize your spine.
  3. With your hands gently holding your head, pull your shoulder blades back and slowly raise your knees to about a 90-degree angle, lifting your feet from the floor.
  4. Exhale and slowly, at first, go through a bicycle pedal motion, bringing one knee up towards your armpit while straightening the other leg, keeping both elevated higher than your hips.
  5. Rotate your torso so you can touch your elbow to the opposite knee as it comes up.
  6. Alternate to twist to the other side while drawing that knee towards your armpit and the other leg extended until your elbow touches the alternate knee.
  7. Aim for 12 to 20 repetitions and three sets.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you get the most out of this exercise while preventing strain or injury.

Hip Rotation

Your torso should be doing all of the rotation. Your hips should not be rotating, you should be driving your legs straight forward and backward. Keep your lower back pressed into the floor during the maneuver.

Neck Straining

Don't pull your head forward, make your torso do the work of rotation. If you find yourself straining with your head and neck to get your elbow to contact your knee, instead just rotate as far as you can with your torso.

Modifications and Variations

The crunch is an exercise that can be done in many ways to make it more accessible as you build core strength or to work your muscles in different ways.

Need a Modification?

If you can't come fully up when you start, go as far as you can and return to the starting position. You'll improve as you practice.

If the bicycle crunch is difficult for you to perform, start by doing oblique crunches. You can also modify the bicycle crunch by placing paper plates under your heels and sliding your legs forward and back without raising them.

Another modification is the standing bicycle crunch. You perform it standing, bending at the waist and raising one leg to meet with the bent elbow of the opposite arm.

Up for a Challenge

You can do the bicycle crunch slowly, with control and also pause briefly or for up to two seconds each time your elbow touches your knee.

For an intermediate-level exercise, hold a medicine ball between your hands while performing the bicycle crunch.

Safety and Precautions

If you have any back or neck problems, talk to your doctor or physical therapist about whether crunches are appropriate for you. If not done with proper form, they can compress the spine and stress the neck. Avoid crunches after the first trimester of pregnancy, as soon as the belly expands. If you have any back problems, be aware of how your lower back is feeling and stop the exercise if you find yourself straining it.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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