Bicycle Crunch Exercise for Your Obliques

Female runner exercising
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The bicycle crunch is the best ab exercises you can do to activate 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 are the deep ab muscles that are 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.


Watch Now: Bicycle Crunch Exercise for Your 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. You only need an exercise mat for the bicycle crunch, although in a pinch you only need a surface on which to lie flat.

How to Do the Bicycle Crunch

  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.

Form Tips 

  • Keep your lower back pressed into the floor during the maneuver. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Breath evenly throughout the exercise.
  • Perform the bicycle crunch slowly, with control.
  • You can also pause briefly or for up to two seconds each time your elbow touches your knee.
  • 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.

An older study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise compared 13 common abdominal exercises in an effort to determine the best. An EMG was used to measure muscle stimulation of the rectus abdominis, external obliques, and internal obliques. The bicycle crunch came out on top for activating the rectus abdominis.

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