How to Do Bicycle in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: High bicycle

Targets: Legs, buttocks, abs, shoulders, arms

Equipment Needed: Mat

Level: Intermediate

The Pilates bicycle exercise will work many areas of your body all at once. You move the legs in the opposite way of pedaling an actual bicycle, and it makes a big difference in the level of the workout. All you need is an exercise mat for this no-equipment move. In the traditional Pilates mat sequence, the bicycle exercise comes at the midpoint of the routine. It is preceded by the scissors exercise and followed by the shoulder bridge.


With the Pilates bicycle exercise, you work your legs, buttocks, abs, shoulders, and arms all at the same time. You have to concentrate on this move rather than falling into the typical pattern you would use when riding a bicycle.

The bicycle is a good torso stability challenge. You have to keep everything steady in the hips and torso—no extra movement—as you move your legs.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Lie on your back and roll your hips up into shoulder stand position. Make sure that you are not too far up on your neck. Check Points:
    1. Your weight should be supported by a nice tripod of your shoulders and upper arms.
    2. Hold yourself upright with your abdominal and back muscles. Ideally, you will not have a lot of weight on your hands.
    3. Shoulders are wide, away from the ears, and the neck is long and relaxed
  2. Bend the right knee and extend the right leg toward the wall behind you. At the same time, bring the straight left leg over your head, to almost parallel to the floor.
  3. As each leg moves into its fullest extension, the left leg bends to come through toward the back wall, and the right leg makes a long arc up and overhead. Basically, this is like pedaling in reverse.
  4. Do up to 10 sets of "reverse pedals." Then bring the legs together and use abdominal control to roll back down.

Common Mistakes

Shoulder stand and bicycle can place a lot of stress on the neck. Your alignment must be excellent and you need to be aware of your positioning. Do not turn your head once you have raised your legs or you may strain your neck.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

If you have neck problems you will want to try this exercise with your back on the floor. You can put your hands under your hips to get a little lift.

Up for a Challenge?

As you get more comfortable with the movement pattern, you can take the legs even further apart so that eventually they move into a wide split before one leg folds and threads past the other one as it arcs toward the ceiling.

At advanced levels, you do not bring the hips and torso up to shoulder stand. Rather, you roll the hips up, support them with your hands, but leave hips and torso in a position closer to neutral spine. This requires exceptional pelvic stabilization. It is best to work with an instructor at this advanced level.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid this exercise if you have any neck or back injury or osteoporosis. It is also not recommended if you have glaucoma, high blood pressure, or any condition where your head should not be lower than your heart.

Try It Out

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

By Marguerite Ogle MS, RYT
Marguerite Ogle is a freelance writer and experienced natural wellness and life coach, who has been teaching Pilates for more than 35 years.