How to Do Pilates Bicycle Exercise

Pilates shoulder stand
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The Pilates bicycle exercise will work your legs, buttocks, abs, shoulders, and arms. Don't we all love an exercise that works a lot of areas at once? You might think that I am making a very familiar exercise sound special by calling it "Pilates" Bicycle, but the fact is that this is different than what you may have done before on an actual bicycle.

In Pilates bicycle, we move the legs in the opposite way than one would normally to create a pedal action, and it makes a big difference in the level of the workout. What you do on an actual bicycle is different from what you'll be doing here. That will make you have to concentrate on this move rather than falling into the typical pattern you would use when pedaling a bicycle.

This version of Bicycle is an intermediate level exercise. We have a few suggestions at the end for those who want an advanced version. 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.

Equipment Required 

The good news is that no bicycle is required. All you need is an exercise mat for this no-equipment move. You can perform it in your home exercise area, at the gym, or in a Pilates studio.

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Time Required: 5 min

How to Perform the Pilates Bicycle Exercise

  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:
    • Your weight should be supported by a nice tripod of your shoulders and upper arms.
    • Hold yourself upright with your abdominal and back muscles. Ideally, you will not have a lot of weight on your hands.
    • 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. 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.
  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. It makes the exercise harder and it makes you think a bit more too.
  4. Do up to 10 sets of "reverse pedals." Then bring the legs together and use abdominal control to roll back down.


    1. 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.
    2. 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.
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