A classic crunch is a workout staple targeting the rectus abdominis muscles or the central long vertical muscle (where you'd typically see a "six pack"). They've been around for such a long time for good reason, but sometimes a classic isn't always the best. Enter bicycle crunches. In a study published in 2001 by the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University, 30 men and women ages 20-45, the bicycle crunch was found to simulate the rectus abdominis muscle the most out of 30 total ab exercises. Plus, the move also activates your obliques and lower abs, giving the traditional crunch a real run for its money.
The key with bicycle crunches is taking them slow and steady: rushing through them doesn't offer as much tension throughout your muscles, which is the whole point of performing the move. The more you move with intention and control, the better the results will be.
We asked Aubre Winters, fitness instructor, trainer, and creator of Sweat Sessions how to perform bicycle crunches properly and how to add them to your workouts.
How to Perform a Bicycle Crunch
- Start on your back with your feet planted, hip-width apart and parallel.
- From there, place your hands lightly behind your head and keep your elbows wide.
- Using the strength of your abdominals, exhale and contract to lift the shoulders off of your mat (avoid pulling on your neck and using your hands to lift).
- From there, float your right leg up to tabletop/90-degrees and extend your bottom leg straight out to hover a few inches off of the floor.
- Rotate towards the right leg, connecting your left elbow over to the right knee.
- Using your breath, your obliques, and a LOT of control, rotate opposite elbow to opposite knee to create your alternating bicycle crunches.
With bicycle crunches, you use your lower abdominals to maintain the leg extension as well as the rectus abdominis as you lift to center. Then, the obliques are activated as you work for that deep rotation.
How to Add Bicycle Crunches to Your Workout Routine
Winters says that the number of crunches you should perform depends on your workout goals and which fitness programs you follow.
For best results, she recommends pairing bicycles with other full-body or core exercises in a circuit and doing each move for one minute per round, 3-4 times through, with a 30-second recovery between each round.
In her barre classes, she combines bicycle crunches with other abdominal exercises and does a few variations of each, totaling around 6-8 minutes of straight ab work.
Who Should Avoid Bicycle Crunches?
If you are pregnant, Winters says you should avoid bicycles on your back. Instead, she recommends the below modification. (Always get your doctor’s permission before working out during pregnancy.)
- Laying down on your back, prop yourself up on your forearms (elbows right under shoulders, hands and fingertips pressed firmly down).
- Tuck your hips under and engage your abdominal wall as you draw your legs to 90-degrees.
- As you maintain your tuck, start an alternating bicycle motion with the legs.
- Keep the rotations a little smaller and the legs slightly higher off of the ground, around 45- degrees.
American Council on Exercise. New Study Puts the Crunch on Ineffective Ab Exercises. 2001.