Flutter Kicks Are a Simple—but Effective—Lower-Abs Workout

Woman laying on her back on a Pilates mat

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Anyone who has ever taken a Pilates mat class has likely done flutter kicks at least once or twice, but for the rest of us, the lower-abs exercise is much less likely to be familiar. Vastly different from crunches or sit-ups, flutter kicks use your legs to tone your lower-abdominals area. They require no equipment, and you need just enough space to lay down on a mat or a floor to do them.

Flutter kicks require some finesse and caution in order to be comfortable for your back and neck, so we asked trainers to advise us on how to properly do them, and why we should.

Meet the Expert

Shantani Moore is a master fitness trainer and an XPRO for Pure Barre GO.

Victoria Popoff is an XPRO for Club Pilates GO.

What Are Flutter Kicks?

Flutter kicks are a core exercise that targets your lower abs. They differ from sit-ups or crunches, which target more of your upper abs, because those involve you scrunching into your stomach while flutter kicks require you to keep your abs fairly stable and stiff. This move involves moving your legs, with your neck propped up while they are held straight. The legs are held low to the ground, just a few inches off the floor, and your neck and shoulders are also held only a few inches off the floor. The motion you make with your legs is, no surprise, a fluttering one, similar to how you would if swimming the backstroke. Popoff tells us that in addition to your core, your hip flexors are also used in this exercise, and Moore notes that they've become popular in not only Pilates classes but also barre ones as well.

Benefits of Flutter Kicks

Though they can help in one's quest for a six-pack, flutter kicks have numerous other benefits, too. Moore tells us that "flutter kicks help to sculpt your core—improving your frame—strengthen your trunk stabilizers, and improve your posture. This move not only helps you look stronger but also actually feel stronger too!" Why is a strong core important? Popoff notes that "a stronger core helps improve posture and performance in several other exercises that stem from the core."

How to Perform Flutter Kicks

  1. Lie down on your back, preferably on a mat rather than on the floor. Popoff instructs us to have our legs extended and arms at our sides. Your palms should be facing down.
  2. Engage your core and lift your head, neck, and shoulders several inches off the ground.
  3. Lift your feet several inches off the ground, while your head, neck, and shoulders are also up. Moore says that "your legs should be straight, if possible, with your toes pointed."
  4. Alternate lifting each of your legs slightly, in a back and forth motion. Both trainers say that it should appear as if you are swimming. You should feel your abs burning fairly quickly.
  5. Continue for a designated amount of time or repetitions, then lower your legs, along with your head, neck, and shoulders, back to your starting position of lying prone on the floor.

Modifications

If you have any issues with, or injuries in, your neck or shoulders, keep them on the floor and conduct the movement with only your legs raised. Moore says that in this instance, extra focus should be placed on your shoulders and you should "make sure you are actively working from your core the entire time, as tension will want to travel up to your shoulders/neck area."

For those with any problems or weakness in their lower back or hips, Moore recommends bending your knees slightly instead of holding them straight. She tells us that "this may ease any strain, specifically on the lower back and hips," and she encourages focus on this area of the body while you do the move, saying that you can "protect your lower back by drawing your lower abs down to the ground. Make sure there is no space between your back and the floor, to keep yourself safe in this amazing move." Additionally, if you have any back problems, Popoff says to "place a thin cushion under your lower back for more support in your lumbar spine," and to be sure not to let your lumbar spine arch, as that can be damaging to the back.

If the exercise feels too intense on your abs, Victoria suggests lifting and lowering one leg at a time. This will have less of a fluttering appearance, but you will be working the same muscles.

Flutter Kicks vs. Lying Leg Raises

This flutter kick exercise bears some resemblance to lying leg raises. To do a lying leg raise, you lie down on your back, similar to how you would for flutter kicks. From there, you keep your head, neck, and shoulders down, which is different than with flutter kicks, where you raise them. You lift both of your legs in unison, rather than one at a time like flutter kicks, until the are perpendicular to your hips. Your legs should lift until your hips can't be flexed any further with your legs straight. Then, you release your legs back down to your starting position. By moving your legs, this also works your lower abs and hip flexors, similar to flutter kicks. However, lying leg raises are also a leg exercise because they work your hamstrings and quads too. Additionally, they target the upper abs. That makes flutter kicks a more specific lower-abs-targeting exercise than leg raises, which is more of a comprehensive lower-body workout move. Because their range of motion is larger, they may also be more difficult for people with back issues.

Safety Considerations

Anyone with neck or shoulder problems should not perform this move unless it is modified, with their heads and shoulders kept on the floor. Anyone with a lower-back injury should either avoid the move, or take the precautions mentioned, like utilizing a cushion under the spine. Pregnant people should consult with their practitioner before doing abs workouts, including flutter kicks.

The Takeaway

Flutter kicks are a lower-abs exercise. To perform them, you lie on your back, then lift your head, neck, shoulders, and legs a few inches off the floor. Once in position, you keep your legs straight and flutter them up and down, alternating sides. This targets your lower abs and your hip flexors. Flutter kicks can help tone lower abs and also improve core strength, which can improve posture and balance. Flutter kicks should be modified or avoided by anyone with problems in their neck, shoulders, or back. They require no equipment, and don't take up much space to do. This exercise, popular in Pilates classes, is a simple and effective way to work your lower abs.

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