When we think of abs and core exercises, our minds generally go to the tried-and-true staples: crunches, sit-ups, and planks. But while those workout moves are all beneficial, there are a lot more options out there to be had.
One abs and core exercise move that doesn't get the airtime of the more popular ones are scissor kicks. As the name suggests, they involve a scissoring motion with your legs, which in turn targets a large area of your core. Scissor kicks are often confused with flutter kicks, but they're actually a more advanced move. Read on to learn what exactly scissor kicks are, why you should be adding them to your workout routine, and how to do them with the best proper form. We tapped two trainers—Katelyn DiGiorgio and Mariela Arteaga—to get you all the info you need.
Meet the Expert
What Are Scissor Kicks?
Scissor kicks are an abs- and core-strengthening move. They're performed by using a crisscross motion, moving the legs horizontally out and in, according to Arteaga. DiGiorgio adds that "scissor kicks are performed lying face-up, with your legs straight and lifted about 45 degrees off the floor. One leg lowers toward the floor as you lift the other; then continue to slowly alternate with control to create the scissor motion."
Benefits of Scissor Kicks
This abs exercise targets a surprising amount of muscles. DiGiorgio says, "Some of the benefits of scissor kicks include increased core, quad, and adductor strength, as well as enhanced mobility in your hip flexors." She also notes that they may help to tone your abs. "Scissor kicks work the entire core, including the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, obliques, hip flexors, and spine," DiGiorgio says. "While the core is the main target of the exercise, the glutes, quads, and adductors are also working throughout the exercise."
Having a strong core is key to having a strong and healthy body. "A strong core will help you with your balance, stability, and posture, and will also help with many day-to-day tasks," says Arteaga. "Even something as simple as sitting up in bed is made easier. A strong core can also help prevent lower-back pain and injuries."
Proper Scissor Kick Form
- Lie flat on your back on the floor or a mat, with arms at your sides. DiGiorgio notes that you should "place your arms by your sides, with your palms pushing down into the floor. Your hands can also be placed under the glutes for added lower-back support."
- Engage your core, ensuring your lower back is pressed into the floor. Arteaga says to "engage your core by bringing the belly button into your spine."
- Next, lift your legs until they reach an angle of 45 degrees off the floor, about halfway between fully flat on the ground and fully up facing the sky. DiGiorgio says you can keep your feet pointed or flexed.
- Begin to lower one leg as you straighten the other. DiGiorgio explains that you should create an L-shape with your legs.
- Alternate the movement back and forth. Arteaga says to "keep your legs as straight as you can, and start crisscrossing your legs out and in."
- Repeat the scissoring motion; DiGiorgio recommends going for 20–30 seconds at a time before resting.
How to Modify
There are numerous modifications for scissor kicks. Here are some to try.
- Start with your legs higher than 45 degrees to make the move easier. Arteaga says, "You can start with your legs up, straight over your hips, and start the crisscross motion higher and work your way down. As your abdominals get stronger, your legs will get lower. The lower your legs the more challenging the move."
- Use your hands for stability. DiGiorgio says that "if you feel any strain in your lower back, try placing your hands under the glutes. This will allow you to remove excess arch from your lower back and put the work back into your core."
- Perform the move on your forearms instead of laying with your arms flat.
- Reduce your range of motion.
Should scissor kicks not feel challenging enough for you, you can modify them to be more difficult. Try one of these ideas.
- Increase your legs' range of motion.
- Add ankle weights.
- Lift your arms and shoulders off the ground.
Scissor Kicks vs. Flutter Kicks
Scissor kicks look a bit like flutter kicks, but as previously mentioned, they're more difficult to perform than the latter. "Scissor kicks are easy to confuse with flutter kicks, which is another abdominal exercise in which the legs kick in a vertical pattern, alternating and lifting one leg higher than the other," says Arteaga. "Scissor kicks are a more advanced move because the horizontal motion targets the adductor muscles and requires more muscle control." While flutter kicks are done mostly just in Pilates or barre classes, scissor kicks are a common move for anyone looking to change up their abs routine and are often included in HIIT workouts.
Any abs move will also involve your back, so keep that in mind. "If you have any prior back or neck injuries or tight hip flexors, consider modifying the exercise," says DiGiorgio. Arteaga offers some helpful tips to ensure your back stays injury-free: "It is imperative to maintain proper form when doing this exercise to prevent any lower back injuries," she says. "Always engage the core and think of keeping your rib cage in so that your back is making contact with the floor at all times. One of the most common mistakes people make when doing scissor kicks is arching the back. If you feel that you cannot keep your back on the ground, then it might be because your legs are too low. Bring the legs up higher, and as your abs get stronger, the legs will get lower and you will be able to perform the move properly, with straight legs and your back on the ground."
The Final Takeaway
Scissor kicks are an effective abs and core exercise that involves lying on your back and moving your legs in a scissoring motion, alternating each up and down. They target your lower abs, but they will also work your quads and lower body, as well as your core. They also help strengthen your hip flexors. Scissor kicks are an advanced move, and as such should be avoided by anyone with back or neck injuries. Proper form is key to avoiding injury and working the correct muscles. If you find them too difficult in the beginning, there are many modifications available, including shortening your range of motion. Conversely, you can easily make them more difficult, such as with the addition of ankle weights. If you've been looking to scale up your abs work, scissor kicks are the perfect move to try.
Huxel Bliven KC, Anderson BE. Core stability training for injury prevention. Sports Health. 2013;5(6):514-522.