If you did enough bike crunches to dethrone Jasper Stuyven, you might think you’re a bike expert. But this exercise requires a lot more attention to detail than the average sit-up.
When done correctly, the bike crunch works your abs and obliques. In 2001, the American Council on Exercise actually considered the bike crunch the #1 exercise for strengthening the rectus abdominis (the abdominal muscles that make up the “six pack”).
So how can you make sure your form is on point and you’re getting the most out of this awesome ab-torcher? Continue reading.
Before you start, think about speed – or rather the lack of it. “One of the best ways to make ab workouts harder is to slow down the speed of the movement,” says the New Jersey personal trainer. Nick Occhipinti.
With each rep, make sure you’re using your heart to do the work, without any momentum.
Here’s how to do a bike crunch correctly.
Step by step guide
- Lie on your back on the floor (or, preferably, on a mat for some support). Press your lower back against the floor and bend your knees while keeping your feet flat on the floor.
- Place your hands behind your head, interlace your fingers if you prefer. Keep your elbows apart and gently cradle your head in your hands.
- Raise your knees, shins parallel to the floor, while lifting your shoulder blades off the floor. (Be careful not to force or pull on your neck.)
- As you straighten the left leg to an angle of approximately 45 degrees, rotate your upper body to the right, bringing the left elbow toward the right knee. (Make sure the movement is coming from your rib cage, not just your elbows.)
- Come back to center with both knees bent and elbows out.
- Repeat on the other side: Straighten the right leg to a 45 degree angle and rotate the upper body to the left, bringing the right elbow to the left knee.
- Return to starting position to complete 1 rep.
Do 3 sets of 15 to 25 reps, resting for 30 seconds to 1 minute after each set.
Want to try a more difficult variant? Occhipinti suggests the hollow-support bike crunch:
- Instead of bringing the feet and shoulders down between reps, maintain a consistent “hollow body” position.
- Contract your abs, keep your lower back flat on the floor, and keep your feet elevated about 6 inches. Keep the shoulder blades just above the floor.
- From this position, slowly alternate bringing one knee to the opposite elbow, coming back to center and repeating.
Need to take it down a notch? Swap in the dead bug exercise, which is as effective for physical therapy and rehabilitation as it is for fitness, says Occhipinti.
- Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat, and arms straight.
- Keep your back flat on the floor as you slowly extend your left arm and right leg. Maintain a strong core and keep your lower back on the floor.
- Return to starting position, then repeat on the other side to complete 1 rep.
Adding bike crunches to your routine? Don’t make these mistakes.
- Sprint through your crunches. This is actually the biggest mistake Occhipinti sees making. “The abdominal muscles are relatively small postural stabilizer muscles,” he says. “As we ramp up our abdominal workouts, some of those bigger muscles can take over and move our body with pure momentum.” The result? You are not getting the maximum benefit from your crunches.
- Let your hip flexors take over. When you go too fast or try to do too many crunches, your hip flexors (and your iliopsoas in particular) like to give your abs a break, says Occhipinti.
- Pulling on your neck. If you find yourself forcing your neck to bring your knee and elbow together, it’s time to step back. Instead, unlace your fingers and rest them gently on the back of your head, so you won’t be tempted to “cheat” and use them to push too far.
- Build on momentum. “In the upper body, we’ll use the latissimus dorsi to swing the arms towards our feet — and use that momentum to crush our body” instead of the strength of our abs, he says. The fix? (You guessed it!) Slow down.
Basically, to avoid all of these mistakes, the advice is the same: “The key here is to slow down the movement — sometimes painfully slow – so we’re really only using our abs to generate the movement,” advises Occhipinti.
Why were bike crunches crowned the best for your six-pack muscles? This simple exercise contains tons of benefits.
Strong core = strong body
It looks like a bumper sticker, but a strong core helps your body and your overall health in many ways.
Strengthen your core muscles and you’ll notice improved endurance (great for workouts or just busy days running errands), better posture, reduced back pain and reduced risk of injury. Not too shabby, huh?
Bike crunches give you visible results faster
“Bicycle crunches target the muscles in the abdominal region, namely the rectus abdominis and the oblique muscles,” says Occhipinti. “When we train a muscle, we build strength and hypertrophy (size). If the abdominal muscles have better definition, they will reveal themselves more easily as we lose body fat.
One caveat, though: bike crunches and muscle targeting don’t burn body fat.
Translation: You can’t shed belly fat on a bike. But practice a whole-body approach (meaning a balance of adjusting your diet, cardio, and strength training) and you’ll see that body fat melt away, Occhipinti says.
Bike crunches boost coordination
Movements that require you to use opposite arms and legs at the same time, such as the bike crunch, can help improve your coordination. Want to make it harder? Close your eyes.
There are definitely times when you’ll want to pump the brakes on the bike crunch, says Occhipinti. This could include you if:
- It hurts when performing spinal flexion (forward bending).
- You have a herniated disc.
- You are in the second or third trimester of pregnancy, when you should avoid supine and supine exercises. “We recommend doing basic fours, side-lying, or quadruped exercises,” he says.
If you’ve made it this far in the article, consider yourself a bike pro. Practice proper form and don’t overdo it, and you’ll get to a stronger core in no time.