Get Great Abs: How to Do a Bicycle Crunch the Right Way

One trainer explains how to do this popular ab exercise correctly

Ah, the bicycle crunch. Fitness fanatics have been performing this ab exercise on gym mats around the world since the dawn of time. (OK, obviously that’s a huge exaggeration, but you get the idea.)

This well-known ab exercise is extremely popular among all type of gym-goers and exercisers, and for good reason, too. In 2001 a study sponsored by ACE Fitness found that it's actually the most effective move for strengthening the rectus abdominus (or, as most people more commonly know it, the “six-pack”).

However, exercises are most effective only when they’re performed correctly, and unfortunately, this one is frequently executed with poor form.

“This is the exercise I see done incorrectly, most often,” says Nicole, LaBonde, a level V+ Pilates instructor and creator of the barre and dance fitness class CABARET. “But, when done correctly, this can be an incredible exercise, not just for the obliques, but for the low abs and the upper back and arms.”

LaBonde said her friends call her a “bicycle crunch snob” because she’s so adamant about executing the move with immaculate form.

Below, she explains the mistakes she sees people make most often and how to correct them so you can perform this killer ab move with perfection.

Error 1: The Elbow
“Most people on the mat in the gym are concerned about getting their elbow to their knee,” LaBonde explained. “However, they're not paying attention to the fact that to do so, they are most likely just closing their elbow—as opposed to keeping it out in line with the ear, which really works the upper back and upper arm."

To correct this, while performing the crunch, make sure to keep your arms stable and still, as opposed to swinging your elbow in towards your knee in order to make the two touch more easily. Focus on twisting your torso so that while your arm stays still, your elbow naturally connects with your knee as you twist.

Error 2: The Shoulder
“Another common mistake is rolling from shoulder to shoulder. We feel like we're twisting, when in reality, we are rolling, and the obliques are not engaged,” La Bonde said. “We are simply using momentum to shift our bodyweight from one shoulder blade onto the other. In this case, you won't be using the oblique at all.”

To correct this, again, focus on twisting your torso so that you can feel your abdominal muscles engage as you lift your torso off the ground and twist from side to side.

Error 3: The Hip
“The last common mistake is rolling from hip to hip,” LaBonde said. “Much like the shoulder error, we are using momentum to move, and are not actually twisting the obliques, but are turning the body.

To correct this, “Instead, use your low abdominals, as well as your glutes to stabilize your body,” LaBonde added. Focus on moving in a slow and controlled manner.

A few more tips on performing the bicycle crunch correctly from LaBonde:

  • Roll up your head and shoulders, so you are on the tips of your shoulder blades.
  • Use your low abs and glutes to anchor your hips.
  • Pull your right knee in, as you stretch your left leg out. Try to bring your left rib up and over to your right knee.
  • Keep your elbow back and out, so you get work in your upper back as well.
  • As you come back to the center, make sure you stay lifted up onto the tips of your shoulder blades, to keep your upper abdominals engaged.

“If you do [the move] like this, not only will you actually engage your obliques, you will get bonus work in your upper abs, upper back and arms, and your glutes,” says LaBonde. “Additionally, it will take far less repetitions to work your muscles to fatigue, because you will actually be working your muscles, making your workout more effective and more efficient.”

More Reading:
8 Epic Ab Exercises for a Firm, Flat Stomach
Why Core Strength is Essential to Your Health
The 8 Best Yoga Poses for a Stronger, Slimmer Core