You may like the effects of bicycle crunches but not the exercise. Luckily, there are a variety of alternatives with similar benefits.
In bicycle crunches you alternately crunch your shoulders to the opposite side while cycling with your legs.
The main goal of this movement is to grow and strengthen your ab and oblique muscles. Additionally, there are also other positive effects like burning calories, preventing back pain, improving your mood, etc.
Whether you don’t enjoy bicycle crunches, they don’t feel comfortable on your back or hip flexors, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these bicycle crunch substitutes can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
1. Ab wheel V-rolls
The ab wheel is a small and inexpensive piece of fitness equipment that is a wheel with two handles. It may not look like much but ab wheel exercises can offer a great ab and oblique workout.
Take the following steps to do an ab wheel knee V-roll:
- Start with your face facing the floor on your knees and with your hands on the ab wheel.
- Stretch your hips so that your body is in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Roll forward and to one side in a controlled motion, preferably until your stomach is right above the ground.
- Slowly roll back into the position of step 2.
- Roll forward and to the opposite side as step 3 in a controlled motion.
If you do this exercise right the ab wheel should draw an imaginary V-shape on the ground.
The specific V-roll exercise focuses more on your oblique muscles than a regular roll-out. In turn, this makes it a better alternative to bicycle crunches.
Some people find bicycle crunches uncomfortable on their backs, even with the support of a yoga mat. For these individuals, ab wheel V-rolls can be a great exercise.
One small downside is that you do need some extra equipment. Even so, ab wheels tend to be relatively budget-friendly.
2. Russian twists
Similar to bicycle crunches, you do not necessarily need any equipment for Russian twists. That being said, a yoga mat or other soft surfaces can make the exercise a lot more comfortable.
Take the following steps to do two Russian twist repetitions:
- Sit down on the ground with your legs bent at the knees and your feet hovering above the ground. Make sure your spine is straight and at about a 45-degree angle with the ground.
- Slightly twist your upper body to one side and then to the other side.
- Return to starting position.
Make sure you don’t twist too far and keep your back straight to avoid any injuries. Even with the right technique Russian twists are not for everyone.
That being said, if you are able to do Russian twists safely it can be a good alternative. Most of the benefits of bicycle crunches come from the oblique and ab strengthening. Russian twists offer the same.
Additionally, you can hold some type of weight against your chest to make this exercise even more challenging. If you do this to a safe extent you can get more muscle growth from this.
Some people find Russan twists more comfortable than bicycle crunches because you keep your spine straight. At the same time, if you experience any back discomfort, you likely want to choose one of the other alternatives.
3. Regular crunches
The next option may already have crossed your mind but it is worth mentioning anyway. Regular crunches are a popular ab exercise for a good reason.
Take the following steps to do a crunch:
- Lie down on your back with your legs bent at the knees and your feet flat on the ground.
- You can place your hands behind your head, cross them over your chest, or put them anywhere else. The point is to not really use your arms or move them during the exercise.
- Raise your head and shoulders from the ground as much as possible while keeping your lower back on the floor. Make sure you don’t use your arms but your ab muscles to do this movement.
- Lower your head and shoulders until you are back in the starting position.
Bicycle crunches are a crunch variation that works your oblique (side core muscles) more. Many individuals are also interested in just training their ab muscles (front core muscles).
Additionally, the twisting and leg cycling involved in bicycle crunches could feel uncomfortable on your back and hip flexors.
Both exercises are relatively easy to make more challenging. You simply hold some type of weight, for example a dumbbell, weight plate, or just a heavy backpack, against your upper chest during the movements.
4. Landmine rotations
For the next bicycle crunch alternative, you need a landmine setup. This is an attachment that secures a barbell at the ground level.
The landmine setup opens the door to exercises like landmine rotations. Take the following steps to do this exercise:
- Set up the landmine with the desired number of weight plates.
- Get the sleeve (end of the barbell) above your head with your hands on it, stand with your feet slightly narrower than shoulder width, arms slightly less than stretched, and lean somewhat forward.
- Slowly lower your hands that are holding the barbell sideways to about hip height. Rotate your hips a small amount to the same direction. Keep your arms slightly less than stretched throughout the rest of the exercise.
- Elevate the barbell in a similar motion to the position of step 2.
- Repeat the same movement but in the other direction.
Landmine rotations are more of a substitute for bicycle crunches if you want to focus on different parts of your core muscles. This exercise will still engage your ab muscles but a lot less than bicycle crunches.
On the other hand, landmine rotations will focus more on the oblique muscles. Both the ones that rotate your upper body and bend it to the side.
One potential downside is that the equipment requirements are more strict for landmine rotations. If you work out at home and don’t have the equipment already, this could be a pricey alternative.
Additionally, landmine rotations work your shoulder and upper back muscles more. Some people may not like this.
5. Wood chop exercise
For the wood chop exercise, you will need some type of suitable resistance. A dumbbell or other free weights like a kettlebell, sandbags, medicine ball, etc. are great.
You could also use resistance bands at home or a cable machine in the (home) gym. Take the following steps to do a wood chop with a dumbbell:
- Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Let your arms with the dumbbell in your arms hang down for now.
- Bring up the dumbbell to one side while keeping your arms slightly less than stretched. If needed you can turn your hips too. For this, you will likely need to lift the heel of one foot off the ground.
- Swing the dumbbell down and to the other side, again keeping your arms slightly less than stretched. Make sure you can still control the weight at the bottom of the movement. Again you can twist your hips if needed.
Make sure you don’t twist too far and keep your back straight to avoid any injuries.
Especially if you have a sensitive back you want to turn your hips to avoid twisting your spine too far and potentially choose one of the other alternatives.
When you first give the wood chop exercise a try, swing slow to see where you are at in terms of being able to control the movement. After that, you can gradually increase the intensity of the exercise in safe steps.
As you can tell, wood chops involve a movement that is very similar to bicycle crunches but standing up. You will still work your oblique muscles but due to the direction of gravity, your abs will have to work a lot less.
At the same time, a lot of people will really like that you don’t have to lie down on the ground for this core exercise.
6. Pallof presses
For Pallof presses, you either need a cable machine or resistance bands with a suited anchor.
As an example, take the following steps to do a Pallof press with a resistance band:
- Loop the resistance band through the anchor at about chest height. Hold the other end of the band between your hands and stand with one side toward the anchor.
- Step away from the anchor until you reach the desired tension.
- Slowly move your hands forward as far as you can without twisting your upper body.
- Hold that position for a few seconds.
- Return your hands back to the position of step two.
- Repeat the same number of repetitions with your other side while extending your arms about as much to avoid muscle imbalance.
Try to give each side about the same training (distance away from the anchor, seconds of holding, number of repetitions) to avoid muscle imbalances.
Pallof presses are another alternative to bicycle crunches that focuses more and less on certain core muscles.
More specifically, this exercise mainly focuses more on the rotational oblique muscles and less on your ab muscles. This can be both good or bad depending on your training goals.