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Bicycle Crunches: How To Do, Benefits,…

There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about doing bicycle crunches, what will the effects be?

Bicycle crunches are a variation of regular crunches that also target your obliques instead of just your abs. For this exercise, you move your elbow toward the knee of the opposite side.

Bicycle crunches are typically done to grow and strengthen core muscles like your abs and obliques. For other fitness goals, there are many better exercise options.

Before you give this core exercise a try, keep in mind that you generally can’t target fat loss in specific body parts.

Bicycle crunches can be helpful for building abs and obliques but they are relatively bad for losing belly fat. If that is your goal you want to look for exercises that help you burn a lot of calories.

Whether you should add bicycle crunches or alternatives to your routine depends on things like your personal situation, personal preference, and training goals.

How to do a bicycle crunch

For bicycle crunches you preferably want a yoga mat or other soft surface to lie on. To do a bicycle crunch take the following steps:

  1. Lie down on your back with a 90-degree angle in both your hips and knees. Hold your hands against the side of your head with your elbows pointing sideways.
  2. Raise your shoulders and push your lower back against the ground with the help of your ab muscles.
  3. Slightly turn your upper body to one side and reach with your elbow to the knee of the opposite side (for example your left elbow to your right knee) while stretching the leg of the side of the elbow you use while still keeping it off the ground (continuing the example stretching your left leg).
  4. Bring the stretched leg back into the starting position and repeat with the other side. Keep your shoulders off the ground during the exercise.

Keep your movements slow and controlled to make your abs and obliques really work hard and to avoid bad technique.

Make sure you don’t jerk your head forward throughout the exercise. For this reason, putting your hands behind your head is generally not recommended.

A good core workout can look something like 3 to 6 sets of 6 to 25 bicycle crunches with a weight where you can barely complete these ranges.

How to do a bicycle crunch

Bicycle crunch variations

Bicycle crunches with just your body weight and your arms against your chest are the standard version of the exercise. There are also a few variations that can make the exercise easier or harder.

Some people are not ready yet for full bicycle crunches. To work up to the full version you can consider only raising your shoulders a small amount, similar to a small crunch.

Another thing you can do is just push down your lower back with the help of your ab muscles.

If your obliques are the weak link you can start with a sideways plank exercise. All of these will help you train similar muscles as bicycle crunches but at a less challenging level.

On the other hand, bodyweight bicycle crunches can become too easy. At this point, you may need to turn to other exercises or make bicycle crunches harder to keep seeing a lot of muscle growth and strength progress.

Making bicycle crunches harder at the right points in your training journey can also speed up progress compared to doing the regular bodyweight variation over and over.

You can make this exercise harder by doing weighted bicycle crunches. The most convenient way to do this is to hold some type of weight against your upper chest.

Some examples of suited crunch workout equipment include a medicine ball, dumbbells, weight plate, etc.

Another option is to hold more weight with your legs. This will mostly make the exercise harder for your abs. A good pair of ankle weights is ideal for this but in theory, you can also “hold” kettlebells with your feet.

Muscles worked with bicycle crunches

Bicycle crunches are mainly a core muscle (abs and obliques) isolation exercise. Your hip flexor and quadricep muscles may have to work to a certain extent to move your legs.

The way you build muscle in places like your core is by engaging these muscles so that they get damaged enough.

This may sound counterintuitive but this damage makes it so your body repairs these muscles, and adds a bit more to be better prepared to exert similar efforts in the future.

If you stick to exercises with the same weight, as your muscles become stronger this same effort may not damage your muscles enough to promote extra muscle growth.

By adding extra resistance to exercises like a bicycle crunch you are better able to damage the muscles in a shorter amount of time.

If you don’t overdo it, give your body enough nutrients, and give your muscles enough rest this can in turn lead to faster and more core muscle gain.

Depending on your personal situation, workout plan, and training goals, bicycle crunches may be effective or not.

Bicycle crunches benefits

Some people question how useful this exercise can be but adding bicycle crunches to your routine can offer you some helpful benefits. Some of the most important ones include:

  1. Stronger muscles: Bicycle crunches are a type of resistance training that can help you strengthen your core muscles.
  2. Can help with losing weight: Doing bicycle crunches likely requires more energy than your regular daily activities. Extra muscle mass also helps with burning more calories. Both of these aspects can help with, but are no guarantee for, weight loss. Keep in mind that there are better exercise choices if weight loss is your goal.
  3. Improves mood: Exercise like bicycle crunches promotes the release of substances that help you feel good.
  4. No equipment or location required: Since bicycle crunches are a bodyweight exercise you don’t have to invest in equipment or be in a specific location. That being said, a soft surface like a yoga mat can make the exercise more comfortable.
  5. Improves sleep: Exercise like bicycle crunches can improve the quality and duration of your sleep which in turn offers many important benefits.
  6. Slows down aging: Bicycle crunches won’t influence how many days have passed since you were born. However, exercise can slow down the progress of certain aging markers that are correlated with negative health effects.
  7. May reduce or prevent back pain: Core strengthening exercises like bicycle crunches can reduce or prevent back pain (1, 2). If you currently have back pain you do want to be careful and talk to an expert before implementing this exercise.
  8. Balance & coordination: Balance & coordination are fitness skills that can be improved by challenging them. Bicycle crunches can help you with this.

While inevitably many workouts are better for some of these benefits than bicycle crunches, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from adding one activity to your routine.

Potential risks

The main thing to keep in mind is that bicycle crunches can be hard on body parts like your back, hips, shoulders, knees, and neck even if you implement the right technique.

If you are weak or sensitive in these body parts you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. Especially if you have any back pain, you may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.

If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that bicycle crunches are not (yet) for you.

Bicycle crunches alternatives

While bicycle crunches can be a great addition to your workout routine, there are also some alternatives available for training your core muscles. Some of these bicycle crunch alternatives include:

  • Sit-ups
  • Ab wheel roll-outs
  • Leg raises on the captain’s chair
  • Compound core exercises
  • Flutter kicks
  • Plank exercises
  • Crunches

Which one of these options is the best depends on things like your personal situation, training goals, the equipment you have available, etc.

Conclusion

Many people will benefit from adding bicycle crunches with the right technique to their routine. You may need to make the regular version more challenging soon to keep seeing a lot of muscle growth and strength progress.

That being said, for goals besides strengthening your abs and obliques and making them stand out more, there are many better exercise options.

You also need to remember is that bicycle crunches can be hard on body parts like your back, hips, shoulders, knees, and neck even if you implement the right technique.

If you are sensitive or weak in these body parts you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. Especially if you have any back pain, you may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.

Also keep in mind that consistency is an important factor for any workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently.

If doing bicycle crunches is a workout you love, great. If not, other exercises can also offer a lot of benefits.

If you do decide to implement more bicycle crunches make sure you give your body enough nutrients, rest, and sleep to repair and grow your muscles.

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Matt Claes

Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.

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