Bicycle Crunches: The Best Abs Exercise According to ACE

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There are all sorts of things to admire about the American Council on Exercise, starting with the fact that it has the superb acronym ACE. ACE is a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting healthy activities, and it constantly puts out information on how you can live a more active life.

Back in 2001 ACE sponsored a study to find out exactly what the best abs exercise was, comparing 13 of the most common moves. The study determined which exercise was the best by looking at how much each of them stimulated the rectus abdominis and oblique muscles, which run down the front and sides of your stomach respectively.

The winner was the bicycle crunch. Well, the winner was actually the “bicycle maneuver”, but no-one in the UK calls it the bicycle maneuver (or even the bicycle manoeuvre), so bicycle crunch it is. This success is based on the amount of muscles enlisted by the bicycle crunch, which hits the upper and lower abs and the obliques, all in one single exercise.

How To Do The Bicycle Crunch

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  1. Start by lying on the ground, with your lower back pressed flat into the floor and your head and shoulders raised slightly above it.
  2. Place your hands lightly on the sides of your head; don’t knit your fingers behind. Be careful not to yank your head with your hands at any point during the exercise.
  3. Lift one leg just off the ground and extend it out.
  4. Lift the other leg and bend your knee towards your chest.
  5. As you do so twist through your core so the opposite arm comes towards the raised knee. You don’t need to touch elbow to knee, instead focus on moving through your core as you turn your torso. Your elbow should stay in same position relative to your head throughout – the turn that brings it closer to the knee comes from your core. It might be best to think shoulder to knee as you move, rather than elbow to knee.
  6. Lower your leg and arm at the same time while bringing up the opposite two limbs to mirror the movement.
  7. Keep on alternating sides until you’ve managed 10 reps on each, aiming for three sets of 10 in total, or add the bicycle crunch into circuit training and just keep going for as long as the timer runs.

Bicycle Crunch Variations

Standing bicycle crunch

This is an easier version of the exercise that mimics the movement of the bicycle crunch, but from a standing position. Bend at the waist and bring your turning arm down to meet the knee of the opposite leg, which you raise so they meet around your midriff.

Elevated bicycle crunch

For a more advanced version, try the elevated bicycle crunch, where you lie down on a bench to perform the exercise. This means your legs lower further in each rep for a greater range of movement, so your core has to work harder to lift them to your twisting torso, and also helps to improve your hip mobility.

Bosu ball bicycle crunch

This variation adds some instability into the mix, which makes your core work harder throughout the move. The Bosu ball has one flat side which sits on the floor, while you rest your back on the inflatable half of the ball. This makes it a little easier to use for bicycle crunches than a standard gym ball, where the risk of rolling off the ball entirely can make it quite a frustrating and slow endeavour, although you can certainly try using a gym ball if you think you have the stomach for it.

To use the Bosu ball, lie down so your lower back is resting on the ball but keep your feet on the floor. Then perform the exercise as normal, twisting as you sit up to bring your elbow over to the opposite knee, but return your foot to the floor before raising the other knee. The extra effort of keeping yourself balanced on the ball will mean your core gets tired faster than with standard bicycle crunches, so don’t be surprised if you fall short of your normal sets and reps count.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.