The Windshield Wiper Exercise Takes Your Ab Workouts to the Next Level

Windshield wipers are an advanced ab exercise that will light up your entire core.
Image Credit: Sophie Walster/iStock/GettyImages

If Russian twists and leg lifts had a baby, it would be windshield wipers. This incredibly difficult core exercise both rings out your obliques like Russian twists and requires the strength and control of an isometric hold like leg lifts.

  • What are windshield wipers?​​ An ab exercise performed lying down that requires you to move your legs from side to side without touching the floor. When done properly, the movement resembles the back-and-forth motion of, you guessed it, windshield wipers.
  • What muscles do windshield wipers target?​​ Primarily your oblique muscles, which tend to get less action than your six-pack muscles in traditional core exercises.
  • Who can do windshield wipers?​​ People with advanced fitness levels. Beginners and those with a weak core, lower back issues or limited mobility should avoid this move since it's easy to perform incorrectly, which can cause back strain and potential injury, says Ben Lauder-Dykes, trainer for Fhitting Room and certified kettlebell instructor.

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How to Do the Windshield Wiper Exercise With Perfect Form

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Skill Level Advanced
Region Core
  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground.
  2. Your arms can either be straight out to your sides or at about a 45-degree angle from your body with your palms down. Choose whatever arm position feels more comfortable for you.
  3. Next, press your lower back into the ground to engage your core muscles. Keep your low back flat to the floor the entire time, not allowing it to arch.
  4. Bring your feet off the ground and straighten your legs toward the ceiling. This is the starting position.
  5. Press both of your hands and arms down into the ground to increase your stability as you lower both legs to the left. Lower only as far as is comfortable.
  6. Then, brace your abs and return your legs to the middle before lowering your legs to the right side.
  7. Continue alternating sides and always remember to keep your core muscles tight and engaged throughout the movement.

How Many Windshield Wipers Should You Do?

When it comes to windshield wipers, good form trumps number of reps. So, do as many as you can do with proper technique and stop as soon as you feel your form failing you.

Try starting with 3 sets of 10 reps (5 on each side). Alternatively, you can set a timer for 30 seconds and perform as many reps as possible, pausing or modifying (more on this later) if your form begins to break down.

What Are Some Windshield Wipers Benefits?

Most ab exercises normally focus on creating stability, which by nature involves little emphasis on range of motion, but windshield wipers help you improve both, Lauder-Dykes says.

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Twisting requires a large range of motion that works the internal and external obliques as rotators, which must operate in sync to accomplish the side-to-side action, he says.

Plus, windshield wipers also incorporate isometric core holds (when you lower your legs, you must pause briefly without letting them fall to the floor). This requires serious strength and control in your obliques.

Common Windshield Wipers Mistakes to Avoid

1. Your back lifts off the ground​. "It is very challenging to resist the weight of the legs pulling the lower back off the floor and opening up the rib cage," Lauder-Dykes says. "When these two things happen, the abdominals are no longer engaged as part of the movement, which means other muscle groups [including the hip flexors, quadriceps and rectus abdominals] will take over to do the work."

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Not only does this make the move less effective for your obliques, but it also increases the chance of discomfort, pain or injury. For instance, if the rectus abdominals are recruited when in extension, you may have a greater risk of diastasis recti (a separation of the rectus abdominis), Lauder-Dykes says.

2. Not modifying when you need to.​ If you find windshield wipers to be too taxing on your back or your abs, don't push through — no exercise should ever be painful. Know your limits and modify accordingly.

Windshield Wipers Modifications

Again, windshield wipers are an advanced move, which can lead to pain or injury when performed incorrectly. So, if you find windshield wipers are too challenging, build up your strength with these modifications.

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  1. Bend your knees to 90 degrees.​ This will lighten the load of the movement and decrease the stress on your back.
  2. Shorten the range of motion​. Similarly, by reducing the side-to-side motion, you place less strain on your back and other muscles.
  3. Try other oblique-based movements.​ There are other equally effective oblique exercises you can do that are easier to master and progress over time, Lauder-Dykes says. Moves like the dead bug, cable wood chop and side plank rotations give you more control, he says.

Move 1: Dead Bug

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Skill Level All Levels
Region Core
  1. Lie on your back with both arms reaching toward the ceiling and lift your feet off the ground so your legs are bent at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Keep your lower back in contact with the floor through the entire duration of the exercise.
  3. Slowly and with control, extend your right arm and left leg away from each other.
  4. Lower your limbs as far as you can while keeping the lower back on the ground. Fight the impulse to arch your back by tightening your abs.
  5. Exhale as you return your arm and leg to starting position with the same slow, controlled movement.
  6. Repeat with the other arm and leg, then return to center again. This counts as one rep.

Move 2: Cable Wood Chop

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Skill Level All Levels
Region Core
  1. Kneel with your left side facing the cable machine and grab the handle with both hands.
  2. Keep your arms extended and twist away from the anchor point to the right.
  3. Control your return to the starting position so that you resist the rotation slightly, rather than get pulled by the cable.
  4. Do all the reps on one side, then switch sides.

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“The cable allows for a greater range of motion and consistent loading of the internal obliques (kneeling side) and external obliques (tall side) to train these muscles through their full range of movement,” Lauder-Dykes says.

Move 3: Side Plank Rotation

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Skill Level Intermediate
Region Core
  1. Start lying on your right side, propped up on your right elbow. Your elbow should be directly under your shoulder. Your legs should be straight with your feet stacked one on top of the other or staggered.
  2. Lift your hips up off the ground so that your body forms a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders.
  3. Raise your left arm toward the ceiling, then twist your torso forward and slowly reach your left arm under your body.
  4. Brace your core and return to starting position.
  5. Do all your reps on one side, then switch sides and do the same number of reps.

Tip

“The key thing here is making sure the back/bottom foot is pressing into the floor as hard as possible to create more tension from the lower body to stabilize the hip, so we can better control the muscles that we’re using,” Lauder-Dykes says.

Windshield Wiper Progressions

Windshield wipers are already super tough, so there's no need to progress the exercise, Lauder-Dykes says. But if you've nailed the form and insist on an additional challenge, you can try these advanced variations.

  1. Bring your arms closer to your body​. This will offer less support and stability and make your core work even harder.
  2. Do hanging windshield wipers​. This variation — where you hang from a pull-up bar, raise your legs, then rotate them from side to side — will cook your core, back and shoulders and test your grip strength.

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