What Muscles Does Cycling in the Air Work?

Cycling in the air, also called the bicycle maneuver, is an exercise that requires you to lie on your back, raise your legs and circle them as you would when riding a bike. When you perform this exercise, you work all the muscles in your abdominal group, as well as supporting muscles in your hips.

Bicycling in the air works your abs. (Image: fizkes/iStock/GettyImages)


Bicycling in the air works your abs —the obliques, rectus abdominus and transversus abdominus — and hips.

Air Cycling and Affected Muscles

The main muscles engaged in a bicycle maneuver are the paired rectus abdominis muscles — which form the "six-pack" at the front of your abdomen — and the external and internal obliques, which sit in pairs on either side of your rectus muscles and help you rotate, or twist, your torso.

Another, deeper pair of abdominal muscles, called the transversus abdominis muscles, support your other abdominals during this exercise. The American Council on Exercise likens the abdominal muscles to the layers on a sheet of plywood. You receive additional support from your hip flexors, or iliopsoas muscles, which run from your spine and pelvis to your upper femur.

Leg Cycling Exercise Benefits

The floor bicycle exercise or the supine bicycle crunch, explains the American Council on Exercise, is one of the single most effective exercises you can perform if you want to work your rectus abdominis muscles. It is also effective at working your oblique muscles.

Other effective exercises for your rectus muscles include the captain's chair, vertical leg crunches and crunches performed on an exercise ball. Other effective exercises for your oblique muscles include the twisting crunch, hover, reverse crunch and captain's chair.

Cycling Exercise Modifications

People with good abdominal strength and relatively low amounts of abdominal fat can usually perform the bicycle maneuver with their upper bodies elevated slightly above the floor. This is typically the best way to get an abdominal workout.

However, if you have poor abdominal strength and relatively high amounts of body fat, you may need to keep your upper back on the floor throughout the exercise. Lying down during the bicycle leg exercise lowers the load on your abdominal muscles and increases the load on your hip flexors.

Other Ab Exercises

Despite the general effectiveness of the bicycle maneuver, it is worth remembering that every abdominal exercise will produce different results in different individuals. To achieve the best possible overall results, use other highly recommended abdominal exercises along with the bicycle maneuver and practice them daily in five-minute sessions.

According to exercise physiologist Len Kravitz, Ph.D., writing for the University of New Mexico, you can perform ab exercises every day. Unlike a weight-training session which brings a muscle to fatigue, the abs do not need a day to recover.

This approach will allow you to work your abs in subtly varying ways and help you avoid the boredom of an unchanging exercise routine. If any particular exercise doesn't suit you, drop it and pick another one to add to your routine. Ask your doctor and a certified personal trainer for more information on the bicycle maneuver and other effective abdominal exercises.

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