Scissor kicks are an effective ab exercise. They're particularly useful because it can be modified to suit a beginner or expert exerciser and does not require any additional equipment.
Before you try any new exercise, it's helpful to understand what muscles are being used and how to perform the exercise properly to avoid injury.
The scissor is a progression of the flutter kick, with the primary muscles involved in scissor kicks being the hip flexors and the transverse abdominis, the deepest muscle in the stomach. The hip flexors work to lift and hold your legs slightly off the floor during the exercise.
The transverse abdominis aids in maintaining your stability, posture and balance. It also pulls the abdominal wall inward, and with the help of the rectus abdominis and the obliques, it holds the abdomen flat, according to ExRx.net. Because the transverse abdominis is involved in so many daily movements, it's beneficial to strengthen the muscle through exercise.
Other muscles involved in scissor kicks include the rectus abdominis and the obliques. The rectus abdominis muscle runs vertical in front of the torso and is more superficial than the transverse abdominis.
The obliques are two different muscles known as the internal and external obliques, and they're involved in rotation and lateral bending of the spine as well as movement and stability.
Lastly, you'll also activate a few lower-body muscles, according to Amber Rees, co-founder of The Brave Body Project and senior instructor at Barry's in New York City, including your glutes, quads and adductors.
What's the Difference Between Scissor Kicks and Butterfly Kicks?
With a butterfly kick (aka flutter kick), your feet are lower to the ground and you kick with a smaller range of motion. With a scissor kick, you lift your feet higher off the ground and you kick with a greater range of motion. More on how to do a scissor kick below!
How to Do Scissor Kicks
- Begin lying on a mat face-up.
- Before raising your legs off the floor, engage your core by imagining you are pulling your bellybutton in toward your spine and pressing your lower back flat on the mat. Keep your back pressed onto the mat throughout the exercise.
- If you're a beginner, raise your legs to a 45-degree angle and keep your knees bent. The lower and straighter your legs are to the ground, the more challenging the exercise will be.
- Separate your legs by several inches — one lifting up several inches and the other lowering closer to the ground (hovering).
- Then, switch so the opposite leg is on top and and the other is closer to the floor. That's one rep.
- Repeat for 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Performing scissor kicks with improper technique can put strain on your lower back, so it's best to steer clear of this exercise if you have lower back issues, according Rees.
It's also important to consider muscle balance — if you're working your abdominals, be sure to strengthen your back muscles as well. As with any strength training program, rest is essential. The American College of Sports Medicine advises that you wait 48 hours between strength-training sessions, in order to give your muscles the time they need to repair themselves and grow.
Benefits of Scissor Kicks
As we mentioned above, scissor kicks primarily target your core muscles. Having strong core muscles is important for a few reasons — both inside and outside the gym.
Your core is at the center of every move you make. When you do anything — walk, run, stand, twist, bend over or reach to the side — these muscles initiate and stabilize the movement. So, a strong core makes daily tasks like lifting a heavy box or putting something on a high shelf easier.
And when it comes to your workouts (and not just your ab workouts!), activating your core during every exercise you do makes the moves easier as well.
Scissor Kick Alternatives
1. Reverse Crunch
- Start on your back with your hips and knees bent at 90-degree angles. You shins should be parallel to the floor. Place your arms alongside your body with your palms facing down.
- Exhale as you contract your lower abdominal muscles to lift your butt and lower back off the ground. Make sure you're using only your abs to lift your knees up toward the ceiling.
- Straighten your legs.
- Inhale as you bend your legs again and release back to the starting position.
2. High Plank
- Lie face down on your belly with your palms on the floor underneath your shoulders and your feet flexed with the bottoms of your toes on the floor.
- Take a deep breath and press through your palms to lift yourself up into the top of a push-up position. Your body should make a straight line from your heels through your hips to the top of your head.
- Draw your navel toward your spine and squeeze your glutes.
- Look at the floor directly below your head to keep your neck in a neutral position, and breathe normally.
- Lower yourself back to the floor.
To make getting into a high plank easier, keep your knees down while you press the top half of your body up and then lift your knees second to come into the plank.
3. Dead Bug
- Lie flat on your back with both arms reaching straight toward the ceiling.
- Lift your feet off the ground so your legs are bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Keep your lower back in contact with the floor through the entire duration of the exercise.
- Slowly and with control, extend one arm and the opposite leg away from each other.
- Move from the hip and the shoulder, keeping your spine steady.
- Keep your limbs long and low to the floor, forming a diagonal line.
- 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, pressing your bellybutton down to anchor your lower back to the floor.
- Exhale as you return your arm and leg to starting position with the same slow, controlled movement.
- Repeat with the other arm and leg, then return to center again. This counts as one rep.
4. Bird Dog
- Get on your hands and knees with your hands directly in line with your shoulder and knees in line with your hips.
- Look down at the floor and brace your core (tucking your tailbone just slightly) to create a straight line from the tip of your head to your tailbone.
- On an exhale, reach your left arm straight out in front of you until your upper arm is in line with your ear.
- Simultaneously reach your right leg straight behind you, fully extending your knee.
- Pause here for a moment.
- Reverse the motion and return to the starting position.
- Switch sides, reaching your right arm forward and raising your left leg back.
- Pause and then go back to the starting position.
5. Bicycle Crunch
- Start lying flat on your back with your arms at your sides and your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
- Place your hands behind your head and keep your elbows out wide.
- Contract your lower abs to raise your head, shoulders and legs a few inches off the ground.
- Twist your torso and bend your left knee so that your right elbow crosses your body and reaches toward your left knee.
- Now switch and twist to the other side so that your left elbow reaches toward your bent right knee.
- Keep alternating sides without tucking your chin toward your chest.