Although I occasionally use the term "bicycle crunches" with my clients, I tend to refocus them more so on the principles of Criss-Cross, the Pilates exercise that, to the untrained eye, looks similar to bicycle crunches, but has so much more going on at the core of it (pun intended!).
Here are some common signs you may need to re-think your form or you may be straining your body during your bicycle crunches. Each Fix it tip is approached with my BASI Pilates training. Often times clients will do only one of these form mishaps, and then the rest of them on the list follow. It's the kinetic chain, so where there's one weak spot, the rest of the form will fall apart. So my tip is to pick one item to work on and see how the rest of your form falls in line! All of the following in the list are inter-connected.
1. Your whole body is rocking side-to-side. If you're feeling yourself rolling and rocking from one side of your spine to the other-that's a no-no! There's muscles on either side of your spine, and if you're rolling onto them, you're not asking enough of your abs to hold you there and stabilize. More often than not I see people rocking from left to right with momentum hoping they make it back to the other side. I see people teetering on the edge of acrobatics with this! I know rolling around is fun, but nix it here.
Fix it tip: Think about "anchoring" your spine and tailbone into the mat or floor. The more you rock side-to-side the more oblique work you lose! When the spine anchors down so do your abs, then you have the control to get that beautiful twist left and right.
2. Elbow death squeeze. If you glance above at my picture my elbows are WIDE. Often times if you're squeezing your elbows together then that leads you to do no-no #1 listed above. I think people squeeze the elbows together in the hopes that they'll twist farther, which is farthest from the truth! If you're elbows are squeezing then you are most likely using momentum, not muscular control or Jo Pilates Controlology. This causes pointless neck strain and inhibits rotation of the trunk and spine.
Fix it tip: Don't be worried about how far you can twist to start. Sometimes the most burn comes from small controlled movements. So, interlace your fingers and cradle your head. This will allow your elbows to stay wide and your chest open and lifted. If you find those elbows creeping in and it's all too much with the leg movements, just place feel on floor and do just the trunk rotation!
Fix it tip: Once you've interlaced your fingers and have a cradle for your head you want to elevate the chest and lift it towards the ceiling; don't turn into a potato bug and curl in, people! If the elbows are wide and the head is properly supported this should all come together. Remember, the hardest part is to keep the CHEST LIFTED as you twist. It's like rubbing the tummy and patting your head, but once do it, you'll feel the change.
4. You're trying to touch your elbow to your knee. Why are you doing this? I promise you this is not the goal of the exercise so you need to let it go, it's okay, friend there are better days ahead for those abs! Generally you will see people going turbo speed, rocking side to side, pulling their head in, and hitting their elbow to knee. Zoom, zoom, zoom side to side!
Fix it tip: The knee should NOT pass your hip joint, or go anywhere above your belly button. If you look above at the second photo my knee stops right above my hip and the work is coming from the LIFT and TWIST of my torso. The only point of the knee coming up at all is to work the lower abs and add instability to the exercise, making it harder!
Take home points and little cues to tell yourself:
1.) Keep your tailbone anchored into the floor the whole time.
2.) Elbows stay wide.
3.) Chest stays lifted through the whole move, staying on the bra line as you twist.
4.) Knees stop above the hips.
5.) Really try to twist at the waist, wringing out your torso like a towel!
With these four easy tips, I hope you find this exercise a little more effective and challenging! Remember, doing thoughtless repetitions don't serve your goals, body, or muscles. Sometimes you have to think about what you're doing and improve. As always, if you have any questions, email me or post a comment below!