Fitness besties and Victoria's Secret models Josephine Skriver and Jasmine Tookes are starting 2019 the same way they spent the previous year: inspiring us with unique exercises on Instagram. Skriver and Tookes, better known as the workout duo JoJa on Instagram, are always trying new partner workouts or sharing muscle-targeting movements. Last week, they showed off an amped-up version of bicycle crunches.
You can check out the video, via @joja, here:
"Bicycles + booty band = killer ab workout," they captioned the video.
We asked certified personal trainers what they thought of the exercise. Turns out that JoJa are onto something—especially if you're looking to give your core an extra challenge.
Even without the resistance band, bicycle crunches are "one of the top core exercises," says certified personal trainer Astrid Swan. As you move through the crunch, you're working a variety of muscles in your midsection. "As you lift up your shoulder blades with your hands behind your head and elbows wide, you are engaging the rectus abdominis [what you think of when you think abs]," Swan explains. "Then, when you twist your opposite elbow to knee, mimicking pedaling a bicycle, you are also firing up your external obliques." The result? A strong core from all angles.
Adding a resistance band around your feet, like Tookes and Skriver do, intensifies the work. Ben Lauder-Dykes, NASM-certified personal trainer at the Fhitting Room in NYC, explains that the resistance band both increases the number of muscles needed for the movement and activates them even more.
When you contract inward to crunch to one side (with shoulders off the floor and one knee in), the rotation of the torso works the upper portion of your abs and your external obliques. At the same time, on the extended-leg side, you're engaging the lower portion of the abs and the internal obliques as you work to maintain tension in the band. You're also engaging your transverse abdominis (the deepest internal core muscle) throughout.
A band also helps you do the movement properly, Lauder-Dykes adds. It serves as a reminder to keep your abs tight, pelvis tucked under, and extended leg engaged—because when you're missing any of these steps, the band will go slack. "Also, the action of pulling the knee in toward the chest against the band can improve hip flexor strength, which will help someone become stronger in the movement," he says.
According to Lauder-Dykes, it may be helpful for beginners to add a light resistance band to help them better learn the form of a bicycle crunch. "Beginners can use it to learn the skill, movement pattern, and correct positions doing fewer reps with a slow, controlled tempo to maintain good form, but more sets to build volume and repetition of the movement," he says. (Think five sets of 10 to 15 reps instead of three sets of 20 to 30 reps.) When the time comes to level up, choose a band with even more resistance. Remember, though, that the most important part of any movement is correct form, so before you add a heavy band, Swan recommends making sure you can do regular bicycle crunches with no pain in the lower back or hip flexors.
Swan tells clients to shoot for up to 30 crunches in a single set, though you may want to start with 20 and work your way up when you feel comfortable with the move. As you can see from JoJa's video, crunches just look way cooler in unison, so we suggest grabbing a band and a workout buddy ASAP.