How to Do Scissor Kicks for a Super-Strong Core

This simple mat exercise will bring the heat to your next workout.


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Forget crunching your way to a stronger core. If you want to challenge your entire core more effectively, you’ll want to shift over and incorporate more ab exercises like scissor kicks, a staple core exercise in Pilates classes.

What Are Scissor Kicks?

Scissor kicks are a supine core exercise (meaning they’re done lying down, face-up). This move involves lowering one leg toward the floor at a time while the other stays up in the air, alternating which leg you lower with each rep. The exercise resembles opening and closing scissors. 

Why They're Good for You

Scissor kicks may not look that challenging from the outset, but if you’ve ever done them in a class, you know how much they can tax your abs (in a good way). This move builds strength in your entire core, including your transverse abdominis (your deep, internal ab muscles), rectus abdominis (your outer “six pack” muscles), and obliques (the side ab muscles). Strengthening your entire trunk is crucial for protecting your spine, having good posture and balance, and fending off injuries.

“When your core is weak, other areas of your body might suffer,” says Callie Jardine, certified Pilates and Barre instructor and founder of Sweaty Studio in Florida. You might, for instance, experience low back pain as a result. On the flip side, you might reduce back pain by strengthening the transverse abdominis, which fitness experts refer to as the body’s corset. “When this muscle is strengthened, back pain is often reduced,” she says. 

The benefits don’t stop there, though. “Scissor kicks may also improve posture, overall balance, stability, and control,” Jardine says. You’ll even strengthen your quads and hip flexors, which can help counter some of the effects of sitting too long.

Tips for Beginners 

Because scissor kicks are an intermediate-to-advanced move, you’ll need to modify this exercise if you’re a beginner in order to optimize your form. “The lower your legs go, the more resistance (and, thus, challenge) you’re putting on the lower abs,” Jardine says.

Avoid lowering your legs as much when you first start. Once you’ve gotten stronger, you can progress to lowering each leg even further down. 

Think about keeping your knees slightly bent as you do the exercise, which will decrease resistance on your hip flexors and help prevent your back from arching. 

While this is a relatively safe move to do, there are some individuals, including pregnant people and people with neck or back injuries, who should check with their doctor before doing scissor kicks, or any abdominal exercise, Jardine says. 

How to Do Scissor Kicks 

Jardine breaks down how to do proper and effective scissor kicks.  

Start by doing scissor kicks for 30 seconds, then resting for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat for a total of three or four sets.

  1. Lie face up on the floor with your head on the floor and your arms by your sides. 
  2. Extend your legs straight up in the air (or bend your knees slightly) until they’re perpendicular to the floor. Keep your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and toes pointed. 
  3. Engage your lower abs (imagine trying to press your belly button into the floor with your core muscles) and gently squeeze your glute muscles to scoop your pelvis. 
  4. With control, lower both legs to about a 45-degree angle with the floor. Or, beginners: keep your legs at a 90-degree angle to the floor.
  5. Inhale (keeping abs engaged) and slowly lower your right leg so it’s hovering several inches above the floor, keeping your back anchored to the ground as you do this. Beginners: Lower less, stopping before feeling strain in your back or the need to tilt your pelvis forward. (If this puts too much resistance on your abdominals, hip flexors, or back, place your hands under your glutes for support.)
  6. Exhale and release your right leg back up to the starting position. Repeat with the left leg to complete one rep.

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To make scissor kicks more challenging: Add resistance by using light ankle weights, anywhere from one to three pounds. Lift your head and shoulder blades off the floor with your hands behind your head and gaze toward your abs.

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