October 1, 2023

How To Do Scissor Kicks For Strong Abs, From A Pilates Instructor

It can be easy to get in an abs workout rut, doing crunches, sit-ups, or planks on repeat. While planks have plenty of benefits, allow me to spice up your core workout with a new go-to move: scissor kicks.

“Scissor kicks are a bodyweight exercise that primarily targets the abdominal muscles, and are one of the most effective types of exercises you can do for your core,” says Sami Clarke, a certified Pilates instructor and the founder of FORM.

Meet the expert: Sami Clarke is a certified Pilates instructor and the founder of FORM, a digital Pilates and strength workout program.


They’re also a valuable addition to your workout routine to improve stability, balance, and overall fitness, because scissor kicks place particular emphasis on your abs (transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and obliques) and hip flexors, she adds.

Plus, scissor kicks require zero (!) equipment, so they’re super easy to add to your weekly sweat sesh. Don’t expect them to feel easy, though. It’s a more advanced core exercise since they engage the deepest muscles in your core (the transverse abdominis). Yet, they’re great for all levels, says Clarke. “It’s a versatile exercise where you can modify or make it more challenging, and you have the convenience of doing them anywhere,” she says.

Ready to cut your core? Find out everything you need to know about scissor kicks, including how to do them with proper form, the many rewarding benefits they offer, modifications, and safety concerns, from Clarke.

What are scissor kicks?

“Scissor kicks are a core movement and exercise using your legs that mainly strengthen the transverse abdominis and hip flexors,” says Clarke. As the name suggests, scissor kicks include alternating legs up and down while engaging multiple core muscles. Working your abs is well-worth the burn since your trunk is also responsible for stability, balance, and posture, she adds.

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Your core fires up, but muscles in your legs are also definitely working for each rep. So, don’t be surprised when you feel your quads and inner thighs firing, along with a stretch on the back of your hamstrings as you “kick.” Holding your legs off the ground also engages your lower body.

Benefits Of Scissor Kicks

It is natural to get a kick out of this abs move, no matter how you physically feel while doing them. (Say it with me: That burn is temporary!) Here are the major rewards you’ll see when adding them to your workout routine:

Strengthen your deepest core muscles. “As your deepest and most internal core muscle, the transverse abdominis is an incredibly important muscle for stability and protection of the spine,” says Clarke. Plus, training your transverse abdominis is crucial for building a strong foundation for success in other exercises like walking, running, lifting heavy weights, and even daily tasks like getting up out of bed, she explains.

Target your hip flexors. “Underdeveloped hip flexors are a common muscle imbalance, especially in anyone who sits frequently. The hip flexors are not a specific muscle, but rather, a group of muscles that form the hip flexor complex,” says Clarke. These muscles can also hold lots of stress and tension, so it is important to add exercises (like scissor kicks) targeting them on a daily basis, she explains.

Improve muscular endurance. You’ll feel your core engage and abs start to burn almost immediately when performing the move, since scissor kicks help build muscle endurance thanks to time-under-tension (A.K.A holding a specific muscle under tension for an extended period of time), notes Clarke. Plus, because scissor kicks target your *entire* core and hip flexors, you’ll notice strength improvements in your squats, push-ups, deadlifts, and other core-intensive exercises, adds Clarke.

How To Do Scissor Kicks With Proper Form

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How to:

  1. Lie on your back with your arms down by your sides, palms down and pressed into mat, and your elbows and lower back touching the floor.
  2. Engage your core by pressing your lower back into the floor and tucking your pelvis as you lift both legs about six inches off the ground (roughly a 45-degree angle) with feet flexed or pointed.
  3. Raise right leg to 60 degrees, while holding your left leg in space. (For reference, having your legs flat on the ground is 0 degrees, and having your legs up from your hips is 90 degrees).
  4. Then, lower your right leg to 45-degrees as you raise your left. That’s 1 rep.
  5. Continue alternating legs, keeping your knees as straight as possible.
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Lateral variation:

  1. Start in the same position on your back with your arms down by your sides, palms down and pressed into mat, and your elbows and lower back touching the floor.
  2. Engage your core by pressing your lower back into the floor and tucking your pelvis as you lift both legs about six inches off the ground (roughly a 45-degree angle).
  3. Extend both legs out to the sides wide.
  4. Then, bring both legs to criss-cross. That’s 1 rep.
  5. Continue alternating the legs back and forth, keeping knees straight.

How To Modify Scissor Kicks

Scissor kicks are an advanced abs move, but there are certainly ways to get the benefits as a beginner as your core strength grows.

  • Lift your legs higher. Clarke suggests modifying the move by changing your lower leg positioning to be a little higher than 45-degrees. The closer your leg is to the ground, the harder it’ll be. So, while you get comfortable in the movement pattern and build strength, raise your legs higher to ease any tension.
  • Add a towel. If you find your lower back is coming off the ground, place a folded towel underneath the arch to add support and serve as a reminder to press your back to the floor.
  • Use arm support. You can also grab your legs as you alternate for extra support, says Clarke. This will provide you with a bit more control and allow you to engage your lower abdominals while taking a bit of tension out of your hip flexors.
  • Elevate your upper body. If you’re looking to level-up, lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the ground as you alternate your legs for an extra core burn in your upper abs. (Option to hold a weight for additional challenge.) Again, make sure you’re not arching your back off the mat, stresses Clarke.
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Scissor Kicks Vs. Flutter Kicks

These two moves are often confused, but the main difference between a flutter kick and a scissor kick is leg position. With a flutter kick, you keep your feet lower to the ground with a smaller range of motion, says Clarke. You can think of a flutter kick as a more subtle movement rather than an exaggerated “scissor” motion, she explains.

However, the two exercises have similarities. both scissor and flutter kicks are low-impact, have similar movement patterns, target multiple parts of your core and obliques, and activate the hip flexors, lower back, and quads.

Refresh with a flutter kick demo:

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Safety Considerations For Scissor Kicks

Scissor kicks are an awesome move, but it’s important to be mindful of positioning to reduce the risk of injury.

“Start with proper form as you work your way up, and if you feel any pain, modify,” says Clarke. “Listen to your body and understand the difference between a healthy burn and discomfort.” The biggest safety pointer is to always remember to keep your back to the floor to eliminate added stress on your lower back and spine.

That being said, if you have any lower back pain, or suffer from a lingering injury, talk with your doctor or a physical therapist before trying out this move. If you have particularly tight hip flexors, it’s also always smart to stretch beforehand and consider modifying your scissor kicks.

Lastly, if you’re pregnant, lying on your back is not recommended after the first trimester, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. This position puts pressure on your uterus, spine, and back muscles. If you’re expecting, opt for other prenatal accessible moves instead.

How To Add Scissor Kicks To Your Workout Routine

  1. Make scissor kicks a dynamic warm-up. This engages your core and activates your hip flexors before you get into your full routine.
  2. Add them as a finisher. Want to fully cook your core at the end of your sweat sesh? Scissor kicks will do it. Just be extra mindful of your form because you’re likely more tired after all the hard work you just put in. That fatigue may cause you to compromise form, says Clarke.
  3. Increase the sets to level up. The exact reps and sets may vary depending on your current strength and ability. If you’re a beginner, Clarke suggests starting out with 12 reps, repeat for three to four sets, and rest for 30 seconds in between sets. From there, go for five sets of 30 seconds.
  4. Hit it every other day. “Try to incorporate this movement three to four times a week to start seeing and feeling a difference,” adds Clarke. Just remember, quality over quantity. You should feel a burn, but never any pain.
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Andi Breitowich is a Chicago-based writer and graduate student at Northwestern Medill. She’s a mass consumer of social media and cares about women’s rights, holistic wellness, and non-stigmatizing reproductive care. As a former collegiate pole vaulter, she has a love for all things fitness and is currently obsessed with Peloton Tread workouts and hot yoga.