Forget the idea that crunches and sit-ups are the only exercise for abs of steel or a little ab definition. Give flutter kicks a try.

Flutter kicks can work your ab muscles and strengthen your core. They’re effective and easy to learn, and they don’t require any equipment, so they’re ideal for an at-home workout routine. Add flutter kicks to your ab set and you’ll notice a difference.

Flutter kicks are a low impact move typically seen in Pilates, barre, or strength training classes. They specifically target your lower abdominal wall and work to strengthen your core muscles.

But they’re more than just an ab move: Flutter kicks also work your glutes, hip flexors, and quads. And if you do them while lying on your stomach, they can help strengthen your back muscles.

Think of flutter kicks like you’re swimming on dry land (at least when it comes to leg movement). The exercise gets its name from the fact that you kick your legs up and down in a fluttering movement, and there are a few variations on the move.

Traditional flutter kicks

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Image by Dima Bazak
  1. Lie faceup on the floor and extend your legs at about a 45-degree angle to the floor. Keep arms straight by your sides, in line with the floor, with palms facing down. (Alternatively, you can extend your arms and place both hands under your butt.)
  2. Keep spine neutral, with just a slight arch in your lower back. Point your toes, keeping legs straight and almost glued together.
  3. With legs hovering a few inches above the floor, raise 1 leg, then lower that leg while raising the other. That’s 1 rep.
  4. Do 10 reps per side. Repeat 3 times.

Make it harder: Lift your head and neck off the floor, making sure to keep your back in a straight line.

Crisscross flutter kicks

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Image by Dima Bazak
  1. Lie faceup on the floor and extend your legs at about a 45-degree angle to the floor. Keep arms straight by your sides, in line with the floor, with palms facing down. (Alternatively, you can extend your arms and place both hands under your butt.)
  2. Keep spine neutral, with just a slight arch in your lower back, and keep core engaged.
  3. Crisscross your legs over one another, switching which leg is on top each time and keeping legs off the floor the whole time.
  4. Do 10 reps per side. Repeat 3 times.

Make it harder: Lift your head and neck off the floor, making sure to keep your back in a straight line. To feel more of a burn in your ab muscles, bring your legs out wider with each cross.

Prone (aka reverse) flutter kicks

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Image by Dima Bazak
  1. Lie facedown and extend elbows out wide, keeping hands together in front of your face. Rest chin or forehead on hands.
  2. Engaging core muscles, lift both legs off the floor to hip height or slightly past hip height — whichever feels comfortable.
  3. Lift 1 leg and then the other in a flutter motion, as though you’re swimming.
  4. Do 10 reps per side. Repeat 3 times.

Sure, flutter kicks may help give you rock-hard abs, but they have benefits beyond aesthetics.

Strengthen core muscles

The biggest benefit of flutter kicks is that they strengthen your core muscles, which are basically the support system behind every physical activity you do, big or small. A strong core has many benefits:

  • better balance and stability
  • less back pain
  • increased mobility
  • improved endurance
  • abdominal muscle definition

Prevent injuries

By strengthening your core — specifically your lower abs, hip flexors, and quads — with flutter kicks, you enhance the appropriate movement patterns, or motor control, of your core muscles. Training your muscles to move in the right patterns helps prevent injuries.

Research also suggests that strong core muscles may help protect your spine against excessive force. This is one reason core exercises are often used when recovering from an injury.

Improve your posture

A stronger core leads to better posture because it plays an important role in body stabilization. Flutter kicks in particular are great for improving posture since they strengthen your back muscles.

Burn calories

You don’t always need to be jumping up and down in a HIIT workout to burn calories. Flutter kicks may be low impact, but they’re also a dynamic move that elevates your heart rate and fires up your muscles, leaving you sweatier than you’d think.

Flutter kicks are a relatively easy exercise to master, but that doesn’t mean injury isn’t possible.

As with any new exercise, you may want to talk to your doctor to get their approval before trying it. You should stop doing flutter kicks immediately if you experience any serious pain or feel dizzy.

Keep these tips in mind to safely perform the exercise and avoid risks:

Maintain a neutral spine

It’s very important to maintain a neutral lumbar spine during this exercise. Imagine there’s a grape under the small of your back. During this exercise, you shouldn’t squish the grape by forcing your back into the floor, but you also shouldn’t lose contact with the grape.

This will keep a very slight arch in your low back, which is your neutral lumbar spine position. Research shows this is where your core muscles work best.

This is quite an advanced exercise. If you start to experience low back pain while doing it, try keeping your legs elevated higher to prevent excessive strain on your low back until your abs get stronger.

Engage your abs

You need to be mindful of engaging your abs the entire time. Pull them into your belly while moving your legs and breathing in and out. If you don’t feel your ab muscles engaged but you do feel your leg muscles engaged, you need to adjust your form.

Watch your neck

If you find that holding your head and neck up while doing the exercise is causing a strain on your neck, don’t raise your head and neck. This will help prevent injury.

Stretch your hip flexors

Flutter kicks can leave your hip flexors feeling tight. Stretch your hip flexors after doing the move and try other exercises to strengthen them as well.

Flutter kicks are typically a safe exercise for pregnant women in the first trimester, although you should get your doctor’s approval before doing a new exercise. Moves like flutter kicks help support your core, which can help your body support the weight of your baby and prepare for labor.

Core strengthening moves like flutter kicks may also help alleviate lower back pain, which many pregnant women experience, and minimize the risk of injury.

Flutter kicks can be a low impact and effective way to strengthen your core and work your lower abs, glutes, hip flexors, and quads. When done while lying on your stomach, flutter kicks can also strengthen your lower back muscles and help alleviate back pain.

Benefits of flutter kicks are improved posture, improved stability and balance, improved endurance, and injury prevention. The move can also burn calories and help give you more defined ab muscles.

Stop doing flutter kicks if you feel any pain or dizziness while doing them. Always maintain a neutral spine and modify the exercise as needed. Stretch your hip flexors after doing flutter kicks to prevent a tense feeling.

If you’re pregnant, avoid flutter kicks in your second and third trimesters.