Windshield wipers: How to do them and the benefits for blasting your core

a photo of a woman doing the windshield wiper exercise
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Its name might make you think of being behind the wheel of your car on a rainy day, but the windshield wiper ab exercise is a fantastic move when it comes to blasting your midsection. 

This is the move you get if you cross the oblique activation of the Russian Twist, with the isometric hold of a leg lift. But how do you do it, and what are the benefits? Read on to find out more about how to do the windshield wiper ab exercise and the benefits for your midsection. 

As a reminder, if you’re new to exercise, or you’re returning to exercise following an injury or pregnancy, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor first and chat with a personal trainer, who can help you build abdominal strength. This is a more advanced ab exercise, so it might be worth using some of the best ab exercises to work on your abdominal strength before trying it. It’s also one to avoid if you suffer from lower back issues, or if you’ve injured your lower back in the past.

While we’re talking about windshield wipers, read what happened when this fitness writer did 50 every day for a week here. 

How to do windshield wipers

Let’s start with how to do a windshield wiper. For this exercise, you’ll be lying on your back, so it’s a good idea to use one of the best yoga mats to offer some protection from the floor 

  • Lie on your back on the ground with your arms straight out on the floor, either side of your body. Your legs should be straight up towards the ceiling.
  • Twist your hips to the left until your legs slowly lower toward the ground on your left side.
  • Next, lift your legs and move them back to the right side, rotating the hips to the right as you do so.
  • Keep switching sides, making sure your core is engaged, and your lower back isn’t arching.

When it comes to how many reps to perform, remember that good form is the biggest priority here. Aim for three sets of 10 reps, five on each side. Alternatively, set a timer and do as many as possible for say, 30 seconds, then rest of 30 seconds. 

Windshield wipers: What are the benefits? 

Windshield wipers require the engagement of several core muscles. The upper and lower abs need to remain engaged as the legs move slowly from left to right, without the torso moving too much. Plus, the internal and external obliques — the muscles that run down the side of the body — are also working hard here to keep the torso still throughout the exercise. Oh and let’s not forget the muscles in the lower back, which are also working hard as the hips and legs rotate. 

As well as engaging most of the muscles in your midsection as you move, the windshield wiper involves an isometric hold, as you lower your legs to the ground and hover them off the floor. This requires your abs to work hard and stay engaged.

Windshield wipers: Form mistakes to look out for 

Like all ab exercises, the key to getting results from windshield wipers is doing them with good form. Here’s what to look out for: 

Arching at the lower back: You want to ensure your lower back stays pressed into your exercise mat during this exercise. When your back lifts away from the mat, your abs aren’t working as hard, making the move less effective, but also putting you at risk of an injury. 

Moving too quickly: Your legs shouldn’t be moving anywhere near as quickly as the windshield wipers of your car might go on a September morning. The key to this exercise is moving slowly and with control. 

Windshield wipers: Variations to try 

If windshield wipers are still out of your grasp, the good news is that the move is relatively easy to modify. To work on your technique and oblique strength, start by bending your knees to a 90-degree angle during the windshield wipers. This will make the move easier on your body. 

Alternatively, straighten your legs but reduce your range of motion. If this is still too much, add more Russian twists, dead bugs, and side planks to your workouts to build strength in your oblique muscles. 

If windshield wipers are too easy, bring your arms next to your body, or raise them off the mat to make the move harder. Alternatively, move on to hanging windshield wipers. To do the hanging variation of this exercise, hang from a bar and raise your legs out in front of you so that you are making an L shape with your body. Rotate your legs from side to side. Again, you can make the move easier by bending your knees. 

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Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.