Flutter Kicks Count as Cardio Plus an Ab and Leg Workout — Here's Why

Young sporty female doing abs workout in living room performing alternate leg raising and crunch exercise.
Getty | undrey
Getty | undrey

Flutter kicks deserve some long-overdue credit. The exercise isn't just for ab-sculpting, despite its reputation. Yes, your abs are working hard, but so much more is going on that doesn't get talked about enough.

"Flutter kicks are a great way to target the core and leg muscles. By doing them properly, you can work on core stabilization while working your quads and hip flexors for an added twist," Leada Malek, DPT, CSCS, says.

"Maintaining a stable core while moving limbs is called dynamic core stability, and it's especially functional for everyday life! It also directly activates major lower extremity muscles."

Long story short, flutter kicks target your transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, obliques, hip flexors, and glute while stabilizing your lumbar spine, Malek explains.

That's why Malek says flutter kicks can be included in just about any core or leg workout. Her favorite is to incorporate them into a HIIT session for an added cardio boost. That's right, the repetitive kicking motion counts as cardio because it can increase your heart rate.

Just keep in mind that if your lower back is arching off the ground mid-move, chances are you're lifting your legs too high — Malek says it's the most common flutter-kick mistake people make.

"That's why it's so crucial to tuck the tailbone and stabilize the core before lifting the legs. Without this, it's common to feel some popping or snapping in the hip joint or, in some cases, low back pain," she says.

"Additionally, letting the legs bend while fluttering and losing full knee extension can cause a lag effect and some extra strain on the low back."

Without stabilizing the low back and pelvis, lifting the legs can end up pulling the low back into extension, Malek adds.

Yes, that's a lot to think about, but Malek's step-by-step instructions for doing flutter kicks will help simplify things a bit. She suggests trying this move 2-3 times a week as part of a 20-30 minute resistance-training routine. But listen to your body and do what you're comfortable with — remember to take breaks and modify when needed.

Getty | undrey

Flutter Kick

  • Lie flat on the ground with your arms extended by your sides.
  • Tuck your tailbone in and brace your core, alternate kicking straight legs a few inches off the ground.
  • Don't let your lower back arch off the ground, and make sure your legs stay straight.
  • Stop at a hover above the ground and keep fluttering until your set is complete.
  • Maintain relaxed shoulders if you can, and keep breathing through a stable core.
  • If this is uncomfortable, you can modify by placing your hands under your lower back (palms down) for added stability.

Modified Flutter Kick

  • Sit with your legs straight out in front and hands propped behind you with your fingers pointing toward your toes.
  • Recline about 45 degrees with the support of your forearms.
  • From there, keep your legs straight, and lift them off the floor.
  • Alternate flutter kicking while keeping your legs straight — just 2-3 inches off the floor. Do not touch them to the ground.
  • You can increase the intensity by raising your legs six inches off the ground.

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