Windshield Wiper Abs (How To & Alternatives)
Toes to Bar are a very challenging (quite possibly the most challenging) core exercise that you can do. They’re as close to a total body movement as an ab exercise can get with the core, shoulders, arms, grip and even back all contributing to the movement.
In this guide, I’m going to teach you how to do Windshield Wipers, what their benefits are and a few alternatives in case you need a substitution.
How To Do Windshield Wipers
- Pull-Up Bar – Ideally one connected to a squat rack (or a stand-alone pull-up bar) although any sturdy object you can hang from will technically work.
- Abdominal Core Muscles (Rectus Femoris, Obliques Externus Abdominus)
- Quadriceps, Rectus Femoris
- Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL)
- Secondarily: Back, Biceps and Forearms
- Find yourself a pull-up bar and grip the bar with an overhand grip
- Engage your lats so your body doesn’t go limp once you begin to hang from the bar.
- Now hang from the bar with a slight flex at the elbow
- Keeping the legs straight, flex the core and lift the legs up until your toes touch the pull-up bar.
- From this position rotate your feet to the left about two to two and a half feet.
- Now swing them back to the top and over to the right about the same distance.
- Continue to rotate back and forth from the left to the right and back until all reps are completed (or until a break is needed to reset)
As mentioned at the top of this guide, this is an extremely challenging ab exercise. I would highly suggest mastering other hanging ab exercises like Knees to Elbows and Toes to Bar (both listed below under variations) before beginning to attempt Windshield Wipers.
Because you’re almost hanging upside down while doing Windshield Wipers, the grip plays an extremely critical role. If you ever feel you’re struggling with your grip AT ALL, you should stop your set immediately.
Windshield Wiper Benefits
The most obvious benefit of Windshield Wipers is that they are a great core exercise.
Specifically, they target the lower abs (and hip flexors). The majority of core exercises – situps, crunches, etc – involve flexing the shoulders toward the core. Far fewer involve driving the legs toward the core and Windshield Wipers are a great example of one of those movements.
The benefits extend well beyond just the abs though. They are a great way to sneak grip training into your routine. A set of 10 Windshield Wipers will take most lifters 20 to 30 seconds (or potentially multiple sets). Three full sets can account for about 90 seconds of Bar Hang time.
And don’t forget about the back, biceps and shoulders as well. Having to stabilize the position of the upper body and maintain the flexed arm position can be a workout in itself.
All of these benefits are why Windshield Wipers can be such a powerful addition to your strength training routine. You really do get a whole lot of ‘bang for your buck’ with them.
Windshield Wiper Variations
Looking to change up your workout a bit, or maybe you need to make Windshield Wipers more (or less) challenging? Here are a few variations you can try out.
Hanging Knee Raises
If you’re finding Knees To Elbows a little too difficult, then you could switch up to Hanging Knee Raises.
In fact, Hanging Knee Raises is the first exercise in the progression of hanging ab exercises to start to work your way up to Windshield Wipers. You’re still going to be hanging from the bar, but you can keep your arms mostly straight instead of having to hold the 90-degree flexed position.
In addition to that, you don’t have to raise the knees as high. The combination of the two makes Hanging Knee Raises more beginner-friendly.
Knees to Elbows
The next progression from Hanging Knee Raises on the way to working towards Windshield Wipers are Knees to Elbows. Knees to Elbow is the same setup as Toes to Bar and a very similar movement.
As the name implies, instead of taking your Toes to the Bar, the object is to take your knees to your elbows. The biggest difference between the two movement is the amount of flex in the elbow. Arms will have a significantly bigger flex with Knees to Elbows, up to almost 90 degrees.
Toes to Bar
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with Hanging Knee Raises and Knees to Elbows, the final stop on your way to Windshield Wipers is Toes to Bar. Toes to Bar is very similar to Knees to Elbows in its setup and execution.
The difference being, as the name would suggest, is that instead taking your knees to your elbows you take your toes to the bar. Once you’re able to complete full sets of Toes to Bar you should be ready to give Windshield Wipers a shot.
Windshield Wiper Alternatives
If you can’t do Windshield Wipers, because they’re a little too difficult or you don’t have the proper equipment, here are a few alternatives that you can try to substitute in their place.
If you don’t have a pull-up bar or just aren’t ready for Windshield Wipers yet, Suitcase Crunches are a great alternative.
Suitcase Crunches are pretty close to the exact same movement, but with your butt on the ground instead of hanging in the air. Sit on the ground with legs extended straight out, six inches off the ground, and your torso leaning back at about a 45-degree angle.
Now, drive your knees and chest together (like closing a suitcase) and then extend back out. Keep your back and feet off the ground throughout the exercise.
Cross Body Mountain Climbers
Most of us probably did Mountain Climbers at some point in gym class growing up. Cross Body Mountain Climbers ramp up the ab involvement big time. From a pushup position drive one knee up, cross-body, to the opposite elbow.
Alternate back and forth until all reps are completed. You might be surprised just how much these can light your abs on fire.
More Links and Info
Looking for more Core Exercises? I have a growing collection in my Exercise Library, all with step-by-step instructions and all for free.