Deconstructing Hanging Windshield Wipers

Why? How? When?

You've seen a select few doing these in the gyms, but you may wonder to yourself whats the point of learning how to do this exercise. Truthfully what's the point of learning any new exercise, won't crunches and leg raises get you stronger? They might, but the windshield wiper exercise does something a bit more unique. It adds several components to a core exercise that crunches and leg raises fail to do. They incorporate static contractions, with a component of rotation and some lateral flexion. Couple that with the role of gravity and an angle that can be unfamiliar to some, and a sense of balance and kinesthetic spatial awareness, and you have a whole new animal. So let's briefly discuss what this exercise can do for you. It can add core strength, it can add rotational power, it is impressive to some to watch, it's a whole new challenge, it helps with kicking, and scissor takedowns, and last but not least it can help strengthen the back stabilizers for other more difficult exercises like the back and front levers.

At this point if you're still interested, then continue reading, if not, maybe this will be some food for thought. The hanging wind shield wiper is basically a hanging L-sit in which your lower back is parallel to the ground, and your legs swing together from side to side. Those who have very strong cores in terms of pound for pound strength may find this exercise a bit easier. Those who play sports with rotation being the bread and butter of movement may find this exercise beneficial to their training, but also not quite as difficult.


So let's start from the ground and work our way up. The most closest relative to the hanging wind shield wiper is known as a lying hip swing. To do this you like on your back and pike your legs so that they create a 90 degree angle between your torso and your toes. You may want to have your arms spread out fairly wide with palms down because as you rotate your hips and allow your legs to swing towards the ground you will find that you may have to push very hard with then hands in order to keep from rolling over. It's always a great idea to train at mixed tempos. I won't recommend slow and controlled movements all the time, because different speeds do different things, and a fast hip swing is very beneficial, just like a slow one can be.


If this is not a problem and you can bang out 20 to 30 reps, then it's time you graduate a step further up the ladder. Some ankle weights can be useful to further create a challenge especially if they're 5 lbs or greater per each weight. Or even a medicine ball between your ankles which helps you bring the adductors into play. Once that becomes simple let's make things a bit spicier by adding a plate to the mix. This next exercise really helps you hone in on the feeling you might get from the hanging windshield wipers because it adds rotation in two separate directions. You start as you would the lying hip swings except that you now hold a plate (10-25 lbs. is a great start). You allow your arms to drift in the opposite direction as your legs, and it activates the obliques to a very high tension to keep your spine supported.


Alright now that some of the strength aspects have been covered, lets work our way even further up that ladder and begin to get the body in a more realistic position and add some more changes in order to get this skill. The next version of the exercise is called a stability ball supine hip swing. The main difference between this and the hanging windshield wiper is that your weight is supported by the stability ball. However the hand position starts out wide, and as you get stronger you work your way in towards shoulder width. This presents a whole slew of unique challenges because the balls are not as quite of a stable surface as one might, but when you're hanging your core strength and overall ability to stay tight will be even more difficult than work on the ball. Once you get the hang of this, allow the ball to roll in the opposite direction that your legs go in; for instance if your legs swing to your left, the ball rolls a bit to the right.


Now that the technique is hopefully smoothing out, and your neuromuscular facilitation is where it should be, you want to make sure that you have the requisite strength to hold yourself up in these particular positions. Here's some exercise that we feel may help you attain this goal, seeing as if you've made it this far you're 75% give or take towards completion of the exercise. The Hanging Pike, or hanging leg raises as they're also known, help you maintain a tight position that is very similar to how you'll be, except parallel to the ground. You want to be able to hold this position for at least 5-10 seconds without swinging or arching your back in order to hold the windshield wiper. From there you want to make sure you can hold yourself parallel to the ground without falling, and this can become taxing to the the shoulder girdle, as well as the middle back, arms, and forearms. Basically you can hold on to some bars, and roll yourself up into a ball, until your back becomes parallel to the ground. If you can hold this for 10-15 seconds it's time to move on. This can be thought of as a position similar to that of a front lever, except that your legs are bent. Logically we would want to extend the legs, so extend your legs so that you form a 90 degree angle between your feet, and hips, and work on holding that for the same amount of time.


Now that you're somewhere between 3rd base and home plate it's a good idea to try out your skills and see if you can do it. If you can, then congratulations you've accomplished a new technique that is not as easy as it looks, and one that will help bring your core strength and rotational power to a whole new level. Here's what it looks like;


If for some reason things didn't work here's a couple of rotational core exercises that you can use to help you build some more strength before you re-attempt this exercise. The first is a ground based rotational exercise known as the Standing Russian Twist. You place a barbell against a wall, or in a corner, interlock your fingers at the very top of the barbell and while keeping your feet planted, hips straight, and head facing forward; allow the weight to drift towards your hips while keeping your arms as straight as possible. Another variation of this is to allow your feet to pivot, tack on some heavier weight and work at swinging the weight in an arc like movement from above the head to each hip.

The very last exercise to help supplement your strength is an Incline Russian Twist where you lock your feet under a decline bench, and then twist the weight in front of you as low as you can to each side while keeping the core engaged and very tight.

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Jason Kirby

Jason Kirby is a Personal Trainer and author for Straight to the Bar.


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