According to the internet, one of the hardest ab exercises is the “Fifer Scissor”.
I had never heard of it.
After googling, I found a bunch of information that led back to an old school p90x video. I watched the clip and realized I’ve been doing the “Fifer Scissor”, but differently. The Angel version is with toes pointed and legs in maximum extension. Angel calls it “Dancer Legs” – because it makes Angel feel like a dancer.
For the purpose of this article, I’ll refer to the exercise as Fifer Scissors. I’ll break down how to do it, what it works, modifications, and whether or not you should try it.
Let’s get into it.
ORIGIN OF FIFER SCISSORS
In 2005, Tony Horton launched the infamous p90x. I didn’t own the dvd set but I was able to try a workout here and there when visiting friends who did. I loved it. The workout series featured regular people undergoing a 90 day transformation. In a 2007 video, a participant named Scotty Fifer dominated one of the ab exercises. It stood out because that particular exercise was loathed by all p90xers.
“Those were the hardest part of the video! Even though I had a six pack and could do all the exercises, I could never do all the fifer scissors!!”
After Scotty’s debut, Tony forever referred to the exercise as “Fifer Scissors”. I don’t know what they were called before and it doesn’t matter.
It belongs to Scotty.
THE MUSCLES INVOLVED
- The abdominals are used isometrically to stabilize the body while the legs lift and lower.
- The quadriceps, the front of the thigh, are responsible for knee extension and hip flexion.
- The hamstrings, the back of the thigh, are used to bend the knee and extend the hip.
- The hip flexors, the top part of the quads, are responsible for, you guessed it, hip flexion.
HOW TO DO IT
Lie flat on your back with arms by your side and legs straight. Lift your left leg in the air so that your foot is directly above your hip. Lift your right leg one inch off the floor. Switch legs simultaneously so now the right leg is above your hip and the left leg is above the ground.
Excess movement in the hips. Your hips (the pelvic region) should not be rocking side to side nor back and forth. That area should be stiff and still. If you’re having trouble with stability, practice the exercises described in the next section.
Excess arch in the back. The more your lower back is arched, the less your core is working. When your back is pressed firmly into the floor, the abdominals get triple the results. If you can’t get your back to stay on the floor, we need to fix that.
TIPS, PROGRESSIONS, MODIFICATIONS
Most people can execute most ab exercises. And most people mess up most ab exercises. There’s too much arch in the back or the legs are doing all the work or it’s painful. If this applies to you, it’s time to work on the fundamentals.
The exercises below will help you stabilize, activate your core, and get better results. Do the movements slowly because that’s when the magic happens.
Dead Bug No Arms
Lie face up with your arms extended toward the ceiling, directly over your shoulders, and knees bent 90 degrees over hips, calves parallel to floor. Lower one leg to the floor and straighten it as you do. Return the leg to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg. *The arms never move.
Lie face up with your arms extended toward the ceiling, directly over your shoulders, and knees bent 90 degrees over hips, calves parallel to floor. Lower the right leg to the floor and straighten it as you do. At the same time, lower your left arm to the floor beside your ear. Return the arm and leg to the starting position at the same time.
Cook Hip Lift
Lie face up with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Pull the right knee to your chest. Using your left foot, push into the ground and left your hips as high as you can. Hold that position. Lower your hips and repeat on the other side.
Begin on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Keeping your back and pelvis still, reach your right arm forward and left leg back. Return to the starting position, placing your hand and knee on the floor.
Fifer Scissors Modified One Leg
Lie face up with arms by your side and legs straight on the floor. Lift your right leg straight until it is above your hip. Lower it down slowly. Repeat with the left leg. *The legs move one at a time, not simultaneously.
Fifer Scissors Modified Bent Knees
Performed like the original version except both knees are bent. This is good if you have tight hamstrings.
WHEN TO DO IT
Put the Fifer Scissors at the middle or end of the workout. It’s best to do it when you are warm and the core has been activated. I recommend 2-3 sets of no more than 20 reps.
THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Tight Legs. If you have inflexible hamstrings or tight hip flexors, you will feel the exercise in your legs more than your abs. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It means you need to improve your leg flexibility. Yoga and long stretch sessions are a must. A must!
Weak Abs. I do not recommend Fifer Scissors for beginners. Specifically, if your core is not strong, I would avoid this exercise until your strength improves.*
*I’ve seen newbies demonstrate great core strength. And I’ve seen competitive athletes struggle to hold a plank. The two don’t always go together.
I love Dancer Legs, I mean Fifer Scissors. 🙂 They are part of my workout and I have a few of my private clients do them. If you have good body awareness and core strength, try it. If you can’t do 10 reps with stable hips, start with progressions. This approach will reduce lower back pain and increase core activation.
Once you master the fundamentals and truly learn to activate your core, the results will be felt AND seen.
I hope you enjoyed this. xo, Angel