By Men's HealthBy Mike Mejia
The crunch is the most popular ab exercise for one reason: Anyone can
do it. Trouble is, that doesn't mean it's the most effective ab
exercise. After all, would you rather be using the abdominal workout of
an out-of-shape housewife or the ab workout of an Olympic gymnast?
Enter the hanging leg raise. Consider this movement the gold
standard for all abdominal exercises, just as the pullup is for your
back. Although most gymnasts have probably never bothered with a
crunch, they've been performing variations of the hanging leg raise for
decades. It works like this: As you hang from a bar, you curl your hips
and knees up to your chest. Sound hard? That's because it is. Proper
execution requires strength, endurance, and flexibility (of your abs,
back, and hips), and a strong grip. Which is why few men can do even
one with perfect form.
But don't let that discourage you. We've created a five-step plan to
eliminate the weaknesses that prevent men from benefiting from the
world's greatest ab exercise. And here's a secret: The process of
building the strength and flexibility to perform this movement is
nearly as effective as the exercise itself. Follow along and you'll
soon realize why the guys with the best abs in the gym always seem to
be the only ones doing the hanging leg raise.
1. Test Yourself
See how many repetitions of the
hanging leg raise you can do with perfect form. If you can't do at
least one, follow the instructions in steps 2, 3, and 4. If you're able
to do one or more repetitions of the exercise, proceed to step 5.
Hanging Leg Raise
Grab a chinup bar with an
overhand grip, your hands slightly wider than shoulder width.
Simultaneously bend your knees, raise your hips, and curl your lower
back underneath you as you lift your thighs toward your chest. Pause
for a second when the fronts of your thighs reach your chest, then
lower your legs and repeat.
3 Most Common Mistakes
1. Using momentum. Try staring straight ahead at all times—it will help your body stay upright.
2. Simply bending your knees and lifting your legs up. Instead, imagine scooping your hips up and forward.
3. Leaning backward. Your shoulders should remain in place or round forward slightly.
2. Bolster Your Grip
As its name indicates, the
hanging leg raise involves hang time. To measure yours, grab a chinup
bar with an overhand grip and hang for as long as you can. If you can
hold on for at least 30 seconds, skip to Step 3. Otherwise, strengthen
your grip with fat-bar holds (below). This exercise ensures that a weak
grip doesn't limit the amount of work your abs can do. Do it at the end
of your regular workout two or three times a week for 6 weeks. (Note:
The exercises in Steps 2, 3, and 4 can be done in the same workout.)
Wrap a hand towel around a chinup bar, then grab it with an overhand
grip. Hang—arms completely straight—until your grip gives out. Rest for
1 minute and repeat two times. Aim to increase your hang time by at
least 5 to 10 seconds each workout. If you can hang for 20 seconds, for
instance, go into your next workout thinking that you won't settle for
less than 25 seconds.
3. Improve Your Flexibility
Raising your legs
toward your chest requires flexible lower-back muscles and hip
flexors—the muscles on the front of your upper thighs. When tight,
these muscles lose range of motion and the ability to generate force.
Check your flexibility with this simple drill: Stand with your back
against a wall, your feet about a foot in front of you. Make sure your
upper back, shoulders, and hips touch the wall, then slide your hand
between the arch in your lower back and the wall. If you can fit only a
couple of fingers in the space, go to Step 4. If your whole hand fits
easily, you're tight. To fix it, do the overhead reverse lunge five or
six times a week, either before your workout or on rest days.
Overhead Reverse Lunge
Grab a light barbell or
broomstick with an overhand grip that's twice shoulder width. Holding
the bar overhead with straight arms, step back with your left leg and
lower your body until your right knee is bent 90 degrees. Push back up
to the starting position and repeat, this time stepping back with your
right leg. That's one repetition. Do two sets of 12 to 20 reps, resting
for 30 seconds after each set.
4. Build Your Strength
The key here is to do
exercises that strengthen your abs and hip flexors as a unit without
requiring you to arch your back, which can exacerbate tightness. Use
the 6-week training schedule below to work up to the hanging leg raise.
Once you can do at least one repetition with perfect form, move on to
Flat-Back Leg-Lowering Drill
Lie on your back and
raise your legs over your hips, with your knees slightly bent. Press
the small of your back into the floor to eliminate the arch in your
lower back. Keep your back in this position as you take 3 to 5 seconds
to lower your legs. Upon reaching the lowest point at which you can
still keep your back flat, bring your legs to your chest. Try to lower
your legs more with each repetition.
Hanging Single-Leg Raise
Hang from a bar or
position yourself in a vertical knee-raise station. (Don't allow your
back to press against the pad.) Now lift your right leg up. Maintain an
upright torso (don't swing forward) and keep your left leg down. Once
you've raised your leg as high as it will go without allowing the other
leg to pull forward, pause momentarily, then lower it back to the
starting position. Repeat with your left leg. That's one repetition.
Weeks 1 and 2: Perform only the leg-lowering drill 3 days a week. Do two sets of six to 10 repetitions, resting for 30 seconds between sets.
Weeks 3 and 4: Do both moves 2 days a week. Perform
two sets of six to 10 reps of the flat-back leg-lowering drill. Then do
two sets of six to eight reps of the hanging single-leg raise. Rest for
30 seconds after each set.
Weeks 5 and 6: Do one set of 8 to 12 reps of each
exercise before resting for 30 seconds. Then repeat one time, for a
total of two sets of each exercise.
5. Boost Your Endurance
Do as many hanging leg
raises as you can, then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat three times. That
counts as one set. Do two or three sets—resting for 60 to 90 seconds
after each—two or three times a week. Each week, shorten your
within-set rest by 5 seconds until you can do 10 reps straight. Then
you'll be ready to challenge your abs with the exercises below.
This is performed just like a regular
hanging leg raise, except that you don't bend your knees as you bring
your legs up. So, in the top position, your toes should nearly touch
the bar you're hanging from. Start with two sets of four to six
repetitions—resting 90 seconds between sets—and increase your
repetitions as your strength improves.
Hanging Windshield Wiper
Photos by Beth Bischoff
Begin by performing a
hanging leg raise. Hold the top position and rotate your lower body to
the left by bringing your right hip toward your right armpit, then
repeat to the other side. Return to the center, then lower your legs.
Refer to the hanging pike (above) for set and rep protocol.