Master the art of hanging.
If you want to strengthen your midsection in a functional fashion, forget the crunches!
Hangin’ (is) Tough
Before you are ready to attempt a hanging leg raise, you’ll need to have the strength to hang from a pull-up bar for at least 20 consecutive seconds. If you can’t do that yet, practice hanging on for as long as you can. It shouldn’t take too long to build the endurance needed to begin.
Once you’ve built up some respectable hang time, you’re ready to attempt the bent-knee version of the hanging leg raise. As you begin to raise your knees, think about curling your hips forward to facilitate the movement. Keep in mind that your focus is to engage your abdominal muscles, which are attached to your pelvis, not your legs.
At first, you’ll have to go very slowly to stay in control and you’ll probably only manage to do a couple of reps. This is okay; go for quality over quantity and be careful not to swing your body. If you find yourself swinging, try to stop the momentum by touching your feet to the ground in between reps. If bringing up both knees together is too hard for you, try hanging bicycles instead.
Once you can do ten consecutive bent-knee leg raises, you’re ready to try it with your legs straight. This can be extra challenging for those of us with tight hamstrings. If you have to bend your knees a bit on the way up, this is fine. In time, work towards increasing your flexibility in order to keep your legs straight. It’s also helpful to practice planks and L-sits concurrently to help build the strength and control needed to perform a full hanging leg raise.
Circle Gets the Square
After you’ve gotten comfortable with hanging leg raises, you can try leg circles or “windshield wipers”. Remember however, until your body fat is low enough, you won’t see any definition in your abs. Following a healthy diet is an essential part of developing an aesthetically pleasing midsection.
Strength Beyond Strength
Once you can perform windshield wipers, there are still new challenges ahead. You may even eventually work up to doing hanging leg raises with just one arm. Remember to take it one rep at a time; there are no shortcuts on the road to mastering your bodyweight.
Al Kavadlo, CSCS is one of the world’s leading experts in bodyweight strength training and calisthenics. Al has been featured in The New York Times and is a regular contributor to Bodybuilding.com and TRAIN magazine.
He is the author of four books, including Stretching Your Boundaries and Pushing The Limits!, Kavadlo is also known for his appearance in the popular Convict Conditioning book series. You can read all of his writing at his official website: http://www.alkavadlo.com/