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.)