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 Step 5.
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
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.
Photos by Beth Bischoff