No matter what you do, having strong abs is important. There are hundreds of possible exercises you can do to try to build that strength. Some are much better than others. As you’ve probably noticed with the hand balancing and acrobatic moves we do, there is not one that doesn’t work your whole body. Thus, your strength training should be the same. Forget trying to isolate the abs, instead work them with the whole body.

In addition some ab training movements will have specific carryover to certain hand balancing moves. The full leg raise for example works not only ab strength but compression ability which is vital to v-sits and many pressing movements.

In my efforts to always make the moves as progressive as possible so any level can do them I’ve broken the hanging leg raise into four levels. These levels are at different degrees of how high the legs are raised. This is 45 degrees, 90 degrees, 135 degrees, and a full 180 degrees.

Abdominal Training with Leg Lifts

From left to right, top to bottom – 45, 90, 135, 180

You want to do this move, if at all possible, hanging from something where you can hang fully extended and not touch the ground. This way you can get a full range of motion and not interrupt the move by bending at the knees. But you can modify it if you don’t have full range by bending at the knees and extend the legs after you’ve cleared the ground.

Grab the bar and hang without swinging. You want to avoid all momentum in this move as it defeats the purpose. Just using your strength you raise the legs, which are kept locked out and together with the toes pointed, up to the level you are going for. Lower them down to the bottom then repeat.

In my efforts with this movement, I was always stuck at only being able to do one or two full range reps before they got shaky and my form started to erode. What worked wonders for me was to drop down to reps only going to the 135 degree level and do many more. After a while I moved back up to the full range and could do a higher number than before.

My recommendation is to use these moves two or three times a week. Do three sets of 8-15 reps. If you can’t do 8 reps on each set then drop down to a lower level. But once you get up to 15 reps on every set you can move up to the next level. Rest a few minutes between sets.

One more thing on the full range leg raise. The move is easier if your lean back when your legs come up to the top. To the best of your ability you want to avoid this. Strive to keep your upper body perpendicular to the ground as your legs get to the top. This is the compressive ability I was talking about, plus it will guarantee a very intense contraction.

If even the 45 degree leg raise is too difficult the same four moves can be done as hanging knee raises. Keeping the legs bent at the knees the whole time you use your strength to raise them up to any level.

The leg raises will help you build strength and that strength can be applied to the other moves in this lesson as well as much else. Building strength equals building control. And that means you can do more.

Read up on The Ultimate Guide to Bodyweight Ab Exercises to develop amazingly hard abdominal muscles that are even more powerful than they seem.

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  1. Pingback: New Ab Training Article | Lost Art of Hand Balancing

  2. One of the things I like to do with all my exercises is to combine as many as I can so that I’m working multiple joint groups & moving and involving as much of my body in an exercise as I can. Concerning leg lifts, I combine them with pull/chin-ups at the same time. In other words while doing a pull/chin-up I also do a leg lift, lifting my legs up above the bar and my head as I pull my chest up to bar level.

  3. that’s good shit my friend! Me personelly, I do the AB exercises of a Gymnast in the course Gymnastic Abs from Eddie Baran… The BEST course about AB training & Conditioning in existence IMO!

  4. The hardest part of this move (I’ve been teaching it for years) is to not try to lift your legs!
    Instead, think of locking the knees and pointing the toes with the minimum amount of energy – then rotate the pelvis up using your low abs and internal hip flexors and finally external hip flexors. Don’t hold your breath! The legs will ‘follow’ the pelvis up, not lead… Look for negetive control during the descent so you don’t swing.

    1. @Dennis: Haven’t worked that movement in awhile but its a great way to integrate those two excellent exercises.

      @Matti: That is an excellent course and covers exercises I’ve never seen elsewhere that are great for what we’re trying to accomplish here. For anyone interested you can check it out here.

      @jonathan field: Great tip. I’ll be trying that the next time I do these.

  5. @Logan! I know man, that course is Excellent indeed! And so much fun to do also! Training the ABS like a Gymnast is the Ultimate in Abdominal Conditioning IMO! If you look back at strongmen & Martial Artists (& of course, Gymnasts themselves) in the glorious past of the Strength Game, You see ALL of them doing some kind of Gymnastic ABdominal exercises that Eddie Baran & Andy Baran mention in their course! I’m NOT gonna name ALL of them here, because it’s one HELL of a long list! And you probably already know all of them already… So no need to mention them here!!! Just a thing to know, that STRONG ABS (& STRONG GRIP obviously) equals STRONG BODY!!! Not Only for Gymnastics, but for everything else TOO!


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