6 Best Hanging Ab Exercises for a Strong Core

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: January 8, 2024
FACT CHECKED by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
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As a certified fitness trainer, I’m always surprised how almost nobody at the gym uses pull-up bars to do ab workouts. It’s always just part of an upper-body routine using different hand positions for pull-ups.

So, to help our readers and clients get some ideas for how to train their core muscles and grip strength in new ways, I’ve come up with a tried and tested list of hanging ab exercises.

My team reached out to seven other personal trainers, and we then tested these exercises with clients to see how effective they were.

Quick Summary

  • There are many different ways to use a pull-up bar for core workouts, including hanging knee raises and twists, as well as bicycle crunches.
  • Doing the hanging exercises with proper form will fully target your abs, obliques, and hip flexors in ways you can’t achieve with other workouts.
  • A study by the National Institutes of Health indicates that hanging ab exercises significantly increase core muscle activation and improve abdominal strength.
  • In my opinion, hanging ab exercises are not only highly effective for core strengthening but also add an enjoyable and challenging variation to traditional ab workouts.

Our Hanging Ab Exercise Recommendations

Hanging Ab Exercises

The important thing with all our recommended exercises is that you should ideally have a pull-up bar that allows you to hang without your feet touching the floor.

And the starting position for all of these is the same.

You set your hands shoulder-width apart for stability. And use the overhand grip to get the proper body and neutral spine alignment.

Learn More: Ab In and Outs

Hanging Leg Raise

For the hanging leg raise, you start off with your entire body and then slowly raise your legs up until they are parallel to the ground.

Hold your legs straight out in front of you for about two seconds before lowering them down again to complete the first rep.

Hanging Knee Raise

Hanging knee raises are a great alternative for those who are struggling to keep their legs straight.

With the knee raise exercise, you bend your knee joints as far as possible and then bring them up high.

It’s less of a strain on your core, but it's a great way to start building up the necessary core strength for leg raises.

Hanging Knee Twist

Hanging Knee Twist

I highly recommend adding these to your core days, as the hanging knee twists will engage your obliques.

What you do is raise your knees up, alternating the twist to bring them up to each shoulder.

Just don’t be tempted into rushing this hanging knee tuck workout routine, and still hold the top of the movement for two seconds.

Hanging Pike-Ups

After putting it to the test, we suggest hanging pike-ups for a more advanced workout. You start off by bringing your knees up to hip height.

Then you pull them up further and aim to stretch your straight legs up and over the bar. It’s important that you use the overhand grip for this to ensure more stability.

Also, try to push your hips upwards as far as you can, and if you’re acrobatic enough, you can get into an upside-down position.

Hanging Bicycle Crunches

Hanging Bicycle Crunches

The next one of our hanging abs exercises brings the bicycle kicks you might have done before on your favorite exercise mat to the pull-up bar.

Basically, you raise your legs up and slightly bend your knees.

Then kick your feet in a cycling motion, just like you would do on an exercise bike.

The great benefit of this is that the strain fluctuates from side to side, meaning that your muscles are working harder and in a slightly different way.

Hanging Windshield Wipers

These are great hanging oblique crunches, and you have to do them with your legs straight.

What you do is laterally raise your legs as high as possible. Then slowly lower them back down again and raise them on the other side.

It’s like a pendulum with your legs or a windshield wiper. You can further intensify this exercise with a toe-to-bar movement on each side.

What Muscles Will You Activate?

Abs

Our investigation demonstrated that exercises like the hanging leg raise primarily activate the abs and hip flexors.

According to the article published by Physiopedia, as the strain on your core muscles gradually increases from the lower to the upper abs, you end up with a targeted full ab workout [1].

It’s also a great way to target your hip flexors that are responsible for raising your thighs, and they form a solid foundation for many other types of core and leg exercises.

“The hip flexors are a group of muscles responsible for flexing the hip or bringing the leg upward toward the body. The primary hip flexors are the psoas major and the iliacus, which, collectively, are often called the iliopsoas.”

- Amy Elizabeth Wolkin, PT, DPT.

Related articles:

Benefits of Hanging Ab Exercises

Based on a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), hanging ab exercises can help increase core muscle activation and strengthen your abdominal muscles [2]. Per a 2020 study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), they can also help increase your endurance and improve your psychological endurance of discomfort [3].

Whether you do the hanging leg raise or the easier hanging knee raise movement, you’ll also be able to build up strength in your wrists and forearms from gripping the bar.

And all this adds up to huge benefits for all sorts of exercises that involve flexing your hips and gripping a heavy bar or dumbbell.

Also read: Best Hypertrophy Program

FAQs

Are Hanging Ab Exercises Effective?

Yes, hanging abs exercises are effective. They are a highly targeted way to work on your abs and hip flexors without causing a lot of strain on your joints and back. And with a bit of variety, you’ll quickly see significant progress towards those six-pack abs.

Do Dead Hangs Strengthen the Core?

Yes, dead hangs can strengthen the core. But you’ll get a lot more benefits for your abs by doing a hanging knee raise or leg raise movement that results in more muscle activation in your core.


References:

  1. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Abdominal_Muscles
  2. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5384053/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23952758/
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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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