A Better Reverse Crunch

EmirMemedovski/Getty Images
EmirMemedovski/Getty Images

The lower abdominals are tough to target, but the best way to get rid of your love handles is to watch your sugar intake. Insulin levels affect hormone production, which leads to that unwanted fat that can be nearly impossible to lose. But cutting out the sweet stuff can be difficult, especially if you’re burning calories in the gym. That’s why we recommend focusing on strengthening rather than slimming the lower half of your torso.

The most common way to build up lower ab strength is with reverse crunches, which require lifters to keep his legs straightened and off the floor without sitting up or using his arms. Adding ankle weights helps, but the problem with this exercise is that the bones of the pelvis are an attachment point for many other muscles, including the hip flexors. When doing a reverse crunch, it’s very easy to initiate the movement through the hip flexors instead of the lower abs. To make matters worse, reverse crunches tend to encourage poor posture. The neck strains and cranes forward as the shoulders round, making the ribcage drop down towards the hips.

Fortunately, there is a way to make sure the stress stays on the muscles you’re trying to tone. The hanging leg raise, executed on a pull-up bar by bringing your straight legs parallel to the ground, doesn’t result in compressional forces and keeps the ribcage high to the upper spine is in a neutral position. Here’s how to execute a perfect version of the exercise, a favorite among both serious athletes and body builders.

How to Do the Perfect Hanging Leg Raise

1. Hang from a pull-up bar with a wide grip. Keep your hands past your shoulders, which will experience strain if you don’t.
2. Use a firm grip and keep your arms contracted and tight. If you can bend at the elbows just a bit, that’s even better. Your legs should be hanging straight towards the floor
3. With your feet held close together, begin to slowly raise your legs.
4. Tilt your pelvis backwards as you pull your legs up, making sure that your spine isn’t curving. Your goal is to show the imaginary (or real) workout buddy standing in front of you the bottoms of your feet.
5. Bring your legs back down slowly, checking to make sure that your lower abs stay engaged. The negative rep is the part of any lift that exploits the most strength, so try to take a few second bringing your feet beneath you.

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