Looking to step up your ab workout?
Pull-up bar ab exercises are one of the best core workouts you can give yourself. Sure, they are harder than floor ab exercises, but that also means better results!
What’s the difference between floor ab exercises, dip station ab exercises, and pull-up bar ab exercises, anyway?
Simply put, hanging from a bar while performing any ab exercise forces your abdominal muscles to stretch more. In addition, the fact that you are fighting gravity as you contract your core makes sure that your abs are working as hard as possible.
The best thing is that all you need is somewhere to (safely) hang!
Whether you are using a gym pull-up bar, door frame pull-up bar, pull-up rack, gymnastic rings, or even a playground bar, here are the best 9 pull-up bar exercises for abs that you can try today.
Benefits of Hanging Core Exercises
Before we jump in, what are the benefits of pull-up bar ab exercises?
As touched upon, pull-up bar ab exercises, or hanging ab exercises, force you to fight gravity with each rep. On top of that, the end of each rep fully stretches your core. This means the chance of tearing more muscle fibers (initiating hypertrophy) is increased significantly.
At the same time, you are strengthening your wrists, forearms, biceps, triceps, shoulders, and scapulas, as well as improving your grip strength.
The best thing is that a strong core transfers to other exercises, such as bench presses, deadlifts, squats, and even pull-ups.
All in all, the benefits of pull-up bar exercises include:
- bulletproof core - transferrable to other exercises and everyday movements
- builds rock-solid abs (four-pack or six-pack)
- improves posture and reduces lower back pain
- builds grip strength (improve your pull-ups)
- strengthens wrists, forearms, biceps, triceps, shoulders, and scapulas
9 Best Pull Up Bar Exercises for Abs
Got somewhere where you can hang safely and securely? Then it’s time to fire up your abs!
Down below are the best pull-up bar exercises for abs and core. For convenience, these are ordered from easiest to hardest.
We have also included the benefits of each exercise, the difficulty, as well as how to perform the exercise with good form.
You can perform these exercises over reps and sets, or for timed sets.
Let’s jump in!
Hanging Knee Raises
Hanging knee raises are essentially a hanging crunch, and the first hanging core exercise that anyone can try.
What makes this exercise more effective than regular crunches is the hanging factor. This forces you to fight gravity as you perform the concentric phase (bringing your knees up), while providing a greater abdominal stretch on the concentric phase (lowering your knees).
To do a hanging knee raise, get into a dead hang on the bar. A dead hang, or passive hang, involves straight arms and relaxed shoulders. From this position, raise your knees into your chest.
Make sure to lift your pelvis to get a full contraction, before lowering your knees in a controlled manner.
It’s important to avoid swinging backwards and forwards while doing hanging knee raises - or any hanging ab exercise, for that matter. This will reduce the effectiveness of the exercise!
Avoid swinging by tightening your grip and actively engaging your core and lower back muscles.
Hanging Leg Raises
Are hanging knee raises too easy? Give hanging leg raises a go. Again, these are a hanging version of the lying leg raise performed on the floor. They are also more effective.
Similar to a hanging knee raise, you are lifting your legs from a straight body position. However, instead of tucked knees, your legs are kept straight and outstretched. This increases the difficulty by forcing your hip flexors, core, and lower back to work harder!
To do a hanging raise, start in a dead hang position. Raise your legs, making sure to keep them extended (as little bending in the knees as possible). Raise your legs to a horizontal position (a hanging l-sit) and squeeze your core, then return to a dead hang.
Avoid swinging backwards and forwards by tightening your grip on the bar and actively engaging your core and lower back muscles.
Toes to Bar
Toes to bar is an advanced version of the hanging leg raise, requiring extra grip and hip flexor strength.
Essentially, you are performing a hanging leg raise but touching the bar with your toes. For beginners, the exercise involves some degree of leaning back. A strict, more advanced toes to bar, however, would involve more hip flexibility to keep the upper body perfectly vertical.
No matter how you do it, toes to bar offers a full stretch and contraction of the abs!
To do a toes to bar, start in a dead hang. Begin to raise your legs - as you would for a hanging leg raise - but bring your legs higher than usual so that your toes make contact with the bar (between your hands). You can lean, or tilt backwards, slightly, to make this more possible. Lower your extended legs in a controlled manner to complete one rep.
Hanging Corner Raises
Hanging corner raises are a variation of the hanging knee raise that targets the muscles on the outside of your stomach - the obliques. For a well-rounded, defined core, it’s important to target the obliques as much as the abdominal muscles.
You can think of the hanging corner raise as a side crunch, or twist up, that is performed while hanging on a bar. The hanging element makes the exercise harder but more effective for getting faster, more visible results.
To do a hanging corner raise, start in a dead hang as usual. Visualize that you are about to do a hanging knee raise, but bring your knees up and to the side so that your feet and calves become almost horizontal. Squeeze, lower your legs, then repeat on the other side for one rep.
In general, your rep count for hanging corner raises will be lower due to the fact that doing both sides counts as one rep. Of course, it’s important to target both obliques!
Hanging Flutter Kicks
We all know what flutter kicks are. And we all know how tiring they can be, especially on the quads and hip flexors! But have you tried them while hanging from a bar?
Hanging flutter kicks are a lot harder than flutter kicks performed on the floor. And you can make them even harder by increasing how high you lift your legs. Speeding up the exercise can also make increase the difficulty significantly!
The benefits of flutter kicks include building lower abs and increasing hip flexor strength.
To do hanging flutter kicks, hang from the bar in a passive dead hang. Brace your core and lower back, then begin kicking your legs in the same way that you would when swimming. The further you lean back, or lift your legs, the harder the exercise will become.
Hanging Windshield Wiper/Hanging Around the World
Both the hanging windshield wiper and hanging around the world are advanced hanging ab exercises done on a pull-up bar. As you already know, doing them while hanging is going to be more of a challenge!
Hanging windshield wipers are considered easier than hanging around the worlds, requiring less range of motion. This still does not make them easy, however.
To do a hanging windshield wiper, bring your legs up into a toes to bar position. From here, while keeping your legs extended, twist your torso so that your legs swing in a 180-degree fashion (just like, you guessed it, a windshield wiper.
The name of the game here is control, so make sure that you control the movement throughout the whole exercise.
To do a hanging around the world, you have to perform a “360-degree windshield wiper” by bringing your legs up, to the side and down (into a dead hang), before raising them to the side and up again to complete a full circle. Alternate directions for best results.
The l-sit is a fundamental gymnastics exercise that requires, and builds, core and hip flexor strength. It involves lifting your legs into a 90-degree position (so that your body forms an L shape), and can be performed on the floor, on parallel bars, or while hanging.
Essentially, the l-sit is a static hold leg raise. It can also be performed dynamically by bringing the legs in and out for reps.
L-sits are not easy and can prove difficult for newcomers. Progressions are often used to train for the l-sit, such as the one-legged l-sit.
To do a hanging l-sit, start in a dead hang. Raise your legs, using the same technique as a leg raise, and then hold your legs (fully extended, without any bending in the knees) in that horizontal L-shape position. Squeeze your core to make the exercise truly effective.
Tuck Front Lever
The front lever is another popular gymnastics static hold that requires significant core strength. Simply put, it involves hanging from the with the body held in a completely straight, horizontal position.
Abdominal strength is particularly important here due to the fact that the lower back and legs need to be held horizontal. Any “sagging” in a front lever is due to a weak core, as well as weak lats.
The front lever is as hard as it sounds, and can often take months - even up to a year - to achieve and master. For this reason, it is typically achieved through progressions, the first of which is the tucked front lever.
You can visualize the tuck front lever as a hanging, horizontal crunch - held in position!
To do a tucked front lever, start in a dead hang. Bring your knees up into your chest (just like a hanging knee raise) and lean back so that your back is horizontal. Retract your shoulder blades and engage your core to stay in this position.
Your arms should be straight, not bent at the elbows. Keep your knees tucked into your chest and hold the position for a timed amount.
Strict Pull Ups
Did you know that performing strict pull-ups is also one of the best ways to exercise abs?
This is because strict pull-ups, even strict muscle-ups, involve fully activating the core to keep the lower body straight and prevent swinging backwards and forwards on the bar.
Overall, by practicing strict pull-ups, you are going to increase core strength and improve your pull-up form in the long run. Bad pull-up form can look messy, and it will also reduce the effectiveness that you get out of the exercise.
How to do a strict pull-up?
Start in a dead hang position directly under the bar. Look up and visualize bringing your chest up to the bar, then pull with that goal in mind. Keep your forearms locked vertically, and engage your lower back, abs, and hip flexors to stop your legs from swinging or bending at the hips.
As you bring your chest to the bar, pull your shoulder blades back to contract your lats and rhomboids. Control the negative phase of the exercise by slowly returning to a dead hang for one strict rep.
Ab exercises on a pull-up bar are one of the best core workouts that you can do. While they are more difficult, they are also more effective for increasing your core strength significantly and building rock-solid, bulletproof abs.
The effectiveness of hanging ab exercises is due to having to fight gravity with each rep, with a greater abdominal stretch on every negative (eccentric) phase.
Pull-up bar ab exercises range in difficulty, starting with hanging knee raises - which anyone can try. So, the next time you work out abs, take your ab workout to the pull-up bar and try the 9 best pull-up bar exercises for abs that we have listed above!