In recent years, the plank surpassed both the crunch and sit-up as the “best core exercise,” but a new exercise called the L-sit is now gaining prominence alongside planks.
Not to discredit planks, but they’re as widespread as Nike MetCons in a CrossFit box. Walk into any gym and you’re likely to see someone doing a plank while checking their watch regularly.
Similar to the plank, the L-sit is a fundamental bodyweight movement, but it’s rarely seen outside of CrossFit boxes and gymnastics gyms. “L-sits are challenging, but they’re essential if you want to enhance your core strength and stability,” says Kari Pearce, the 2018 Fittest Woman in the U.S. according to the CrossFit Games and the creator of the Power Abs and PHIIT programs.
It’s time to give the L-sit the recognition it deserves. Below, athletes and coaches explain the advantages of the L-sit, the correct way to perform it, and how to progress to the intense core exercise, as it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to do it perfectly right away.
How to Perform an L-Sit
L-sits can be done on the floor without any equipment or by using parallettes (also known as dip bars or EQualizers), hanging rings, or two boxes or benches of the same height.
Ready to give it a shot? “With your arms straight, place your hands on the floor or equipment,” explains Pearce. “Then, raise your legs while keeping them straight until they are parallel to the ground, forming an ‘L’ shape with your body.” While doing this, retract your shoulders and lower them, maintain a straight back, and look straight ahead with a neutral neck posture, she advises.
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the exercise:
A. If using two boxes, benches, or parallettes, position them slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart. Stand between them and place your palms on each side, under your shoulders.
B. Extend arms, secure elbows at sides, retract shoulder blades away from ears, and activate lats. Then, pressing down into palms, activate core and raise legs (straight and together) off the ground until parallel with (or near parallel with) the ground.
C. Maintain, with knees extended, squeezing quads tightly together, pointing toes, and looking directly ahead to preserve neutral neck.
Strive to accumulate a total of 30 seconds of an L-sit hold per set, taking a 10 to 20-second rest each time you lower. As you develop strength, increase the duration to 45 seconds, and then 1 minute or more.
Seems straightforward, doesn’t it? “It is simple,” agrees Pearce. “But it’s also one of the most demanding core exercises there is. To give you some perspective, I’ve held a plank for 23 minutes, but my longest recorded L-sit is 45 seconds,” she states.
The Vital L-Sit Advantages
The L-sit offers numerous benefits in such a brief and uncomplicated movement:
Provides Practical Support
The primary allure of this exercise is that it intensely engages your core. In case you didn’t know, the advantages of fortifying your core go well beyond achieving defined abs: From maintaining proper posture, stabilizing your spine and pelvis, transferring strength to your limbs, to safeguarding against potential injury, a strong core boasts significant benefits.
“The core represents one of the most crucial muscle groups in the body,” states Stacie Tovar, co-owner of CrossFit Omaha. “You utilize it every time you lift something from the ground, put on your shoes, enter and exit your vehicle, or sit on the toilet,” she explains.
Enhances Quality of Other Exercises
Beyond just targeting your core, the L-sit engages various muscle groups, thereby enhancing your overall fitness — a benefit that carries over to many other exercises that are likely part of your regular routine. Notably, if you incorporate L-sits into your regimen, you can anticipate improvement in movements such as the handstand push-up, push-up, toes-to-bar, deadlift, and barbell squat.
Supports Spinal Health
While engaging multiple muscle groups simultaneously is beneficial, the greatest advantage is that you are engaging them isometrically — meaning you are holding them in a fixed position for a certain period of time.
“Isometric exercises activate the muscles without elongating them (eccentric exercises) or contracting them (concentric exercises),” states Dave Lipson, C.S.C.S., a CrossFit Level 4 trainer and the founder of Thundrbro, an educational fitness platform. Essentially, you are flexing the muscles without any actual movement. Lipson adds, “This isometric exercise improves core strength and stability, which safeguards your spine and aids in transferring force to the extremities.”
Muscle Groups Targeted by L-Sit
Unlike many core exercises that solely focus on the core, the L-sit engages your abdominal muscles, obliques, hip flexors, quadriceps, triceps, shoulders, pectorals, and latissimus dorsi, according to Pearce. “This exercise quickly fatigues various muscle groups, making it highly efficient,” she explains.
Variations of the L-Sit
Is your core protesting at the mere thought of this exercise? “You might be looking at the movement and thinking, ‘No way,'” says Tovar. And if you are a beginner, that’s understandable. “If you have never worked on strengthening your core before, L-sits are probably not the place to start,” advises Lipson.
“It is important to meet our bodies where they are. It is much better to perform ab exercises that you are capable of doing rather than doing none at all,” Lipson suggests. For instance, he recommends starting with ab-mat sit-ups or GHD (glute-ham developer) sit-ups to establish a solid foundation of core strength.
However, if you are confident with the L-sit, you can also increase the difficulty level. Below, experts explain how to elevate the intensity of the exercise.
Modification for Beginners: Chair L-Sit
To begin, try this variation for beginners. Position your hands right beside your hips and keep your arms fully extended so that your buttocks hovers just above the seat. Then, work on extending one leg out in front of you and maintain that position (even if it is not completely straight), while keeping the other leg on the floor. Aim to hold this position for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
Modification for Intermediate-Level Exercisers: Tuck Position
If you already possess a solid foundation of core strength, you can “start with the tuck position and progress to an L-sit,” suggests Tovar. Essentially, you perform the L-sit but keep your knees bent and close to your chest instead of fully extended.
Once you achieve complete extension, once you become at ease in this position, you can attempt the standard L-sit.
Ring L-Sit Progression for Advanced Exercisers
Once you feel at ease performing an L-sit on a solid, stable base—such as a crate, bench, or parellettes—you may attempt holding an L-sit on a pair of suspended rings. Because the rings can sway, your core and shoulder muscles will need to exert extra effort to maintain stability. Too simple? Give an L-sit rope climb or L-sit pull-up a try.
Common L-Sit Errors
To be honest, the most prevalent error when attempting the L-sit is allowing your pride to hinder you. The exercise is straightforward and easy to comprehend, but that does not mean it is effortless. The best way to prevent injury or excessive strain on your muscles is to be truthful with yourself if the exercise proves too challenging. Step away from the dip bars or boxes and gradually work your way up to L-sits by incorporating the aforementioned modifications.
How to Incorporate L-Sits into Your Routine
“Given that it is a skill and requires isometric strength, if you are seeking a conditioning workout, you should not include L-sits in the middle of your circuit or WOD,” says Lipson. Instead, consider adding it to a workout that focuses on your core or include it as part of your warm-up or cool-down routine.
Towards the end of your workout, attempt three sets of L-sit holds for as long as possible with a 90-second rest between each set, advises Pearce. “Don’t be concerned if the duration of your L-sit hold decreases with each set,” she states. “That is normal because L-sits are challenging!”
And because you do not require any equipment, “you can even give the L-sit a try at home, every morning when you wake up, and every evening before going to bed,” suggests Tovar. It may be a rigorous way to start your day, but you will develop an incredibly strong core in the process.