The Vital Few: Ab Exercises For a Stronger, Harder Midsection

by Pat Flynn on March 1, 2013

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I was raised somewhat backwards and mostly stayed that way. Momma always said, “Son, you’re special.” And, really, I think she meant good by it—but whatever, there is at least one theoretical advantage to this. That is, I’ve found that the answers to life’s peskiest problems can be found, almost invariably, by moving in the opposite direction of the general pull of the masses. If they go up. Best to go down. Them right? You left. Slow. Fast.

Take for example, body fat. Leanness, which I can say I know a thing or two about, has more to do with the 23 hours of restraint outside the gym, than it does the hour of effort in it. Take for example, muscular strength, which has more to do with the tuning of the nervous system, than it does the bulking of the muscles. These are just two examples where, if we followed conventional wisdom, we would be led largely in the wrong direction to cluster with the mostly unsuccessful.

This whole fascination over the striated muscles of the abdomen is an interesting case, too. I, like most infidels, suffer from this fetish—I will not deny it, I like having flashy abs. But unlike most, I do not work my abs grounded. Rather, I’m quite fond of strengthening my midsection in suspension—hanging from a bar, a pair of rings, straps, or other such dangly devices.

Windshield Wiper

For me, these alone seem to do what the classic sit-up or crunch cannot—which is to say they add some desired thickness to the abdominal wall, creating an outright blocky and somewhat geometrical appearance—protrusions and depressions in all the right places, if you will. There are, of course, other tremendous benefits of hanging ab exercises that could be mentioned, but they are far less interesting to me, and I think if I start to talk on them I’ll get bored and so quit this piece entirely.

The hanging leg raise, the windshield wiper , and the L-Sit are three heinous exercises for hardening the midsection; one linear, one rotational, one static, all undeniably marvelous. In my own sight, they are the vital few—quote unquote, ab exercises—to replace the trivial many. This is to say that a fellow or a ma’am who can rep hanging leg raises and said variations seldom has an unimpressive midsection. Are there still gaps to be filled? Surely there are. But not too many.

L – Sit

Here I come to you with no formalized routine, or anything of the sort. I’m not all that keen on setting someone to the business of what some would call an “ab workout”. Instead, I think you should just practice these two movements very nearly daily. No set or rep scheme, really—just purposeful movement rehearsal. Strive to make the movements look almost romantic, as lovely as choreography.

Hanging Leg Raise

Pat Flynn, RKC: Pat Flynn is a certified Russian Kettlebell Challenge instructor, fitness philosopher, and 7th degree blackbelt in hanging out. Pat is the founder of where he talks mostly on how to chop fat and multiply muscle through kettlebell complex training.

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  • Anna

    No WAY! What are the modifications to any of these? I can’t even get to these positions!

    • Pat Flynn

      Hey Anna, please see my response to Frank below.

  • Frank

    Great instructional videos. But I will 2nd Anna’s comments above, are there progressions (similar to the concepts in Convict Conditioning) that may lead to e.g. windshield wipers.

    • Jerry

      Not being able to do them myself, I’ll offer some thoughts. If you follow Convict Conditioning, you will eventually be able to achieve hanging leg raises. CC brings you to a horizontal position. If you get to that point, I have confidence that you could handle the knee tuck extension he shows in the last video, and from there build to leg raises with feet touching hands.

      Once you can reach your feet to your hands, you can start adding a bit of wiper motion, gradually increasing over time.

    • Pat Flynn

      Hey Frank,

      Start with knee tucks, and slowly begin to extend the legs as you feel more confident. Noones first leg raise or windshield wiper will look pretty. In fact, it will look pretty much like crap. That’s ok. The more you practice, the more control you will assume.

      It’s also OK to use a little momentum/sway to help get you started at first too–just focus on controlling the descent

      • Anna

        So, Before I read this updated response to Frank, I tried to do something similar on a highly angled inclined bench–it provided the much needed posterior support & allowed me to attempt the moves without swaying to & fro. Don’t know if it will help achieve the end result and know it doesn’t help with upper body stability/strength, but my core definitely noticed the difference.
        Any thoughts on progressing this way?

  • Ross

    I keep telling folks here in my unit to do these types of exercises instead of situps and other ab exercise crap. I dont think a single person has listened to me. Call folks that do all those crap exercises ab warriors lol

    • I find when you try to tell someone to do something they automatically resist. Better to show them that they can’t do it, or can’t do it very well IMO.

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