Olympic bars, curl bars, ab machines… Forget about them, today we’re building killer abs with the only tool you need—a pull-up bar.
If you are new to calisthenics, follow this guide step by step; exercises range from easy to hard.
Let’s grab that bar.
Pull-Up Bar Abs Exercises for Beginners
Hanging on a horizontal bar has several advantages compared to floor ab workouts. It requires a lot more effort and a lot more muscles working simultaneously, more stabilization and body control, and it engages your abs differently than when you’re lying down on the ground.
If you’re new to all this, here’s where you start.
#1 Knee Ups
Stage one, the fundamentals. You raise your knees up and down and that’s it. So, what’s so special about it? Just because this exercise is the very basics of pull-up bar abs training, it doesn’t mean you can do it in a slipshod manner.
The Fundamentals (True for All Pull-Up Bar Exercises)
No matter what grip you use—open or close, underhand or overhand—don’t let the bar slide into your distal fingers. Sliding puts too much stress on your elbows, which can lead to elbow joint issues over time.
As you start to hang, keep your back—lats, traps, rhomboids, and your arms—shoulders, biceps, forearms contracted and tight. Your entire body should be activated.
Always think about the muscles you’re training and try to feel them contracting. Do this on the way up and on the way down.
Top Mistake: Don’t relax at the very bottom, keep your feet slightly forward of your hips.
Side Knee Ups
Stage two! Start rotating your knees to activate your obliques. This exercise is good for beginners and can not only strengthen your abs but your entire core. Supposing, of course, you activate it and don’t waver like a piece of cloth in the breeze.
Your core should stay absolutely vertical at the lower point. No leaning backwards and no swinging. Keep your elbows locked completely straight and control the tempo on both the way up and the way down.
Crunch Circles (Tucked Wipers)
Stage three, going hardcore. Well, not too hardcore, but this exercise can surely kill your abs when done properly. Look at the gif. Do you see the swing at the lowest point? Ideally, this shouldn’t happen.
Keep the entire range of motion under your control. The movement should be slow, and your entire body should be tight. This way you will be able to avoid swinging. If you can do it, you’re a beast.
This is definitely a much harder ab exercise than simple knee ups. Here, the resistance is the weight of your legs multiplied by the lever that their length creates. Good news—this also makes it much more rewarding.
Do not let your body swing: the negative (lowering) phase should be entirely under your control, with a brief pause at the very lower point. Keep your arms as straight as possible.
Top Mistake: Don’t cheat and use momentum, and don’t fall into an anterior pelvic tilt. Keep a posterior pelvic tilt even at the very bottom point.
Toes to Bar
This is an ultimate pull-up bar exercise for building your six-pack. In addition to killing your abs, raising your legs past 90 degrees engages your hip flexors.
The key is not to just focus on bending in your hip socket, but to bend at the pelvis, trying to curl your pelvis up. A clue: you should try to “show your ass” to the person in front of you. Thinking of this makes your technique better, no matter how ridiculous it might sound.
Top Tip: For starters, you might bend your elbows a little bit. Keeping your arms straight is way more difficult than it looks.
The L-sit is the fundamentals of calisthenics. It might look easy, but looks are deceiving. In fact, if you can hold it for 30 seconds with your legs straight, you’re a rockstar.
Try to keep your legs as straight as possible, even if you can only do it for a second or two. The longer you can keep your legs straight, the more beneficial this exercise is. As it gets harder, start bending your knees.
Hanging L-sit Siders
As you become strong enough to hold the L-sit for at least ten seconds, you can start making it more challenging by moving your legs from side to side. This engages your obliques, which are the muscles responsible for torso rotation.
Keep your shoulders activated, don’t let them slide into passive hang. Pull your shoulder blades back and down into an active hang.
Hanging L-sit Scissors
Another way to make the L-sit more challenging is to start scissoring your legs left and right. This combines isometric ab contraction with dynamic leg movement, preparing you for more advanced calisthenic routines.
Key Points: Keep your core on, your legs straight, and maintain the 90-degree angle.
Knees to Bar Crunch
In contrast to its floor counterpart, crunching to a bar engages not only your abs but almost your entire torso. Going to the top with your arms locked straight is a real challenge for your lower back, and going back down slowly is a real test for your lats.
Don’t throw yourself up and don’t hurry to get back down. See the gif? Your way back should be two times slower. Your abs lose most of the tension at the highest point, so it’s in your best interest to offset it on the way down.
This exercise looks easy, and it is easy if you cheat and swing your arms to create momentum, as shown on the gif. But if you don’t, hanging crunches all of a sudden become challenging and efficient.
You might say, why not just do floor crunches? Because of the two things: when hanging upside down, you don’t lose tension in your abs on the way back (eccentric phase), and because gravity adds extra weight to your torso.
If you’ve tried the exercises from the previous section, you’ve seen that a pull-up bar gives you a lot more lower ab activation.
Are you ready to get even more?
If the L-sit is too easy for you, try the V-hold. Remember, V is for victory: if you can hold it for 30 seconds, you’re a champion.
Oblique Toes to Bar
Strong and well-developed obliques make your V-shape look even more impressive. Guess what else makes you look impressive? Doing oblique toes-to-bar with your arms and legs locked straight.
Extended Leg Circles
Basically, this is the more dynamic variation of the previous exercise. The most difficult part is to prevent your legs and your body from swinging at the lower point.
L-sit to Toes-to-Bar
Moving from toes-to-bar to L-sit requires you to control the eccentric phase perfectly, and going back engages your entire core because this way you can’t cheat and gain too much momentum from raising your legs.
This ab exercise combines an isometric V-hold with dynamic siders, which makes it incredibly difficult. If you can make 20 windshield wipers with perfect technique—arms and legs locked straight, 90-degree angle—your abs are surely a benchmark for most athletes.
Remember the “show your ass” principle and keep your butt up high.
The Bottom Line
Not having a gym membership is a poor excuse not to have a shiny six-pack. Grab a pull-up bar (or parallel bars) and kill that ab.
No matter where you start, from basic knee ups or outrageously arduous windshield wipers, the bar can become your best multi-purpose friend to build strength, power, and stretch your muscles.
Enjoy the article? Know other killer pull-up bar exercises? Let us know in the comment section below!
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Eddie Johnson is an ex-bodybuilder, fitness addict, writer, editor and founder of Anabolic Bodies. Also a proud father of two boys and passionate about bodybuilding, nutrition, and the science behind modern-day supplementation.