Learn how to do an L-sit—the full-body exercise that looks simple, but will seriously sculpt your core.

By Gabrielle Kassel
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woman doing crossfit gymnastics l-sit exercise
Credit: Leszek Glasner/Shutterstock

In recent years, the plank overtook both the crunch and sit-up for the title of "Best Core Exercise." But there's a new move in town that rivals the planks in effectiveness and importance: The L-sit.

No shade at planks, but they're about as common as, well, Nike MetCons in a CrossFit box. Walk into any gym, and chances are you'll see someone gritting out plank while peeking at their watch every few seconds.

Like the plank, the L-sit is also a foundational bodyweight movement—but rarely makes an appearance outside of CrossFit boxes and gymnastics gyms. "L-sits are hard, but if you want to improve your core strength and stability, they are a must," says Kari Pearce, 2018 Fittest Woman in the U.S. (according to the CrossFit Games), and creator of the Pearce Power Abs Program.

It's time to give this move the attention it deserves. Below, four big-name CrossFit athletes and coaches explain the benefits of the L-sit, how to properly do one, and how to work up to the core-shredding exercise—because, chances are, you can't even do it yet. (FWIW, Jen Widerstrom thinks it's one of the bodyweight moves you should master, too.)

L-Sit Exercise Benefits

ICYDK, the benefits of strengthening your core go way beyond sculpting abs: From keeping you upright, stabilizing your spine and pelvis, transferring strength to your limbs, and protecting you from potential injury, a strong core has some serious benefits. (See more: Why Core Strength Is So Important).

"The core is one of the single most important muscle groups in the body," says Stacie Tovar, co-owner of CrossFit Omaha and Go Far Fitness. "You use it every time you pick something up off the floor, put on your shoes, get in and out of your car, or sit on the toilet."

Unlike many core exercises that just work the core, the L-sit works your abs, obliques, hip flexors, quads, triceps, shoulders, pecs, and lats, says Pearce. "It doesn't take long to fatigue a number of different muscles with this one, so you'll get a big bang for your buck with this exercise."

While working all of these muscle-groups is great, the best part is that you're working them isometrically—aka holding them in one position for a period of time.

"Isometric exercises recruit the muscles without lengthening them (eccentric exercises) or shortening them (concentric exercises)," says Dave Lipson, CrossFit Level 4 trainer and founder of Thundr Bro, an educational fitness platform. Basically, you're flexing the muscles without actually moving. "This isometric exercise enhances mid-line strength and stabilization, which protects your spine and can help you translate force to the extremities."

Translation? This movement will improve other movements like the handstand push-up, push-up, toes-to-bar, deadlift, and barbell squat.

How to Do an L-Sit

L-sits can be done on the floor with no-equipment or using a set of parallettes (sometimes called dip bars or EQualizers), hanging rings, or two boxes or benches of the same height.

Ready to try one? "With straight arms, place your hands on the floor or on the equipment. Then, lift up your legs while keeping them straight until they are parallel to the floor so your body makes an "L" shape," explains Pearce. As you do this, draw your shoulders back and down, keep your back straight, and look straight ahead with a neutral neck, she says.

Sounds simple enough, right? Pearce agrees. "It is simple. But it's also one of the most challenging core exercises there is," she says. "For a little comparison, I've held a plank for 23 minutes but my longest L-sit that I have recorded is 45 seconds."

Is your core crying yet?? Don't worry, there are variations and L-sit progressions that aren't as challenging, which the experts explains through below.

Step-By-Step L-Sit Guide

A. If you're using two boxes, benches, or parallettes, set them up so that they are a little narrower than shoulder width apart. Stand between them and place your palms on each side so they're under shoulders.

B. Straighten arms, lock elbows at sides, pull shoulder blades down and away from ears, and engage lats. Then, pushing down into palms, engage core lift legs (straight and together) off the floor until they're parallel with (or close to parallel with) the floor.

C. Hold here, keeping knees straight, squeezing quads together tightly, pointing toes, and looking straight ahead to keep a neutral neck.

Aim to accumulate a total of 30 seconds of an L-sit hold per set, resting 10 to 20 seconds each time you drop. As you build strength, increase time to 45 seconds, and then 1 minute or more.

L-Sit Hold Form Tips

  • Before you lift your feet off the ground, lock your elbows to your side. Think about screwing your palms into the box to draw your shoulders back and tighten elbows to trunk.

  • During the hold, keep back straight and core engaged to keep shoulders and spine from rounding forward.

  • Fix eyes at a point in front of you, rather than looking down at the ground. This will keep the neck in a neutral position and will help keep your shoulders from sagging.

L-Sit Progressions

"Maybe you're looking at the movement and thinking no way," says Tovar. And, if you're a beginner, that's fair: "If you've never worked on your core strength before, L-sits probably aren't where you start," says Lipson. "You want to meet our body where it is at. It's much better to do ab exercises you can do than to do none." That said, there are ways to progress to the L-sit.

Sit-ups: Lipson suggests starting with ab-mat sit-ups or GHD (glute-ham developer) sit-ups to build foundational core strength. (Here, purchase an ab-mat and other must-have equipment for your at-home CrossFit gym).

Chair L-Sit: Try this beginner variation to start. Place your hands right next to your hips and keep your arms completely locked out so your butt is hovering just above the seat. Then, work on extending one leg out in front of you and holding it there (even if it's not totally straight), with the other one still on the floor. Try to hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.

Tuck position: If you already have a good base of core strength, you can "start with the tuck position and work your way to an L-sit," says Tovar. Basically, you'll do the L-sit but keep your knees bent and close to your chest vs. fully extended. Once you get comfortable here, you can try for the regular L-sit.

Ring L-Sit: Once you feel comfortable doing an L-sit on a stable, sturdy base—like a box, bench, or parellettes—you might try holding an L-sit on a pair of hanging rings. Because rings can swing, your core and shoulder muscles have to work extra hard to keep you stable. Too easy?! Try an L-sit rope climb or L-sit pull-up.

How to Implement L-Sits Into Your Workout

"Since it's a skill and positional, isometric strength exercise, if you're looking for a conditioning workout, you're not going to put L-sits in the middle of your circuit or WOD," says Lipson. Instead, try adding it to a core-specific workout or to your warm-up or cool-down.

At the end of your workout, try doing three L-sit holds for as long as possible with 90 seconds rest between each set, recommends Pearce. (Here's how to correctly order exercises at the gym.) "Don't be worried if the amount of time you hold the L-sit goes down with each set," she says. "That's typical because L-sits are hard!"

And because you don't need equipment, "you can even give the L-sit a go at home, every day when you wake up, and every night before you go to bed," says Tovar. A brutal way to wake-up? Sure, but you'll get a crazy strong core in the process.