How to Do an L-Sit (and Why You Should)

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

exerciser doing crossfit gymnastics l-sit exercise
Photo: 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. Meet 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 their teeth in a plank while peeking at their watch every few seconds.

Like the plank, the L-sit is also a foundational bodyweight movement — but rarely does it make 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 Power Abs and PHIIT programs.

It's time to give this move the attention it deserves. Below, 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 won't be able to do one right out of the gate.

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," explains Pearce. "Then, lift up your legs while keeping them straight until they are parallel to the floor so your body makes an 'L' shape." As you do this, draw your shoulders back and down, keep your back straight, and look straight ahead with a neutral neck, she says.

Here's a step-by-step breakdown of the move:

exerciser doing an l-sit workout move, balancing on yoga blocks
Jon Medel

A. If 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 palms on each side, 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 and lift legs (straight and together) off the floor until parallel with (or close to parallel with) the floor.

C. Hold, keeping knees straight, squeezing quads together tightly, pointing toes, and looking straight ahead to maintain 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.

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

The Key L-Sit Benefits

The L-sit packs in quite a few benefits in such a short and simple movement:

Provides Functional Support

The main draw of this exercise is that it works your core — hard. ICYDK, the benefits of strengthening your core go way beyond getting 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.

"The core is one of the single most important muscle groups in the body," says Stacie Tovar, co-owner of CrossFit Omaha. "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," she explains.

Improves Quality of Other Exercises

More than just your core, the L-sit works myriad muscle groups, meaning that it will better your overall fitness — a benefit that rolls over to many other exercises you're probably regularly doing in your routine. Notably, if you start doing L-sits, you can expect an improvement in moves such as the handstand push-up, push-up, toes-to-bar, deadlift, and barbell squat.

Supports Spine Health

While working multiple muscle groups at once 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, C.S.C.S., CrossFit Level 4 trainer and founder of Thundrbro, 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," adds Lipson.

L-Sit Muscles Worked

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," she notes.

L-Sit Variations

Is your core crying at the thought of this exercise? "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," says Lipson. For example, try starting with ab-mat sit-ups or GHD (glute-ham developer) sit-ups to build foundational core strength, he suggests.

On the other hand, if you're confident with the move, you can also make it harder. Experts explain how to switch up the intensity of the exercise, below.

L-Sit Modification for Beginners: 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.

L-Sit Modification for Intermediate-Level Exercisers: 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.

L-Sit Progression for Advanced Exercisers: Ring L-Sit

Once you feel comfortable doing an L-sit on a stable, sturdy base—such as 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.

Common L-Sit Mistakes

TBH, the most common mistake when attempting the L-sit is letting your ego get in the way. The exercise is straightforward and simple to understand, but that doesn't mean it's a walk in the park. The best way to prevent injury or overtaxing your muscles is to be honest with yourself if the exercise is too difficult, stepping away from the dip bars or boxes, and working yourself up to L-sits with those modifications above.

How to Add L-Sits to Your Routine

"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. "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 an incredibly strong core in the process.

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