Why Everyone Should L-Sit (And Variations)

By on September 16, 2021

The l-sit is a movement most associated with gymnastic strength training and advanced calisthenics. Check out a video from SaturnoMovement, Tom Merrick, or Fitness FAQs, and you’ll see them go from a beautiful V-sit into a controlled press handstand.

I’m not that guy. Right now, my compressive strength and hamstring flexibility needs work. I’m working on it, but it’s not a main focus of my training (because I don’t have one).

What I’m here to tell you, though, is that this movement is not just FOR calisthenics athletes. Rather, this is a movement that anyone can benefit from. It’s easy to use anywhere, and it builds immense strength, mobility, and body control.

In this post, we will look at why you should l-sit, as well as HOW you should l-sit.

Why You Should L-Sit

So, what makes the l-sit such a fantastic movement?

L-Sit in Woods

First of all, it absolutely torches your abs. You might balk at this, given the absent range of motion, and the role of the hip flexors… but just give it a go. The l-sit is one of the absolute best ways to really feel the abs working and to bring out definition quickly. If you want to get a ripped six pack, the l-sit will get you there much faster than crunches ever could.

That’s because you’re working on compressive strength, here. That’s the ability to compress your core and to combat the resistance you’re facing from your antagonist muscles.

See also: Handstand Tips From a Learner – Unlock Handstands Fast!

This makes for a fantastic core exercise and to understand why, let’s consider the two different types of isometric strength. An isometric contraction means you’re contracting the muscle but not lengthening or shortening it – you’re just holding it in place. There are two ways this can happen:

  • In a yielding isometric, you create just the right amount of tension to hold something steady. For example, if you lift a dumbbell and hold it out in front of you, that would be a yielding isometric. Eventually, fatigue will kick in, and the weight will lower. But you are never using max strength, because you can always curl the weight up more.
  • In an overcoming isometric, the muscle doesn’t change length because it can’t: you are maxing out your strength. If you try and push a barbell off the rack but can’t lift it – but keep trying anyway – that would create an overcoming isometric contraction.

So, while the l-sit might look like a yielding isometric – simply holding the weight of your legs until they start to lower – it actually has shades of overcoming isometric: because you are actually trying to lift the legs as high as you can against the resistance provided by your own body.

Grant Stevens Stretching
Grant Stevens effortlessly demonstrating compression strength!

L-Sits for Performance

What’s more, is that this compressive strength will translate into far greater mobility and performance. In particular, this is a fundamental area to train if you want to perform moves like the press handstand. And it can generally improve your mobility, helping you to perform moves like the pancake, or even just kicking higher. Ultimately, mobility comes from both the ability to relax antagonist muscles AND your strength in the agonists. In other words, you can brute force your way through some movements as a result.  

Grant High Kick
Grant performing dynamic leg swings

But that’s not all that’s working during an l-sit: this is also a great choice for training straight-arm strength. This is your ability to keep the arms nicely locked out at the elbows against resistance before exerting strength through them. I’ve talked about this a lot, but it’s a missing aspect of strength for many people – even strength athletes – that can translate to bigger lifts, injury prevent (particularly preventing bicep tears during movements like the deadlift), and other cool moves like various planche progressions.

This is all before you start adding cool variations, like the v-sit, or l-sit to handstand.

How You Should L-Sit

To perform the l-sit, you should first lock out the arms and turn the pits of the elbows outward to drill into the ground. This is not strictly required, however it’s going to give you that added bonus of the straight arm strength and it will make life easier if you want to move into other cool movements like handstands. It also reduces the element of arm strength, which can otherwise be a limiting factor.

L-Sit Hold

Next, push through the shoulders by depressing them, while simultaneously lifting the legs. You want to keep the legs as straight as possible – so no bend in the knee – and point the toes at the same time. Of course, if you can’t do that right away, then just do what you can to begin with. But the reason we’re trying to keep the legs straight is not only for the aesthetics of the move, but also because we want to get the maximum stretch on the hamstrings.

Don’t just hold your legs in this position, focus on trying to get them higher.

The big tip from me, is to not just aim to hold your legs in this position, but to instead focus on trying to get them higher. By doing this, you make the move a much more intensive workout AND you

Can’t get your butt off the ground? Then you have two options: one is to hollow the shoulders by bringing them slightly forward and inward. Another option, is to raise your hands by supporting them with your thumb.

See also: Why Everyone Should do the Reverse Plank + Variations

It is possible that your torso could be too long and your arms too short, but it’s frankly unlikely. I used to think the same thing, until I improved my flexibility and my technique!

L-Sit Bioneer

Of course, if you need an easier progression, you can also hold yourself on a pair of parallettes, parallel bars, or blocks. Either way, you’ll be giving yourself more space off the ground to maneuver.

If you still can’t do it, then you’ll need some easier variations and progressions.

Easier Variations and Progressions

Tuck L-Sit

A common easier progression is the tuck-l-sit. For this, you’re just going to hold the same position, but with your legs tucked. This reduces the lever arm, as well as removing the hamstring stretch that can otherwise be a source of resistance.

Tuck L-Sit

Quasi L-Sit

Another option is simply to prop yourself up on dip bars and then lift the legs as much as you can, keeping them straight. This variation means you’re still training the same movement and you should see the position get straighter over time.

Assisted L-Sit

You can also prop yourself on your hands on the ground, with your heels still touching the floor. Or you can use bands to suspend your legs at the desired height.

Pike Pulse

Better is to focus on building up to the movement by developing the compressive strength and mobility independently. One of the best movements for achieving the former, is the pike pulse. Here, you will sit on the ground with your legs out straight in front of you, and your hands forward at around the level of the knee. Then you’re going to try and raise your legs as much as you can toward your chest, keeping them straight, and making sure not to cheat by rocking your body. Perform these for reps and you’ll feel the same muscles working.

Pike Pulses

Straddle Stretch on a Yoga Block

It is important to listen to your body with all these stretches and not run before you can walk. A great starting point is simply to sit in a straddle stretch position so that your legs are apart and you are leaning forward slightly. Try to avoid rounding the lower back in order to keep the focus on the hamstrings. As you get into more advanced pancake stretches, you will find that this is unavoidable. However, to begin with the aim should be to focus on the hamstrings.

A great trick here is to use a Yoga Wedge. Sit on this and it will elevate your buttocks slightly, reduce rounding in the lower back, and make the movement slightly easier. A cushion works too, but I like the yoga block as you can slide forward to reduce the incline and thereby progress into a deeper stretch. Yoga blocks have a surprising number of uses, in fact.

Find a position that’s comfortable and whack on the TV.

Elephant Walk

One of the best hamstring stretches I’ve seen recently, comes from the ATG Truth Group: the ATG elephant walk. Here, you get into essentially a downward dog position but bringing your hands closer to your feet and bending the knees to achieve this. The aim is then to straighten each leg out one at a time, contracting the quads to lock out the knee. As this becomes easier, you can bring your hands closer to your feet – until you’re able to fold in half and slap the floor from a standing position!

Elephant Walk

Leg Raises

Simply raising your legs up into an l-sit or v-sit position from hanging in front of you is an excellent way to build strength through a range of motion. This can also be performed from a hanging position or Roman chair.

Toes to bar is a variation where you bring your toes all the way up to the bar and then lower. Essentially, you end up in a hanging pike position.

Harder Variations and Progressions

Conversely, if you’re already able to do hold the l-sit for around 30 seconds, you can probably start exploring more challenging variations.

Weighted L-Sit

Yup, if you’re feeling like a masochist, there’s no reason not to try the l-sit with some added weight. A cool way to do this is by holding a medicine ball or light dumbbell between your feet or knees. This forces the working muscles to work harder, giving you the strength to get further into the position once you remove the weights.

V-Sits

Moving into the v-sit is the logical next step from the l-sit, but make no mistake: this is a big transition! V-sits require significantly more core strength, as well as greater flexibility. To get into this position, you will need to bring the hips forward slightly as you shift your weight back to compensate. You can optionally bend the arms slightly in order to achieve this, too.

Grant V-Sit
Grant doing a full-on V-Sit

The finished article looks amazing. It was made famous by Bruce Lee, of course, as one of his more impressive demonstrations of all-round athleticism. That said, Jackie Chan actually did it better in one of my favourite films of all time: Snake in Eagle’s Shadow.

I’m not there yet, but I’m more vertical than just an l-sit. It’s a work in progress! The best way to progress here, is simply to keep trying, keep holding your L-sits, work on your flexibility, and improve compression with pike pulses, elephant walks, and maybe a Jefferson curl and pancake stretch thrown in there. Finally, try hanging from the bars and swinging your legs up into v-sit, then controlling the eccentric portion of the move.

Easier progressions include the tuck v-sit – where you remain tucked but bring your hips forward as though you were v-sitting – and the straddle v-sit.

Bruce Lee v-sit

L-Sit to Handstand

Finally, the l-sit to handstand, or v-sit to handstand, is not only an extremely cool party trick, but it’s also a fantastic move to have in your training arsenal. This is a hybrid movement, meaning that you’re training two different moves with a transition between them. This means you get all the benefits of both exercises, and then some.

The key to a successful l-sit to handstand is the l-sit swing. You want to transition that momentum as your legs pass under you and into the handstand position. You should also avoid letting your elbows bend too much, as this will then make it much harder for you to straighten back up at the top. As you get stronger and more confident, you can turn this into more of a strength move, rather than relying on momentum. Now you’re training the core and shoulders through a massive range of motion, you’re building mobility, body awareness, balance, grip strength, straight arm strength, and more. All in one awesome move!

L-Sit to Handstand

To wrap up, then, the l-sit is a movement that can benefit nearly everyone. Whether you want head-high kicks and advanced calisthenics skills, whether you want amazing abs, or whether you just want to move freely and without pain. You can do it anywhere, it can adapt to any level, and it looks awesome!

Order your copy of SuperFunctional Training - A complete training program for body and mind.





ORDER HERE



Support the Bioneer at Patreon for Exclusive Content: Click Here!

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

One Comment

  1. Bryan Jenks says:

    Great tip i learned for starting L-sit strength was something I picked up when I coached gymnastics. They’re called compresses, or maybe that’s just what I call them. After typing this I re-read the article and see you call them pike-pulses 🤣️

    Sit in a pike on the floor, put your fingertips next to your knees and lift your legs like an L-sit with the focus being on the compression of the core to get the strength to hold them up in real L-Sits. Combining this with Ankle weights (I just lay them over the top of my feet) and doing drop sets is a quick way to build up some L-Sit core strength. One of my favorites. (2×7.5lb ankle weights, hold until almost failure, then quickly remove 1 of the weights, repeat, then remove the last, and hold at body weight as long as possible. 3 sets of the compressives drop set and man oh man).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *