This exercise targets the six-pack ab muscles with an extremely intense contraction.
The range of motion of the exercise is short but the tension on the abs is excellent.
For this exercise, you will need a bench or chair (a bench will work better) and a bar with adjustable height. This can be a regular Olympic bar on a power rack, a Smith Machine bar, or any other set-up you can think of.
Put a bench inside the rack. Set a bar on the racks at about forehead level when you're sitting on the bench. Sit on the bench and grasp it with an underhand grip. Your legs should be slightly bent with your butt and feet on the bench.
Pull your butt off the bench and raise your knees up into your chest. Hold your breath while doing this short movement to help stabilize the abs and improve the contraction.
The movement itself looks like the top bit of a hanging leg raise. Squeeze hard at the top then lower your legs and set yourself back down on the bench. Release all tension on the abs as you exhale then do another rep.
Note how the movement is started sitting on the bench. When you begin the movement, you lift yourself off the bench then raise the legs up as though finish off a hanging leg raise movement.
Be sure to sit yourself down on the bench between reps to completely release tension on the abs. Starting from zero tension with each rep results in a greater contraction at the start of the movement.
This exercise results in a very hard contraction in the abs for several reasons:
First, the position of the legs at the start of the rep is already near the maximum contracted position of the abs.
Second, your abs start the movement in a mechanical disadvantage because they are already shortened. This means they must work harder in order to achieve the contraction.
Third, releasing all the tension on the abs between reps means you dissipate all the elastic tension that the muscle normally builds up in a regular movement.
Put these three points together and you can see that the abs have to start from scratch at a mechanical disadvantage near their peak contracted position. The results: major burn!
Another advantage this exercise has over regular hanging leg raises is that it primarily targets the abs. Normally, when you do hanging leg raises, the first part of the movement involves a lot of hip flexor action. This variation starts the movement with the hip flexors already almost fully contracted. The tension in this position goes primarily to the abs.
Even better, this version greatly reduces stress on the lower back by eliminating the first part of the movement. Generally, pain in that area occurs due to the torque on the lower back as you raise your legs from hanging directly down to bringing them up about halfway. Skip that range of motion and you skip the pain.
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