3 Best Ab Workouts On Pull Up Bar (Complete List of Exercises)

the 10 best ab exercises on the pull up bar

Ab training on a pull up bar is a very common and accessible way to train the abs and obliques.

To train the abs on a pull up bar, you need to make sure you: 

  • Train the abdominals with a variety of knee and leg raises 
  • Train the obliques with twists or lifts to the sides of the body
  • Make sure you have sufficient grip strength to not have your grip be a limiting factor 

To do this, you want a workout plan that can target all of the above requirements, and also progress you over time with more advanced hanging ab exercise variations

In previous articles we have related topics like 30-Minute Outdoor Ab Workout and The Best Ab Exercises to Do with Resistance Bands.

But, we have yet to discuss how to build stronger abs and obliques using a pull up bar.

In this article we will discuss how to build stronger abs using a pull up bar, and share with you ten of the most beneficial ab exercises you can do on a pull up bar. 

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Who Should Be Training Abs On The Pull-Up Bar?

The great thing about training abs on the pull up bar is that they have a relatively low barrier to entry. 

Training abs on the pull up bar can be beneficial for any individual looking to develop a stronger core. Both beginners and advanced liters alike can benefit from performing them, however, there are some basic prerequisites that are required to get started.

Beginners

The only prerequisite for performing hanging ab exercises on the pull up bar is that a beginner should have enough grip strength and endurance to be able to hang from a pull up bar for at least 45 seconds. If grip strength and endurance is not developed, the overall effectiveness of the ab training on the pull up bar will be compromised. 

Advanced Lifters

In addition to having grip strength and endurance, the advanced lifter should have the ability to perform the first five exercises on the list below with good technique and for higher reps. If they can do this, they should have the ability to progress with more advanced exercises.

Is Training Your Abs on The Pull Up Bar Effective?

Training your abs on the pull up bar is an effective way to build stronger abs, and can be just as effective as floor based exercise or exercises with added load.

As discussed above, training your abs on the pull up bar does require grip strength and endurance, which may be a limiting factor for some individuals. If this is the case, they often will not be able to train the abs to failure as needed to have an effective workout due to lack of grip strength. 


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10 Ab Exercises On The Pull Up Bar

The 10 best ab exercises on the pull up bar are: 

  • Hanging Knee Raise
  • Hanging Single Knee Raise
  • Hanging Knee Raise Twist
  • Hanging Leg Raise
  • Hanging Alternating Single Leg Raise
  • Hanging Knee Tuck (Isometric Hold)
  • Hanging Leg Lift (Isometric Hold)
  • Knees to Elbows
  • Toes to Bar
  • Hanging Around the World

1. Hanging Knee Raise

The hanging knee raise is an entry level ab exercise that has you lift your knees upwards to hip height while hanging from the pull up bar. This is an effective exercise for the lower abs.

By pulling the knees up higher, you can also target the upper abs. This is a foundational pull up bar ab exercise that can be progressed via loading, or more advanced hanging ab variations. 

How To Do It

  • Start by taking a shoulder width grip on a pull up bar, and hang so that your arms are strength, shoulder blades are together, and head is between arms
  • With your feet together, lift the knees upwards until the top of the thigh are parallel to the floor, or higher
  • Hold at the top briefly, then lower slowly
  • Make sure you legs do not swing backwards on the way down

Pro-Tip

The hanging knee raise can be done in any rep range, however if you find you are doing a ton of reps and your grip is failing before the abs, progress this exercise with loading or choose a more advanced variation.

2. Hanging Single Knee Raise

The hanging single knee raise is a regressed version of the hanging knee raise, and can be helpful for individuals who are not strong enough to lift both legs at once.

By lifting one left at a time, you decrease the overall amount of loading placed on the abs (one leg instead of two).

How To Do It

  • Start by taking a shoulder width grip on a pull up bar, and hang so that your arms are strength, shoulder blades are together, and head is between arms
  • With your feet together, lift one of your knees upwards until the top of the thigh are parallel to the floor, or higher
  • Leave the other leg down, keeping it straight as possible
  • Hold at lifted knee at the top briefly, then lower slowly
  • Make sure you legs do not swing backwards on the way down
  • Repeat with the other knee, making sure to lift it to hip level, and keep the other leg extended below you

Pro-Tip

The single knee hanging knee raise will often increase the time you are hanging from the barbell (since you will need to do double reps to accumulate the same volume you would when doing the double knee raise variation). This can be an issue for those who have weaker grips. You can also do this lying on the floor to build up enough strength to do the regular hanging knee raise variation.

3. Hanging Knee Raise Twist

This is done like the hanging knee raise, however the knees are raised to the side of the body on one rep, then pulled up to the other side of the body on the next rep. This alternating knee raise twist trains the lower abs as well as the obliques.

This is a great way to include oblique training into the hanging knee raise, and allows the lifter to often get a better contraction of the entire core due to increased range of motion. 

How To Do It

  • Start by taking a shoulder width grip on a pull up bar, and hang so that your arms are strength, shoulder blades are together, and head is between arms
  • With your feet together, lift the knees upwards towards one side of the body, lifting them as high as you 
  • Hold at the top briefly, then lower slowly
  • Make sure you legs do not swing backwards on the way down
  • Lift the knees to the other side of the body, hold, lower, and repeat this process for prescribed reps

Pro-Tip

With the knees tucked up on the side of the body, think about performing a side crunch. You will be able to get a great muscle contraction of the obliques. 

4. Hanging Leg Raise

The hanging leg raise is done the same way as the hanging knee raise, with the exception that the knees are straight and the fully extended legs are lifted together, straight out in front of the body.

By keeping your knees straight and lifting them forward in front of your body, you increase the amount of loading placed on the abs.

How To Do It

  • Start by taking a shoulder width grip on a pull up bar, and hang so that your arms are strength, shoulder blades are together, and head is between arms
  • With your feet together, lift both legs upwards in front of you
  • Try to keep your knees as straight as possible
  • The higher you lift your legs, the harder this gets
  • Hold at the top briefly, then lower slowly
  • Make sure you legs do not swing backwards on the way down

Pro-Tip

Hamstring flexibility may limit some individuals from being able to keep their legs straight as they lift them. If this is the case, a slight knee bend is acceptable, as long as the amount of knee flexion (bending) is consistent across all sets.

5. Hanging Alternating Single Leg Raise

The hanging alternating single leg raise is done similarly to the hanging knee raise, however instead of lifting both legs at the same time, one leg is lifting while the other stays down, and then this is alternated.

By alternating which leg is lifted, you decrease the amount of load placed on the abs at once, making this a great way to regress the double leg raise.

How To Do It

  • Start by taking a shoulder width grip on a pull up bar, and hang so that your arms are strength, shoulder blades are together, and head is between arms
  • With your feet together, lift one fully extended leg upwards in front of you, leaving the other leg down
  • Hold at the top briefly, then lower slowly
  • Make sure you legs do not swing backwards on the way down
  • Lift the other leg upwards in front of you, alternating like this for the remainder of the set

Pro-Tip

When doing this exercise, be sure to keep the lower back flat and to not allow the lower back to round excessively at the top. This is common since most lifters will try to lift a single leg higher in the air than a double leg. 

6. Hanging Knee Tuck (Isometric Hold)

The hanging knee tuck is an isometric exercise that can be a great way to increase general ab strength and hip flexor health. This can also be a good exercise for beginners looking to get better at the knee raise variations.

By performing the knee tuck, you can build up the isometric strength necessary to perform more advanced hanging ab exercises.

How To Do It

  • Start by taking a shoulder width grip on a pull up bar, and hang so that your arms are strength, shoulder blades are together, and head is between arms
  • With your feet together, lift the knees upwards until the top of the thigh are parallel to the floor, or higher
  • Hold the knees at that height for the predetermined amount of time, like you would during a core plank
  • When are have completed this exercise for time, lower the legs and you are done

Pro-Tip

This is a great way to overload the knee raise, in which you could hold a dumbbell or medicine ball between the legs. You can also have a partner push down on the tops of your thighs/knees to add manual resistance to this isometric exercise. 

7. Hanging Leg Lift (Isometric Hold)

This is a more advanced isometric exercise than the hanging knee tuck, and places more muscular demands on the hip flexors, lower abs, and quadriceps (to keep the legs lifted and knees straight).

By masting this isometric leg lift, you will unlock more advanced hanging ab exercises like “L-sits” and the other variations below.

How To Do It

  • Start by taking a shoulder width grip on a pull up bar, and hang so that your arms are strength, shoulder blades are together, and head is between arms
  • With your feet together, lift both legs upwards in front of you
  • Try to keep your knees as straight as possible
  • Lift your legs up so that the top of the thighs are parallel to the floor
  • Hold this position for the predetermined amount of time
  • When you have held for the prescribed time amount, lower the legs

Pro-Tip

Lift the legs as if they were one, making sure to press the legs together, straighten the knees, and point the toes out in front of you. This will allow you to use leg muscles to aid in the movement.

8. Knees to Elbows

The knees to elbows is a regressed version of the toes to bar, and a very similar movement to the standar hanging knee raise. The knees to elbows requires the lifter to pull the knees upwards to the elbows.

This can be one using body momentum or strict, and should be done to build up technique for the toes to bar variation.

How To Do It

  • Start by taking a shoulder width grip on a pull up bar, and hang so that your arms are strength, shoulder blades are together, and head is between arms
  • With your feet together, lift both knees upwards to your armpits, allowing the legs to separate at the top to allow your torso to be in the middle of the at the top
  • Push the legs downwards to go into the next repetition cycle
  • You want to try to perform these in succession, and establish some rhythm and momentum
  • Your body may want to sway under the bar, which is acceptable
  • If you want to time this sway better, pull your head backwards as you pull the knees upwards, and push you heard forwards (looking down at floor) as you push your legs down

Pro-Tip

This is a common movement seen in gymnastics and bar training in Crossfit style workouts. You can add a kipping movement to this to have better efficiency.

9. Toes to Bar

The toes to bar is a more advanced version of the hanging leg raise and the elbows to knee. In this ab exercise, you will lift your toes all the way up to the pull up bar. 

By taking your legs to the pull up bar, you drastically increase the range of motion of the movement, and train the lower and upper abs, as well as the obliques and serratus muscles. 

How To Do It

  • Start by taking a shoulder width grip on a pull up bar, and hang so that your arms are strength, shoulder blades are together, and head is between arms
  • With your feet together, lift both legs upwards, either keeping your knees straight or letting them bend (like a hanging knee raise)
  • As your legs get to about hip level, lean back and flick your toes towards the bar
  • When lowering, push you head forward and pull the legs straight down to the floor 
  • You want to try to perform these in succession, and establish some rhythm and momentum
  • If you want to time this sway better, pull your head backwards as you pull the knees upwards, and push you heard forwards (looking down at floor) as you push your legs down

Pro-Tip

The toes to bar can be done with momentum (a kipping motion) or strictly. If you are performing these for higher reps, and often in a competitive fitness situation, you will want to use a kipping motion to increase the efficiency of the movement. 

10. Hanging Around the World

The hanging Around the World is an advanced ab exercise done while hanging, and involves lifting straight legs upwards on an angle, then overhead, and then lowering them on a downward angles on the other side of the body

It is called “around the world” because the legs are lifted and go in a circle motion like the hands on a clock.

How To Do It

  • Start by taking a shoulder width grip on a pull up bar, and hang so that your arms are strength, shoulder blades are together, and head is between arms
  • With your feet together, make a mental note that the foot position is like the hands on a clock, with the feet being at 6pm 
  • Lift the legs in either clockwise or counterclockwise direction, in a circular motion, making sure to keep the legs straight and knees together
  • When your legs go all the way around, reverse the circular motion and go back the other way to train the other side of the body

Pro-Tip

This is a tough exercise, and requires constant tension. Press the legs together and try not to swing too much, as this will make it harder to control the legs and body.


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3 Ab Routines On Pull Up Bar

ab routines on pull up bar

Here are three sample workouts you can do on the pull up bar to train the abs. 

Each workout is built for a specific level of lifter. Make sure to review the prerequisites for any of these workouts in the above sections.

Pull Up Bar Ab Workout #1 – Beginner

This workout is geared for beginners, which have a foundational amount of grip strength (can hang from a bar for at least 45 seconds). If they cannot perform high rep sets due to limited grip strength, you can use wrist straps to aid in grip strength during longer sets or do these movements from the floor (lying on your back).

  • Hanging Knee Tuck: 4 sets of 20-30 seconds. Use straps if you find it difficult to hold onto the bar, and focus on keeping your thighs together
  • Hanging Single Knee Raise: 3 sets of 8-12 reps per side. Focus on doing these slowly, and hold the knee at the top
  • Side Crunch: 3 sets of 15-20 reps. This is not an exercise done on the pull up bar. At this stage of the workout your grip will be limiting you from doing more reps, which is exactly what we need (more reps) to finish off the abs and obliques

Pull Up Bar Ab Workout #2 – Intermediate

This is a complete core workout that requires grip strength and an intermative level of hanging ab exercise experience. These workouts started with isometric knee tucks, and then progressed into toes to bar and hanging knee twists to increase on the obliques.

  • Hanging Knee Tuck: 4 sets of 20-30 seconds. Use straps if you find it difficult to hold onto the bar, and focus on keeping your thighs together 
  • Toes to Bar: 3 sets, as many reps as you can do with straight knees, directly into as many reps as you can do with knee bending and then extending to the bar at the top. By using both styles of toes to bar, you can train the abs to complete failure.
  • Hanging Knee Raise Twist: 3 sets of 20-30 total raises. By doing the knee raises to the sides, you can decrease the amount of loading on the abs, and increase the training volume on the obliques.

Pull Up Bar Ab Workout #3 – Advanced

This advanced ab workout requires upper body, grip, and serious core strength. The workout starts with an isometric exercise done as long as you can to pre-fatigue the muscles. The second and third exercises should be done back to back to maximize muscle damage. 

  • Hanging Knee Tuck: 4 sets of 20-30 seconds. Use straps if you find it difficult to hold onto the bar, and focus on keeping your thighs together 
  • Hanging Around the World: 4 sets, as many reps as you can get, making sure to alternate direction every rep of the set
  • Hanging Knee Raise Twists: 4 sets, as many as you can get (perform these immediately after the Around the Worlds). You can do these alternating as well.

About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.