The L-sit is a unique challenge of strength and flexibility. To achieve a rock-solid L-sit, you need the best of both worlds. Here’s how to get it.
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Before you start conquering the L-sit, you need to be comfortable with dips and planks. Although this is an intermediate skill, a proper L-sit requires a good amount of arm and core strength.
You should be able to do 10 consecutive bodyweight dips, as well as a solid 2 minute plank hold. This is not scientifically proven, but strongly recommended.
Side note on equipment: You don’t need any. I started out with just a chair or an edge of my bed. Then I played around with rings and parallel bars at the park. Eventually, I built myself some DIY PVC pipe parallettes (I found this short guide for measurements). Ultimately, you should be able to do them on the floor, which is a bit harder because you have no clearance under your legs. It’s fun to play around with different tools and it’s valuable to get comfortable with a variety of surfaces.
The progressions to incrementally increase your core and arm strength are very straight-forward. In the video below, I go from tucked to lower L-sit to half-tucked to full L-sit.
What we are using here is a fundamental principle of progressive bodyweight training: Shortening and lengthening the lever. The longer your legs are, the harder it is to hold that position. There are, however, some subtleties that you should keep in mind when practicing the L-sit.
First, understand what a proper L-sit is:
- Your butt should be directly under your shoulders, not behind. This engages your arms more (triceps and upper back) and is a bit harder on the core musculature, too. A good sign is when your arms are in parallel with your torso.
- Shoulders are down. No shrugging. If somebody cut away the picture below your waist, it should almost look like you’re standing there with neutral posture.
- Point your toes. I’m not a hundred percent sure why, but it really does help. Plus, it looks prettier 😉
A great way to ingrain these mechanics is to practice lying leg-raises while raising your butt off the floor.
Make an effort to follow these points even when you’re practicing the beginning steps. You may have to spend more time in each step this way, but it will still be faster than fixing a bad habit later on.
The progressions shown in the video collage are just examples. There is more than one way to skin this cat, but this is how I learned it.
Low Tucked Sit
I used dynamic movements in the videos. You can also practice static holds (more on this below under “Programming”). In the very beginning, you should spend some time getting acquainted with just statically supporting your bodyweight with your arms while keeping that nice neutral posture. In the video above, I simply crossed my legs because my parallettes are not high enough to leave my legs hanging.
From there, raise your knees so that you have 90-degree angles everywhere. Really work on keeping that posture while raising your knees.
The next step is to straighten the legs, but way lower than a “correct” L-sit. This way, you’re not fighting the tension from your hamstrings. The higher you point your toes, the harder it gets (you have to resist more tension coming from the hammies).
Once you’ve mastered this step, you can work on owning the tucked hold.
Now work on extending one leg (alternate between both legs).
Once you’ve mastered this, you can tackle the real deal.
Now, if somebody asked me if they should focus on strength or flexibility, my answer would be “yes”. You really need both, above average flexibility in hamstrings and lower back, as well as a decent amount of strength in your core and your arms.
So, when you rest in between sets (be it static holds or dynamic transitions), use that time productively: Work on your hamstring flexibility.
There are numerous stretches out there that get the job done. These are my favorites:
Side note: There is a simple but highly effective trick to static stretches. Start by going into the stretch gently. Breath through your belly (diaphragmatic breathing). With every inhale, use the strength of the opposing muscle group to actively increase the stretch. With every exhale, try to deeply relax while holding the stretch. With this method, I can go from barely touching my toes to pressing my palms into the ground in 2 minutes.
Simple but effective. Try to keep your legs as straight as possible. You can grab your toes or ankles to pull yourself (gently!) deeper into the stretch.
Same as the toe touch, but you’re sitting on the floor. Start with bent legs, grab your feet and push with your legs to straighten them out.
Pike Leg Lifts
It’s not a stretch, but this can be a helpful alternative progression worth mentioning.
Sit upright on the floor with your legs straight (harder than it sounds … try it). Put your hands to the sides of your knees and lift your legs up. Do not lean back. This gets harder the closer you put your hands to your feet.
This can work very effectively if you really don’t have an elevated surface that can support your weight: Do a hold for as long as you can (with good form) and immediately go into a forward fold. Rinse and repeat.
If you haven’t yet experienced cramping in your quads (muscles of the front thigh), this is the move that will probably deliver this sensation. This does not mean you have a magnesium sufficiency. Your quads simply need to adjust to the amount of tension they have to produce.
I highly recommend to always practice the hamstring stretches in between sets. It’s a win-win situation. Normally, I’m not a huge proponent of static stretching (increasing your end range of motion), because you should work on increasing the range of motion you are able to use actively.
Stretching is actually the wrong term. You’re not lengthening the muscle tissue. You’re teaching your body to “turn off” the muscle. You’re signaling it that it’s okay to not fire this muscle, that it’s safe.
Doing a stretch and immediately using that increased flexibility in a movement works wonders. Your body learns to simultaneously turn off the opposing muscles (hamstrings) while engaging the working muscle (quads, hip flexors, core). That’s what we want. Activation and deactivation of the right muscles at the right time. Motor control. Science. Boom.
You should be able to hold each position statically for 10 easy breaths (about 20-30 seconds) before moving on. “Easy” means your arms are not shaking like there’s an earthquake going on and you’re not making an ugly face.
Make it look easy.
I suggest counting your breaths rather than using a timer. It’s simpler (no stopwatch required), it forces you to actually breathe and you’ll immediately know when you’re about to lose control (breathing becomes really effin’ hard).
You can practice L-sits almost everyday as long as you’re not tackling other core-intensive skills such as the dragon flag. It’s also wise to go easy on pushing movements (dips, push-ups, presses, etc.) when you’re focusing on the L-sit. You’ll develop plenty of pushing strength with this move if you stay mindful of your form (shoulders down, butt forward). Doing 5 holds (of your current progression level) per session, with plenty of rest in between and never going to ugly-face-and-earthquake-arms-mode works well here.
This is where dynamic movements come into play: Every other practice session, do a dynamic transition from your current level to the next harder level. Do this for reps. 5 sets of 5 reps are a good start. Control the movement. Ideally, your upper body does not move. As you see in the video collage above, I don’t manage to do this for every rep. It’s hard. The important thing is to be aware of this tendency and fight it.
I found that alternating between dynamic moves and static holds is genius. Not only does it provide more training variety. It also prepares you for the next level and significantly shortened the time I needed to get to the full L-sit.
Eventually, practice L-sits on the floor. If you still need another challenge, do a V-sit (i.e. legs are lifted beyond 90 degrees) or try an L-sit on your finger tips (if you’re ready for it).
As always, be patient with yourself and respect the movement and your body. Remind yourself that progressing is about building strength. Performing an L-sit is a cool demonstration of strength. However, the time you invested in getting there is what made you that strong.
Photo credits: Sabine Adler and Sabrina Frank
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