Are you looking to collect low-hanging fruit and expand your skill repertoire by another skill? Don’t look any further I got the right skill for you – the L-Sit!
I bet you’ve seen an L-Sit before, it is a common Calisthenics skill, having its roots in gymnastics. The great thing about this skill is that it is fairly quick to achieve, and it’s an early combination of strength and flexibility, as well as a core builder. Learning to L-Sit is essential if you look further down the road to handstand presses, a V-Sit, or compression work in general. Nonetheless, it is an often overlooked, early straight arm skill that many folks skip or substitute for other skills. While this is entirely dependent on your goals, in working with clients I found the L-Sit a valuable skill, especially to teach people the Ins and Outs of dedicated skill training.
I came in first contact with an L-Sit a year into general strength training when I was still lifting weights and looked for something else than boring crunches and the high-rep AthleanX-Style ab workouts.1 Fortunately, I stumbled about Antranik’s L-Sit guide and read through Al Kavadlo’s work – an early touchpoint with Calisthenics. That bodyweight-stuff raises a lot of questions – can you build muscle without weights and the like – which eventually got me a year later entirely into Calisthenics. So much on L-Sits from my site!
And that’s basically what we’re looking at in this post – how to achieve a solid L-Sit, strength, and flexibility-wise, plus I’ll share with you a template later on that you can easily incorporate in one of your training cycles.
As already briefly touched upon, the L-Sit is an intermediate skill that combines straight-arm pushing strength, with core compression strength, and pike flexibility. All 3 of those are needed to achieve the skill, and each of them will be a contributing factor to make the skill easier in the long run.
In gymnastics, the L-Sit is more of a resting or transitional position to press into a handstand or go through into other skills. However when starting to work an L-Sit it will likely be a very challenging position.
The beauty of adding this exercise into your schedule is that it teaches you to work on skills as this is what most of calisthenics is about. The L-Sit is best achieved with a combination of going through the progressions, specific straight-arm strength work, and building more general bent-arm strength. Most beginners will come from a lot of bent arm strength work (which is the right point to start at) and need to first learn what straight arm exercises feel like, they uniquely tax your connective tissue and the muscles surrounding the shoulder blades. That’s where the L-Sit as an early entry-level to straight arm work comes in handy after you’ve built your foundational strength.
The Anatomy of an L-Sit
Alright, now that we talked about the use of the L-Sit let’s get into detail and take a look at the exercise itself. As already stated, it is an intermediate straight-arm pushing skill, training your compression strength in an isometric position of roughly 90° in hip flexion. From the side, you’ll look like an L. That’s where the name comes from!
If we look at the movement patterns worked the L-Sit covers:
Developing all of those 3 will help you achieve the L-Sit quickly, and later on, make it a lot easier to hold. Plus, getting stronger at dips will also help you to progress faster:
At the beginning pushing strength will most likely be your limiting factor. That is simply a matter of building up strength and spending time in an L-Sit and repping out dips.
At the same time, the flexibility part is often overlooked – thing is the less resistance your hamstrings are providing in this position, the less work your hip flexors will need to overcome to keep your legs up at a 90° angle. Or said differently, the stiffer you are, the harder your hip flexors need to pull.
Train the L-Sit the right way!
What are the Benefits of learning the L-Sit?
Training the L-Sit is an early touchpoint with straight-arm exercises and dedicated skill work. Learning how to approach both is valuable to learn after you’ve laid a solid fundament of bent-arm strength and feel strong in the basic pushing and pulling movements.
Straight arm strength differs from bent arm strength in so far, that the locus of control and strain shifts from the muscles onto your shoulder blades and passive structures. This type of strain feels very foreign at first and many folks try to bend their arms – because that’s simply where their body feels the strongest. Needless to say that most skills are straight arm exercises – just think of a front lever or a handstand.
However, despite this technical stuff, the L-Sit will build a solid core,balances out excessive handstand work because you strengthen exactly the opposite movement pattern, and a strong triceps.
Combine Strength & Flexibility for quick Progress
Getting the L-Sit is a process of two facets – strength and flexibility. Plus, a bit of control is also needed. A common misconception is that you develop both fairly separate from each other, but in reality, there is a strong interplay between both of those and even other traits of human movement. As you get stronger, you will get more flexible and as you get more flexible you need to exert less force to hold the position.
Nonetheless, a bit of dedicated work on both sides, combined, is the best approach to quickly make progress. Let’s have a look at the best exercises to do so and afterwards on how to incorporate L-Sit work into your workout schedule throughout the week!
Building up Specific Strength
The L-Sit Progressions:
The first entry-level for the skill will be the Tuck L-Sit Hold. This L-Sit progression is the easiest to hold strength-wise and demands no pike flexibility because your legs are tucked in. With extended legs, the flexibility demand rises and the lever increases which makes holding the position harder. Manipulating the levers is often the most basic way to make exercises in calisthenics harder or easier to train on the level you’re currently at. Get comfortable with this position and focus on scapular depression, as well as using your hip flexors to tuck your legs in. Aim for ~30s before proceeding.
Next up are L-Sit Switches. Here you go dynamically into an L-Sit with one leg extended and the other still tucked in. This increases the lever and will most likely make you feel your hamstrings stretch. Start first with rather quick switches, later on the goal should be to hold each rep in a one-legged position for ~3s before continuing. Aim for 8-12r per side with a hold of 3s each before proceeding.
The last L-Sit progression is the Full One, the real deal. With drilling out switches you’ll like to have an easy time building up a ~10s L-Sit Hold. From there on progressing is quite linear and progress will come easier along. What I found here is that pike flexibility tremendously helps at this stage as it reduces the force needed to flex your legs by your hip flexors. That’s because a flexible posterior chain reduces the overall passive tension. More than that compression drills and a bit of planche work come in handy, too.
Specific Straight Arm Strength:
When starting out with learning how to L-Sit, I found these 3 exercises helpful in particular. All of them teach or drill you in different aspects.
The Scapular Pushdowns are a great tool to drill scapular depression when people first learn the L-Sit. It is the act of actively pulling your scaps down – the default position you want your shoulder blades in while in an L-Sit, although some protraction is also fine. I’d go for ~12 reps of 3s holds on each rep. When comfortable with this exercise it is also a great priming exercise to do the odd set of before your workout.
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Second comes the Reverse Plank to Seated Pike Slides. Horrible name, isn’t it? They’re an awesome exercise to build strength throughout this entire range. And don’t be fooled by their simpleness – they’re tough! Great about them is that they teach you to move from scapular retraction, through depression into protraction, mostly controlled with your shoulders. Plus, it is a nice compression exercise. That’s what I all bang-for-your-buck! Aim for 8-10 reps with a 3s hold in the compressed pike.
Last comes a fun one, the dynamic Parallel Bar Swigs. This gymnastic exercise uses momentum to help you spend a lot of time going from an L-Sit, or ever V-Sit, to a planche. What this does is simply teaching you to use momentum ad enables you to spend time in positions you yet can’t fully hold. Go for higher reps here – I’d go for ~20-30 reps per set.
Bent Arm Strength:
For bent-arm strength, the most helpful will be to get really strong with dips. Dips will build a strong chest, massive triceps and works your scapular depression, too. Sounds a lot like all the requirements for an L-Sit, right? Aim for 12 parallel bar dips, load them up with weight afterwards, or go for dips on rings to further challenge this movement.
Getting more Flexible will make it easier
Now that we got the strength part covered, let’s take a look at the other half of the medal – flexibility. While the earlier tuck version won’t require a lot of flexibility, the full L-Sit hold will definitely challenge most people’s posterior chain.
Even when comfortable, additional flexibility here will reduce your passive resistance. What that means is that your hamstrings won’t exert that much resistance towards your quads, which makes your quads’ life easier. They don’t need to create that much force to contract. Especially if you want to further go down the rabbit hole towards a V-Sit, a badass active & passive pike is mandatory.
The Jefferson Curl is great for many reasons. It is an exercise that loads and trains spinal flexion and extension, plus the pike at the very bottom. I found the J-Curl especially at the beginning very useful to get people into a deep pike while strengthening it and relieving them of back pain as a byproduct.
When starting first with this movement get comfortable with the articulation of the spine and just take a 5kg weight* or the barbell itself to get a feeling for the Jefferson Curl. Go slow and with intent, then you will avoid stupid injuries and rather strengthen your spine to withstand injury.
I’d aim for 5-8 reps with a 5-second hold on each rep at the bottom. Make sure to consciously flex your hip flexors and try to suck your pelvis in by doing so. When comfortable don’t fear loading this movement and going heavyish.
Besides the Jefferson Curl, passive and active pike flexibility will help you out big time. The best exercise to do so is the seated pike compression. But be warned they suck. To torture you even more I combined them into a quick circuit I love to do:
Pike Compressions (3×8-12r)
Pike Isometric (3x3rx10s)
Pike Hold (3x30s)
You start with active pike compressions. Once done you catch your breath and proceed with isometric holds, by lifting your legs up and holding them there – a great alternative here would be to put a heavy weightplate* onto your legs and push into the plate. Lastly, you simply sink deep into your pike and stay there while calming your breath. That’s it you suffered through – only two times to go.
How to incorporate L-Sit Training into your Routine!
Now that we talked about the exercises let’s see how you can incorporate L-Sit work into your workout schedule. I always dislike it when folks throw around exercises without instructions – it’s like if you’d be a car mechanic making a YouTube tutorial and only show the tools and parts needed without the actual practical work. Because that’s what exercises are – parts and tools to achieve a goal.
Alright lets start with talking about the question – how often should I train the L-Sit?
I’d recommend you training and incorporating L-Sit exercises 2 times a week. That should be plenty. Build them into your push or straight arm strength session, depending on the workout split you follow:
If the L-Sit is a big goal of yours it makes sense to solely train for it within one cycle for 4-8 weeks
If you’d like to rather achieve it on the go, get stronger in general, build compression strength and throw in a few sets of L-Sit Holds twice a week
Always train the skill itself first for around ~5 sets, train dips, compression drills afterwards and end your session with pike flexibility or incorporate the J-Curl within your leg day.
It might be useful to stretch your pike and before training your L-Sit
What follows after the L-Sit?
After you nailed the L-Sit and got comfortable in the 10-30s range the question arises where to look next. Depending on our goals L-Sit work and the following ones are a great addition to even out a lot of handstand work, as it these movements train exactly the opposite pattern and are quite useful to learn. Plus, depression and retraction work make for healthy and happy shoulders!
The next logical progressions, in no hierarchical order, are:
Antranik wrote a great post with many tips on these exercises here – check it out and the linked sources, if one of those sparks your interest, and you want to learn more about those amazing skills.
And with these few further recommendations, I want to end this post! I myself worked this year quite a bit on the V-Sit and Middle Split Hold in exchange for each cycle and can only say that this kind of work takes some time to get used to. Especially the Middle Split Hold with the palms facing backwards on the floor – these kill wrists for a living! The biggest benefit besides nailing an OK Middle Split Hold for 10s without dying is the effects on shoulder health – I can only wholeheartedly recommend anyone into handstands to balance his training with some kind of depression work and one pulling session a week. This not only helps you stay in balance and keep injuries at bay, I found it even beneficial for pushing strength itself.
Anyways, with this balance-rant we part ways for today. Thank you for staying with me down here!
In fact, I even bought one of Jeff Cavaliere’s programs, which was surprisingly good and really helped me from early on to avoid mistakes, train functional and get into the habit of working out. Props to the man Jeff Cavaliere here!