Is the L-Pull-up the Most Bang for Your Buck Chin-up Variation?

I first discovered the l-pull up while working out in my neighborhood in my teens. The father of one of my buddies was cranking out 15-20 reps of this pullup variation where he was sticking his legs in front of him instead of letting them hang loosely.

And let me tell you, the guy was built! He told us stories of doing handstand walks around the block when he was our age. Even now, some 10-15 years later, the guy is still in kick ass shape.

It took me a while to get a hang of these but it was worth it. Various L-position holds, like the ones described in the new Convict Conditioning 2 give your abs a run for their money. In, fact, I think the l-pull up covers probably half of your body’s muscles. Talk about being efficient. Another reason I like these pullups is that you can’t cheat or kip with them. It’s a move that demands total control of your body.

What’s the L-Pull up

The l-pullup,a variation where you stick out your legs in front of you so that your body forms an L, is so efficient because there is constant tension on the abs. Because the primary function of the core and abdominal muscles is stabilization – i.e. prevention of movement, the best way to train them is with various holds.

The trick is to try to control the swinging of your body which is caused by the displaced center of gravity. The l-pull up taxes both the top and the bottom of your abdominal muscles. So both the six pack (rectus abdominis) and the internal and external obliques (v-cut or lower abs) get trained.

The reason for this is that your torso pulls down on the sternum (this works the sixpack – rectus abdominis) while the legs pull down on the external obliques and hip flexors (so you get a lower ab workout too.

How to Master the L-Pull-up

The basic technique is simple. You hang from a pullup bar, raise your legs to 90 degrees and then pull up with your lats.

I suggest not going all the way down initially until you build strength and learn to keep your balance because relaxing the shoulders will make the move infinitely harder. Here are a few increasingly harder l-pull-up variations

  • Bend knee l-pull-up This is the easiest version as it pretty much eliminates ab strength
  • One bent knee l pull up. Keep one leg straight and one leg bent. Make sure to work both legs
  • Straight leg l –ull-up. The real deal.
  • l-pull-up with a weighted vest/ If you’ve got access to a weighted vest, it will make a world of difference in your training.
  • l pull up with ankle weights or a light dumbbell held between the feet. Now this is for people who are hungry for punishment. Because of the long lever of the legs, even a light ankle weight or dumbbell will seem like a lot.

L-pull-up Video

Here’s a video of the L-pull up we shot in 2010. These bad boys are still tough for me. As with all bodyweight exercise, the fastest and easiest way to get better at them is to… lose weight!

Yes, carrying excess weight and trying to master body weight exercises is a backwards approach

L-Pull-up Action Plan

Here are a few ideas for your l-pull up workout. At this point in my training I think it’s a good idea to switch pull up variations once every 3 to 6 weeks. So for example you can work up to 20 pullups in one variation and then switch to another, very dissimilar one. Say wide grip pullups then close grip chin ups. Same for l-pull-ups. Focus on them for a while and then drop them for something else.

I wanted to end the article with a pic of Bruce Lee (above), descending in a l-pull up position down a rope in the outstanding 1973 movie Enter the Dragon.

Pullup by Emilien

16 thoughts on “Is the L-Pull-up the Most Bang for Your Buck Chin-up Variation?”

  1. Mike, I’m sure you’re gonna have an easy time with these cause you are in shape, so you don’t have excess weight to weigh you down.

    Regarding tug toners – nope 🙂 But I have a door pull up bar on my wish list 🙂

  2. Quick Comment: Since CC1 came out a number of people have been doing pull ups with cantilever door pull up bars. Nothing wrong with that. But, we are seeing a number of these bars fail with people >160 lbs and or using doors >32″ wide. Its not fun having any apparatus fail. Please use caution.

    One of the reasons the US Army did not include pull ups in their new PFT was availability of safe apparatus and conditions.

    I still think pull ups are great just play safe.

  3. Yavor,

    I actually have to do L-Pull-ups out of necessity. At home I do my pull-ups from a bar on my squat rack. Obviously my feet touch the ground so I started doing L-Pull-ups. Thanks for the explanation on the benefits of them.


  4. Frank, that’s my friend and colleague Vasko. He is very athletic and strong. A gifted athlete and also a very intelligent coach.

  5. Yavor, this is a killer looking exercise. It basically combines the chin up and hanging leg raise all-into-one. I’ll be honest, I can’t do it yet, but it is definitely now one of my fitness goals for 2012.

  6. today i did uneven pullups with both my hands twice out of the blue….. SO HAPPY. just a question. wen i hang with one hand my body rotates….y is that ? also where shud i upload my video ?

  7. Harsh it rotates because of the uneven weight. As for the video – upload it to youtube and post a link here.

  8. I think it would be pretty tough. Increase the difficulty gradually. Example:

    -L- pullups
    -towel L-pullups
    =weighted towel L-pullups

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