Are Your Abs Actually Strong, or Are Your Hip Flexors Doing the Work?

Learn how to stop cheating your ab days by compensating with your hip flexors.

Do you find you feel your hip flexors more than your abs after a high volume day of toes-to-bars or sit-ups?

Or maybe you’re really good at kipping toes-to-bar, but strict ones elude you?

Chances are you’re hip flexor dominant, like many people, which means your hip flexors do more work than your abs. In other words, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your abs probably aren’t as strong as you think they are.

If this is you, it means that you end up flexing through the hips, as opposed to through the spine, during abdominal and core exercises. This prevents your rectus abdominis from fully contracting and getting strong, as your more developed, powerful hip flexors compensate and take over.

5 Exercises to Get Your Abs More Involved

1. Hamstring Activated Strict Sit-ups

One great way to get your abs more involved is by taking the hip flexors out of the equation. You can do this by activating the hamstring and glutes, which effectively deactivates the hip flexors.

  • Place a resistance band around a secure source. Set up as if you’re doing a sit-up and place the band behind your ankles, up against your Achilles.
  • Move away from where the band is anchored to ensure there’s a decent amount of tension on the band. You should immediately feel your hamstrings start to work.
  • Perform a slow sit-up without letting your bum lift off the floor.

You will likely find these way harder than your normal set of hip flexor dominant sit-ups. Focus on squeezing your abs as much as you can each rep and bending through the spine.

  • 3 sets of 10-20 hamstring activated sit-ups

2. Glute Activated Elevated Crunches

The idea here is once again to deactivate your hip flexors by activating, in this case, your glutes.

  • Lay on your back and place your feet on a bench or box, far enough away that the angle between your quads and shins is greater than 90 degrees.
  • Raise your hips and bum off the ground a couple inches and squeeze your butt cheeks together, thus activating your glutes and deactivating your hip flexors.
  • Move into some slow crunches, where you’re once again focusing on flexing through your spine. Make sure you keep your lower back on the ground.

These aren’t a particularly challenging exercise, but they’re a great way to promote the use of your abs, to help train your body what it feels like to use your abs instead of your hip flexors.

  • 3 sets of 20 crunches

3. Tempo Tuck-ups or V-ups

I have had clients who can rock out 20 easy looking V-sits, but the moment you get them to slow down, their movement deteriorates.

Try either tuck-ups or v-sits with @2222. This means, take two full seconds to fold your body up, hold for two seconds at the top, two seconds to unfold your body, and then hold for two seconds in a hollow body position at the bottom.

While you’re doing these, make sure your lower back stays completely glued to the ground at the hollow body position, with your pelvis tucked toward you.

  • 3 sets of 8-10 reps

4. Real Strict Toes to Bar

90 percent of athletes I see doing strict toes-to-bar aren’t doing them as strictly as they think they are. Often their heels go behind their hips at the bottom of the movement, which allows them to use a bit of a kip with their hips when they bring their toes to the bar.

Strict Toes to Bar Finish

  • To see how good you really are at strict toes-to-bar, place a box directly behind your heels, so it’s in line with your hips.
  • Then, at the bottom of the toe-to-bar, don’t let your heels touch the box. In this sense, your bottom position will now be a hollow body position with your toes slightly in front of your hips.
  • Focus on slowly lifting your legs to the bar without any momentum from your hips, crunching through your spine so you end up in spinal flexion.

If this is doable, try it with a @2222 tempo.

  • 3 sets of 4-10 reps

5. Hanging Leg Raise Holds

Hanging Leg Raises Start

  • Similar to the toes-to-bar, start in a hollow body position hanging from the bar.
  • Pull your knees toward your chest, again focusing on moving through your spine as you curl your knees up until your torso and thighs are at a 90 degree angle.

Hanging Leg Raise Holds

Hold this position and squeeze your abs hard.

  • 3 sets of 20-30-second hold