Windshield Wipers – The Flashy, Functional Ab Exercise
Introducing The Windshield Wiper
You’ve probably seen them being performed in movies or fitness magazines before, the hanging windshield wiper.
This is an extremely ‘flashy’ (aka. everyone will stop what they’re doing to see what’s going on) abdominal exercise that builds immense core strength in the upper abs, lower abs and obliques thanks to the twisting motion.
The windshield wiper gets its name from the appearance of the exercise while being performed, while holding your body in position horizontally the goal is to rotate your torso from one side to the other (like a russian twist) while maintaining your horizontal position… your legs in essence resemble the window wipers on a car as you perform each rep.
The key to learning and performing the windshield wiper is to ensure you’ve built a relatively strong core first.
If you can’t do a set of straight leg hanging leg raises or hold a hanging V sit position for roughly 20 seconds you’re going to really struggle to even get your body into the correct starting position for your first set of the elusive windshield wipers.
Floor Wipers – A Simple Progression
Doing windshield wipers lying down will build the rotational core strength you need as a foundation. Lie on your back on the floor and raise your legs 90 degrees. Spread your arms straight out to your sides for support. Rotate your legs to one side, stopping short of touching the floor. Rotate to the other side. As you improve, bring your arms closer in to your body so they offer less stability.
Prerequisites For The Hanging Windshield Wiper
Before we delve directly into the hanging windshield wiper, ensure you’re able to comfortably perform the following…
NOTE: If you disregard these key exercises & skills and jump ahead you’re more than likely going to be compromising form as the movements will be unfamiliar and you may be lacking in core strength… resulting in not only a waste of time but also potentially injury. Do things the right way and master these to ensure your core and familiarity with the movements is up to scratch.
Hang from a pull-up bar for 30 seconds
Hanging leg raise (toes to bar) with straight legs x10
Hanging L sit – 20 seconds
Comfortably get into a hanging V sit position – with your legs as vertical as possible
Russian twists for 15 reps per side
Here’s a video of me performing the variations leading up to the hanging leg raise in the order that I learned them.
In order of demonstration….
Floor bent knee raise
Lay down on your back with your legs extended out in front of you.
Tense your core and bend your knees as you bring your legs up towards your chest – hold and squeeze for a second to feel the contraction before returning your legs to their extended position, do not let your legs touch the ground between reps.
Floor straight leg raise
Lay down on your back with your legs extended out in front of you.
Tense your core and keep your legs completely straight as you bring your legs up towards your chest – hold and squeeze for a second to feel the contraction before returning your legs to their extended position, do not let your legs touch the ground between reps.
Very similar to the previous variation however by eliminating the bend in the knee more tension is placed on the abdominal region.
Partial straight or bent leg raise
It’s time to take it to the bar!
Hold onto a horizontal bar (a pull-up bar, tree branch or piece of playground equipment) I think you’ll find a slightly wider grip to be easier as a beginner.
While keeping your core tight bend your knees and lift them up as high as possible.
Slowly lower your legs back down – the key to avoid swinging on the negative (downwards) portion of each rep is to consciously think about keeping your abs tight for the entire duration.
there is a big difference between the bent knee raises and the straight leg raises so ensure you’ve mastered the bent knee before you delve into these. By keeping your legs straight the amount of tension and demand placed on your core is vastly increased.
The key with this first variation of the straight leg raise is to simply get your legs to form the L shape, a 90 degree angle is the goal – there is no need to push beyond that yet.
The hanging L-sit is an isometric hold that builds great core strength – try holding these bad boys for 30 – 60 seconds at a time.
The hanging L-sit is exactly the same as the above variation, the hanging partial straight leg raise however you are going to hold yourself in the contracted L position for as long as possible – this principle here is focusing on time under tension (which is a form of progressive overload, essential for size and strength gains).
Hanging full range of motion leg raise
It’s time to get those toes to the bar!
Keep your legs dead straight while hanging from your horizontal bar while ensuring your core is tight and your elbows remain straight (there is to be no bending of the elbows) lift your legs up and continue past the 90 degree L variation until your feet touch the pull-up bar, if you look at the shape of your body in the fully contracted position of a complete range of motion hanging straight leg raise it would resemble that of the letter ‘V’.
This is the traditional hanging straight leg raise! Aim to perform 10 strict repetitions without any kipping or swinging before moving on. This here is the benchmark, the below are all just slightly more advanced variations to keep things interesting!
The hanging V-sit is an isometric hold that requires both immense core strength as well as hip and hamstring flexibility (as I mentioned in the tips section I advise stretching before tackling anything like this)
The hanging V-sit is exactly the same as the hanging full range of motion straight leg raise, During the V-sit however you are going to hold yourself in the contracted V position (aka. with your legs basically touching the pull-up bar) for as long as possible – this principle here is focusing on time under tension (which is a form of progressive overload, essential for size and strength gains).
Few people can hold these longer than a handful of seconds but I recommend practising the V-sit regularly, an impressive feat of core strength, flexibility and determination are required to pull these off.
Side To Side
The side to side leg raise is very similar to the full range of motion hanging leg raise however instead of lifting your legs directly in front of you for each rep the movement course for our legs alternates on each rep.
Aim for your left hand on the pull-up bar on the first rep
Aim for the middle of the bar (traditional leg raise style) on the second rep
Aim for your right hand on the pull-up bar on the third rep
Around The World
People quite often call this variation the window wiper, however in my books this is not a window wiper – I’m coining it the ‘around the world’ (IgnoreLimits patent pending..)
Grasp your pull-up bar and as you start to lift your straight legs up rotate at your hips and continue the movement from left to right for the first rep.
Pause and perform the following rep from right to left by simply rotating your hips again.
You’ll feel these in your obliques quite quickly! It took quite a while after I mastered the traditional straight leg hanging leg raise for me to get the hang of these.
Hanging Windshield Wipers
The grand daddy of all abdominal exercises, the (genuine) variation of the windshield wiper.
If you can pull these off you will be getting a lot of attention in the gym and you’ll be sporting a core forged of steel.
Assume a hanging V-sit position before rotating your hips from left to right – when starting out limit your range of motion and perform these nice and slow, this will allow you to get the hang of the pause and change in direction for each rep. As you begin to become comfortable and build up that core strength even further you’ll be able to exaggerate your range of motion and increase the speed of each repetition.