Stall bars do not only look very versatile. You can also use them in a variety of exercises that work a variety of muscles.
This ladder of horizontal bars, also known as stall bars, Swedish ladders, and wall bars, is mostly great for hanging exercises but you will also find a few other examples.
Something else to note is that some of the demonstration videos below will use other fitness equipment. However, the movements will be similar to the stall bar versions.
1. Hanging knee raises
This first exercise is the most beginner-friendly way to start increasing your core strength and muscle mass with stall bars. Take the following steps to do a hanging knee raise on a Swedish ladder:
- Stand in front of the stall bars with your back toward them, step on a low bar, point your arms up, and grab a ladder with your hand palms facing forward. In the rest of the article, this sequence will just be considered hanging from the Swedish ladder.
- Fold your legs and raise your thighs until they are about horizontal.
- Slowly raise your knees/hips to your chest as far as comfortable while keeping your legs at the same angle in relation to your hips.
- Lower your knees and hips again until you get in the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
By keeping your upper legs at the same angle in relation to your hips, hanging knees raises mainly work your abs.
At the same time, if you want to train your hip flexor muscles instead, your hips should stay in the same position.
Both can be helpful Swedish ladder exercises but the training effects are different.
2. Sideways knee raises
As the name implies, sideways knee raises are similar to the previous movement. However, by changing up your technique, you focus on different muscles. Take the following steps to do the exercise:
- Hang from the stall bars with your face away from them and hand palms pointing forward.
- Raise your upper legs until they are about horizontal. Let your lower legs hang down for now.
- Slowly raise your hips sideways to one side as far as comfortable.
- Return your hips to the position in step 2 in a controlled motion.
- Repeat the movement from step 3 but in the other direction.
What muscles you work in sideways knee raises is more straightforward than the previous version. More specifically, this exercise mainly works your oblique muscles on the sides of your core.
People who are more advanced when it comes to resistance training may find the bodyweight version too easy. If that is the case for you, you can wear ankle weights or clamp something like a dumbbell between your legs.
Pull-ups are typically done on a regular horizontal bar but you can also use stall bars. Take the following steps to do this exercise:
- Hang from the Swedish ladder with your face toward it and hand palms pointing forward.
- Slowly pull up your body until your chin reaches the ladder your hands are on.
- Lower your body back into the position of step 1 in a controlled motion.
Similar to the regular version, stall bar pull-ups mainly work your latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back), bicep, and forearm grip muscles.
Since this exercise is relatively hard, not everyone can do a pull-up. Luckily, stall bars are great for doing assisted and negative pull-ups.
In assisted pull-ups, you use either your legs or resistance bands to create upward force and relieve tension from your muscles.
Negative pull-ups involve stepping up on the ladder until your chin is at the height of the bar your hands are on and only implementing the downward part of the exercise. This works similar muscles in a different way.
4. Stall bar tricep extensions
The previous options all involved hanging from the stall bars. This next exercise uses the horizontal bars in a different way. Take the following steps to do a stall bar tricep extension:
- Stand in front of the stall bars and put your hands with your hand palms downward on a ladder around waist height.
- Step back with your feed and climb down with your hands until you reach the desired tension. Keep your body about straight from your shoulders to your heels and arms folded for now.
- Slowly stretch your arms.
- Return to the position in step 2 in a controlled motion.
As the name implies, this exercise mainly works your tricep (back upper arm) muscles. Additionally, you engage core muscles like your abs and obliques a nice amount.
Swedish ladders are great for standing tricep extensions because you can adjust the height of your hands precisely. This makes it easier to do the movement at a challenge level that is good for muscle growth and strength progress.
One downside of the bodyweight version is that stronger individuals may find it too easy. To avoid this, you can consider investing in a good weighted vest.
5. Hanging leg curls
Basically everyone will need some extra resistance to make this next exercise challenging enough.
Since your hands will hold the stall bars, you will need something like ankle weights or clamp a dumbbell or heavy backpack between your feet.
Once you have the right equipment, take the following steps to do a hanging leg curl:
- Hang from the wall bars with your face toward it and hand palms pointing forward. Clamp any weight between your feet if needed.
- Slowly fold your legs as far as comfortable. Keep your upper legs and the rest of your body in the same position.
- Return your lower legs to the position in step 1 in a controlled motion.
Hanging leg curls are another isolation exercise. This time, to work your hamstring (back thigh) muscles.
Since these muscles are relatively strong, you may find it challenging to find enough resistance for muscle growth and strength progress.
Stronger individuals can consider one of the more challenging hamstring stall bar exercises below called the Nordic hamstring curl.
6. Stall bar step-ups
Upper body muscles are typically the focus of Swedish bar exercises but step-ups focus on your leg muscles. Take the following steps to do the exercise:
- Stand in front of the stall bars and put your hands on a ladder that is as high as possible with your hand palms pointing forward.
- Put one foot on a ladder at about knee height.
- Slowly raise your body by stretching the leg of the foot that is in the air. You still hold the wall bar ladder but only to prevent yourself from falling back.
- Lower your body back to the ground in a controlled motion.
- Repeat the same number of repetitions with your other foot on a ladder.
If you have a different elevated surface like a plyo box or something similar, this is likely more convenient to use for step-ups.
That being said, the stall bar version will still work your quadriceps (front thigh), glutes (butt), and hamstrings (back thigh) a good amount.
Because all of your weight rests on one leg at a time, you could even see some muscle growth and strength progress with these step-ups.
At the same time, people more experienced with resistance training may need something like a weighted vest to challenge their muscles enough.
7. Calf raises
Take the following steps to do a stall bar calf raise:
- Hold the Swedish ladder and step on one of the lower bars. Make sure you lean on the bars with the front parts of your feet. Let your heels “hang” down as far as comfortable for now.
- Slowly raise your heels and in turn, your body as far as comfortable.
- Lower your heels again in a controlled motion. Wait a second or two before the next repetition to avoid using the bounce of your tendons instead of your muscles.
To do calf raises safely, you may need shoes with anti-slip soles and/or a stall ladder that is not too slippery.
That being said, when you can do them successfully, calf raises mainly work your calf muscles. You can do the one-legged version or wear a vest if the version above is too easy.
8. Hanging leg raises
Take the following steps to do a stall ladder hanging leg raise:
- Hang from the stall ladder with your face away from it and your hand palms pointing forward.
- Raise your hips as far as comfortable while keeping your leg slightly less than stretched and at the same angle in relation to your hips.
- Slowly lower your hips again into the position of step 1
The stall ladder knee raise exercise above may be too easy for your ab muscles but you may lack the equipment to make the movement harder.
Luckily, you can also use a Swedish ladder in a similar way but with stretched legs. Due to the laws of physics, this makes the movement harder.
Again, you can also only move your legs, not your hips, to work your hip flexor muscles instead of your abs.
9. Dead hang
This next exercise does not need an entire step-by-step walkthrough. Dead hangs simply involve hanging from a stall ladder bar for an extended period of time.
Most of the movements on this list will work your forearm grip muscles to at least some extent. However, in dead hangs, improving muscle endurance in this area becomes the main focus.
In turn, this can make daily activities like carrying grocery bags or a suitcase easier.
10. Human flag progression
The full human flag is an exercise where you hang sideways from a stall ladder with one hand on a higher bar, one hand on a lower bar, and your body in more or less a straight line from your shoulders to your feet.
This is a relatively advanced exercise so most beginners will not be able to do it yet.
However, even advanced lifters come from small beginnings. There are a few progression steps you can train with to prepare your body for the full version.
In the first progression, you position your hands similarly to the regular human flag but let your body hang down for now.
After that, you can gradually raise your body sideways with your knees tucked in and then gradually stretch your legs as you get stronger.
Something else to note is that you could see even faster progress in these human flag steps by doing more dynamic oblique, latissimus dorsi, and deltoid resistance training exercises separately.
11. Nordic hamstring curl
To do Nordic hamstring curls you preferably have a soft surface to lean on with your knees. Once you have that, take the following steps to do this exercise with a Swedish ladder:
- Put the soft pad in front of the Swedish ladder.
- Sit on your knees on the pad with your face away from the Swedish ladder and ankles anchored under the lowest horizontal bar. Keep your body in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders throughout the exercise.
- Slowly tilt your body forward. At some point, the pressure on your hamstrings will likely become too much and you will have to “let go” of the tension. Make sure you are prepared for this and catch the fall with your arms.
- Get back to the position of step 2.
As you get more aware of at what point your hamstring muscles fail, you can also consider doing Nordic hamstring curls back and forth to that point.
It is typically a good idea to do both the back-and-forth parts of the movement under tension.
If Nordic hamstring curls are too hard, you can also use resistance bands as assistance as in the walkthrough video, or start with the hanging leg curls above.
These movement alternatives train similar muscles but at an easier challenge level.
12. Stall bar dragon flag
The stall bar dragon flag is another advanced exercise so beginners will likely want to start with some of the previous options. That being said, take the following steps to do the dragon flag:
- Lie down in front of the stall bars with your head close to the lowest bar and the rest of your body pointing away. Hold the lowest bar with both of your hands and folded arms.
- Keep your body in a straight line as you slowly raise your feet, hips, and lower back off the ground as far as comfortable. The only part of your body that is still in contact with the ground is your upper back/shoulders.
- Lower your body back to the position in step 1 in a controlled motion.
This is definitely not an exercise you can only do with stall bars but the long ladders do give you a lot of room to comfortably hold on to during the movement.
The dragon flag works a variety of muscles including your latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back), abs, obliques, and hip flexors.
13. Toes to bar
If the focus of regular hanging leg raises is a bit too narrow for you, you can take it one step further with the toes to bar exercise. Take the following steps to do this movement on a Swedish ladder:
- Hang from the Swedish ladder with your face away from the bars and handpalms pointing forward.
- Move/swing your legs up until your toes are at the height of the bar you are holding. This movement will come from a combination of swinging your legs up, moving your hips up, and pulling your upper body up.
- Return your body back to starting position in a controlled motion.
The toes to bar is a relatively challenging exercise. Especially with the wall bars getting somewhat more in the way than a regular pull-up bar.
If you do manage to do the toes to bar successfully, this movement will work your hip flexors, ab muscles, obliques, latissimus dorsi, and forearm grip muscles.