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December 13, 2021 8 min read
Hanging leg raises are a great workout for your abs and hip flexors. No matter how effective they are, though, there will be times when a pull-up bar or captain’s chair aren’t available.
We’ve collected the 10 best hanging leg raise alternatives to help you add variety to your ab and leg day routines. Read on for a complete guide to hanging leg raises, variations, and alternatives.
Here are the steps to follow to perform hanging leg raises:
The hanging leg raise is a fairly simple exercise theoretically speaking, but getting the legs up as high as you need to requires an incredible amount of core strength and concentration.
One way to make this exercise a bit easier is to bend your knees during the leg raise phase.
Doing so allows you to increase the range of motion of your hip flexors while shortening the distance of the hip hinge.
Bear in mind that you don’t want to build up momentum even if that appears to make things easier - your torso can’t be swinging back and forth if you want to do this exercise with proper form. Besides, your abdominal muscles are under immense pressure during leg raises and you don’t want to rob yourself of ab gains by moving through it too quickly.
Some bodybuilders and weightlifters prefer to do captain’s chair leg raises. A captain’s chair is that machine with a straight back portion and two horizontal extensions on either side sporting vertical grips. The back support offered and the two horizontal bars underneath the arms give a bit more support during the exercise.
The main muscle targets of the hanging leg raise are these hip, thigh, and knee flexors. Other muscles you’re probably more familiar with act as stabilizers in this exercise, notably the rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscle), the obliques on the sides of your torso, and the quadriceps, which are located on the front of the thigh.
Unlike other abdominal exercises, the hanging leg raise targets your abs from below. It’s an isometric approach to building core strength in the lower abs, unlike crunches or sit-ups that target the abs isotonically from above.
If you bend the knees while performing these leg raises, your hamstrings will be activated. But keep in mind that while you will see some hamstring activation, the effects of hanging leg raises on other muscles will be reduced. So you’re better off finding other hamstring exercises if that’s your main goal and reserving this straight leg raise for your hip flexor and ab workout.
Hands down one of the best alternative exercises for people who don’t have pull-up bars or lack the core or grip strength to get through all the hanging leg raise reps they want to, the lying leg raise is essentially the same exercise performed in a prone position.
Follow these steps to perform the lying leg raise:
Some people prefer to do these one leg at a time. If you’re looking for the greatest challenge, lifting both legs at once from a raised bench is it. You can also add weight or a resistance band around your legs to make it even more difficult.
Lift your legs instead of your upper body so this classic core exercise targets the lower abs.
Here’s how to do it:
If you thought bodyweight exercises were automatically easy, try out this exercise popularized by martial arts master Bruce Lee. It’s a complete ab workout that also targets your shoulders, glutes, lower back, and hip flexors. This move is for advanced lifters - don’t be surprised if you can’t do one or can only do one.
If the dragon flags were too much, here’s a simpler bodyweight exercise that everyone can use in their workout or warm-up routine.
This might be one of the best all-around ab exercises for beginners and people looking for a good plank variation to target the abdominal muscles from a different direction.
Many gyms will have suspension straps. You might be familiar with the TRX suspension trainer already. If not, you can fashion your own DIY version with a couple of loop resistance bands and some ceiling hooks or high anchor points.
If leg straps are unavailable and you don’t have space to get enough tension in loop bands, you can do this exercise by placing your feet on a fitness ball in a push-up position and proceeding through the rest of the steps the same way.
This is a similar exercise to the last one except the goal isn’t to bring the knees in. Rather, you’re going to keep your legs straight and hinge your hips so that your butt sticks up in the air.
We already mentioned that the obliques are one of many stabilizers in the hanging leg lift. If you want to include that in your routine, we have two levels of this exercise that will get the job done.
The next entry is the more advanced version of this exercise.
If you still want to improve your grip strength, you can perform hanging oblique crunches with a pull-up bar.
This is a popular exercise for bodyweight routine and the warm-up and cooldown phase of a workout.
The hanging leg raise is so popular because it hits the abs from a different direction than other popular exercises like sit-ups. If you don’t have access to a pull-up bar, you can use the alternatives in this exercise guide to get a great lower ab, hip flexor, and oblique workout.
Even if you do have a pull-up bar handy, including these alternatives will add variety to your routine and keep your muscles from adapting to hanging leg raises.