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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.

How to Do Hanging Leg Raises

 

Here are the steps to follow to perform hanging leg raises:

  1. Find a pull-up bar and grab hold of it with your hands shoulder-width apart or a bit further. 
  1. Hang off the bar with your arms fully extended. If the dead hang is too much for you when you first start out, you can use a raised platform. 
  1. Engage your core and lift both legs up until your upper and lower body make a 90° angle. 
  1. Slowly return your legs to the dead hang where you started. That’s one rep. 

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.

Muscles Worked in Hanging Leg Raises

    • Iliopsoas: You may never have heard of this muscle group but the iliopsoas is a main flexor of the thigh and has some power over rotating the leg joint in the hip socket. This is actually a small muscle group comprising three muscles that form part of the rear abdominal wall. One of these muscles, the psoas major, is an important vertical stabilizer for the spine while another, the iliacus, flexes the hip and trunk with help from the third muscle, the psoas minor.
    • Sartorius: This muscle lies on the surface of the inner thighs. Like the iliopsoas, it traverses two joints and powers their flexion. But the sartorius functions as a hip and knee flexor rather than a hip and thigh flexor. 
    • Other hip flexors: Additional hip flexors activated by the hanging leg raise include the tensor fasciae latae in the thigh, the rectus femoris in the quadriceps, and a few other hip and thigh muscles such as the pectineus, adductor longus, adductor brevis, and gracilis. 

      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.

      10 Best Hanging Leg Raise Alternative Exercises

        1. Lying Leg Raise

          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:

          • Find a flat bench to lie on or roll out the yoga mat if you’re going to perform these on the floor. 
          • Lie down on your back and make sure that your entire back is making contact with the ground. Keep it in that position for the whole exercise. 
          • Inhale and lift both legs straight in the air until your body forms a 90-degree angle. Move slowly to preserve the stretch in your abs and prevent form errors. 
          • Return to the starting position while you exhale. 

          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.

            2. Reverse Crunch


              Lift your legs instead of your upper body so this classic core exercise targets the lower abs.

              Here’s how to do it:

              • Lie on the ground with your back flat and raise both legs at once with both knees bent to 90 degrees. Both your hips and knees should be at a 90-degree angle.
              • Move your knees closer to your chest and get them in as close as possible. Make sure you move slowly because your lower back can start to curve if you overdo it. 
              • Return to the starting position to complete one repetition. 

                3. Dragon Flags

                   

                  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.

                  • Lie down on a bench or a short distance from a small horizontal bar. Grab hold of the bar or both sides of the bench. 
                  • Raise both legs off the ground without bending your knees. 
                  • Once your legs are a few inches off the ground, keep them going. You aren’t going to stop at 90 degrees here. The goal is to get your legs as close to your chest as possible. 
                  • When you get them as far as they’ll go, hold the position for a second or two.
                  • Return to the starting position and go into the next rep without letting your feet touch the ground.

                    4. V-Ups

                       

                      If the dragon flags were too much, here’s a simpler bodyweight exercise that everyone can use in their workout or warm-up routine.

                      • Lie flat on the ground and extend both arms past your head. Your whole body should be one straight horizontal line. 
                      • Lift both legs off the floor simultaneously while at the same time crunching with your abs. Try to get your arms to touch your toes.
                      • Keep in mind that you won’t touch your toes. If the bend is too much, you can bend your knees slightly. Once you’re as far into the crunch as you can go, return to the starting position.

                        5. Hollow Body Hold

                           

                          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.

                          • Start out lying on the ground with your arms fully extended. It’s the same starting position as the V-up in the last entry. 
                          • Now lift your arms off the ground while doing the same with both legs. You aren’t going to keep going - once you start to feel the strain on your core, stop. 
                          • Hold this position for as long as possible. Aim to build up enough strength to stay in this position for one minute. If you’re having trouble reaching one-minute,  FOCUSED-AF can help dial in your focus so when the exercise gets tough, you can eliminate the distractions your mind will throw at you.
                          • Try to get through a few sets of this minute-long hold with brief rests in between. If you want, you can hold onto a dumbbell or kettlebell to make it even more challenging. 

                            6. Suspension Strap Knee Tuck

                               

                              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.

                              • Put both feet into the straps and then turn over to get into a push-up position. Keep your wrists stacked, shoulders above the hands, wrists straight. 
                              • Instead of bending the elbows and hitting your pecs, you’re going to draw both knees into your chest. Your back might curve somewhat, but try and keep it to a minimum. 
                              • Extend your legs to complete one rep. Make sure your hips don’t start to drift as you continue through your repetitions. 

                              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.

                                7. Stability Ball Pikes


                                   

                                  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.

                                  • Get on your knees in front of a stability ball and place your palms flat on the ground. Next, kick out your feet and place them on top of the ball. 
                                  • Once you’re in the push-up position, engage your abs to lift your glutes toward the ceiling. To accomplish this, you’ll need to roll the ball forward with your legs until the tips of your toes are on it. 
                                  • Hold for a pause at the top of the move and then return to the starting position. 

                                    8. Oblique Crunches

                                       

                                      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.

                                      • Lie on the ground in a crunch position: soles of your feet flat on the ground, hands bridges behind your head, back touching the ground. 
                                      • Now let your legs fall to one side. This isn’t a side crunch where you’re completely on one side - keep your upper body in contact with the ground like you would with a normal crunch. 
                                      • Proceed to engage your core and lift your upper back off the ground, then return to the starting position to complete one rep. 

                                      The next entry is the more advanced version of this exercise.

                                        9. Hanging Oblique Crunches


                                           

                                          If you still want to improve your grip strength, you can perform hanging oblique crunches with a pull-up bar.

                                          • Grab onto the bar with a shoulder-width overhand grip like you would for a pull-up and then bend your knees to raise them. Simultaneously shift your legs out to one side to hit those obliques. 
                                          • Return to the starting position and then repeat the same process but move your legs out to the opposite side. Repeat and remember to do the same number of reps on each side. 

                                            10. Bicycle Kicks

                                              This is a popular exercise for bodyweight routine and the warm-up and cooldown phase of a workout.

                                              • Lie on the floor or a yoga mat with your hands flat at your sides and both soles of your feet flat.
                                              • Raise both legs into the air at more or less a 90-degree angle. Straighten out one leg while bringing the other knee toward your chest. These don’t have to be extreme movements. The goal is to have a fluid motion going. 
                                              • Count your reps by the number of times you complete a cycle with each leg. 

                                              Hanging Leg Raise Alternatives For Killer Abs

                                              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.