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January 13, 2022 9 min read

There are plenty of exercises that help to target and isolate the abdominal muscles for rock-hard six-pack abs. While some of these exercises include the moving of bulky gym weights, a great deal of them depends on the use of your body weight and gravity as a means of resistance.

Bodyweight exercises are as good as any weighted exercises for carving your abdominal muscles. One of such exercises is the hanging leg raise. Although it might look simple, the hanging leg raise packs a punch to your abdominal muscles.

What Is The Hanging Leg Raise?

The hanging leg raise is a big part of many bodybuilders’ bro-split. With a starting position that mimics the essential pull-up exercise, hanging leg raises help to isolate the core and challenge your abdominal muscles and hip flexors. This core-muscle training exercise helps activate the abdominal muscles, obliques, and even the quads as they are involved in the movement. While the conventional hanging leg raise is done by pulling yourself up, there are various versions of this exercise.

For many lifters, the hanging leg raise is a welcome change from the usual weighted exercise routines.

It is low-impact and can be done anywhere without being bothered by a fellow gym-goer about needing to work in at the bench press. However, just like any exercise, a lot can go wrong when it is done in poor form. This isometric exercise is not only great for toning your abs but also helps build muscle strength in your upper body, endurance, balance, and grip strength.

Muscles Activated In The Hanging Leg Raise

While you might consider the hanging leg raise a simple, ineffective exercise before trying it out, it is not as easy as you think. The hanging leg raise works and strengthens a range of muscle groups that are not only a functional part of your daily routine but are also a significant part of how well you perform in the gym. Given that core strength is a basic necessity for scaling other weighted exercises and lifting heavier in the gym, it is safe to say that the hanging leg raise is the best bet for getting your core prepared for more strenuous activities.

The hanging leg raise not only contracts the abdominal muscles but also requires a degree of hip flexion and extension. This not only provides you with toned abs and a smaller waistline but also strengthens your hip and glutes. One of the major muscles worked by the hanging leg raise is the iliopsoas. This muscle is also referred to as the joined iliacus and psoas muscles.

In basic terms, these muscles are charged with flexing and stabilizing your hips while you are standing erect, rising from a chair,  walking, jogging, or running. If you want to make your squats and lunges better, the hanging leg raise is an excellent place to start.

Since you are flexing your legs without support, the hanging leg raise also helps to target the rectus femoris.

The predominant muscle at the front of your thigh, the rectus femoris, is a quad muscle that jointly assists in the extension of the knee and flexion of the hip. Its action during hip flexion is equally aided by the tensor fascia latae, which is also activated during the leg raise. For the primary muscle activation, your abdominal muscle groups and obliques bear the brunt of your weight. 

Leg raises target the rectus abdominis, the most physical part of your abs, fondly termed the six-pack.

This muscle and your internal and external obliques are responsible for the toned and shredded look of your trunk and are activated at the peak of your hip flexion during leg raises. The hanging leg raise also engages accessory muscles like the adductor muscle groups, sartorius muscle, and the muscles in your supporting forearms, arms, and back. All in all, the hanging leg raise is an excellent upper body exercise that belongs to your workout routine.

The Hanging Leg Raise Is Great For You

Although it might include a limited range of motion, the hanging leg raise does its number on various muscles in the upper and lower body. Other than its primary function of increasing core strength, this exercise is also a great way to maintain balance, stability and increase your grip strength. The hanging leg raise helps to strengthen the wrist in preparation for weighted exercises and also improves shoulder flexibility and mobility.

It supports the lower back, helping to relieve back pain and reducing the risks of a back injury during workouts. The hanging leg raise also impacts the range of hip flexion. It increases hip mobility and flexibility while further reducing the risks of an injury during other activities.

Study shows that  leg raises are effective in pelvic posture correction.

Because most of the muscles that support the posture are found within the abdominal and pelvic area, it makes sense that hanging leg raises target these muscles and help maintain balance and improve posture.

It strengthens these muscles and reduces the strain placed on them by your body weight, reducing pain in the pelvic area. While the hanging leg raise by itself is not a belly fat-burning exercise, it helps to achieve a toned midsection when paired with the right exercises and fat-blasting moves, and combining these exercises with the  SHREDDED STACK is a recipe for consistent fat loss.

How To Do The Hanging Leg Raise

The beginning of the movement is the same as a pull-up, the exception being that with hanging leg raises, you suspend yourself on a bar and flex your hip, lifting your legs upwards, rather than pulling  yourself to the bar with your back and arms.

While this full-body exercise is a great way to achieve muscle strength, endurance and test your balance, you can only get these benefits when it is done in the proper form. The hanging leg raise goes past simply reaching your legs up. It requires a whole lot of concentration and consistency.

To do the hanging leg raise:

  1. Grasp a monkey bar, pull-up bar, chin-up bar, or any sturdy bar that can hold your weight.
  1. Hold the bar with an overhead pronated grip, and your hands shoulder-width apart, wider, or narrower depending on your preference. The most important thing is to be stable.
  1. Keep your legs straight down, chest forward, and spine neutral.
  1. Tuck your chin, inhale, and contract your abs.
  1. Shift your hip forward a bit and engage your shoulder blades by pulling them back.
  1. Keep your feet together and inhale
  1. Exhale as you bring your legs up, keeping them straight.
  1. Raise your legs until they are fully extended in front of you, and your body forms a 90-degree angle.
  1. Hold this position for a few seconds. Inhale as you lower your legs to starting position.
  1. This is one rep. Repeat for as many times as your set.

While this might not look like much, there is a lot of effort that goes into holding the proper form to achieve the best results. Thankfully, the hanging leg raise is a scalable exercise that can help you start small and raise your legs to a higher degree as you go.

Tips To Hold Proper Form

  • Stop using momentum: A common mistake made by amateurs is not taking slow and controlled drives but instead focusing on driving the legs up with momentum. Swinging your legs up not only does zero primary muscle engagement but also puts you at risk of a wrist injury. Instead of swinging your legs, focus on the contraction in your ab. Raise your legs slowly and lower them back down slowly.
  • Start small: The hanging leg raise can be demanding, so it is advisable to start small as a beginner. Instead of diving straight into the hanging leg workout, start small with the knee variation. This is the leg raise, but instead of raising your legs like a lever, you focus on your bent knees. From the starting position, keep both your feet together and hinge your knees forward into a 90-degree angle as if doing knee raises. Curl your flexed knees straight up while feeling your abs contract.
  • Hold your form: Keep the rest of your body still. Your legs should be the only part of you moving during hanging leg raises. Avoid leaning in under the weight of your body or rounding your spine to compensate for the concentric or eccentric movement. Most of your weight should be in your core and not your hips or back.
  • Get a good warm-up: Warm up before going all in. Participate in low-impact grip and core exercises that would help you loosen your muscles for flexibility and gain muscle strength. Suspending yourself is a great deal of work, so it might be good to practice static hanging where you suspend yourself from a bar. Engage in workout warm-ups that improve strength in the upper body, especially your arms and shoulders. Crunches are also a great way to prep your core muscles.
  • Focus on core engagement: When raising your legs past your navel, it is essential to keep your back straight. Giving in under the weight of your body would put more strain on your back muscles, leaving you sore or, worst still, injured. Focus on keeping your core engaged. This would help you remember to keep a straight spine throughout your reps.

The hanging leg raise is a daunting ab workout. Because it puts a lot of pressure on the hip flexors, it is not great for individuals recuperating from hip, shoulder, wrist, or other upper boy injuries.

Hanging Leg Raise Alternatives

There are different hanging leg raise variations, and with each upgrade, the isolation gets better. In order of difficulty, some of these variations you can try includes:

    1. Hanging Knee Twist

      This hanging leg raise with a twist is also a great core exercise. It primarily targets the lower abs and the internal and external obliques for a broader and stronger torso.

      To do this variation:

      • Start at the peak of the hanging knee raise. With your knees tucked almost to your chest
      • Keeping your spine straight and core tightened, slowly twist your knees to the left side. The rest of your body should remain still, and your gaze should remain forward.
      • Twist your knees to the starting center position.
      • With controlled movements, twist your knees to the right side.
      • Return to the starting position. This counts as one rep.
      • Perform as many repetitions as you can fit in a set. 

      For a low-impact version, lower your legs to the floor after each knee twist.

        2. Captain’s Chair Leg Raise

          This is a captain chair or Roman chair variation of hanging leg raises. The method is the same, except your forearms, are your support instead of your wrist.

          To do this variation:

          • Position yourself in the frame of the captain’s chair.
          • Rest your forearms on the padded armrest and grab the handle if there is one.
          • Ensure that you are stable, as putting pressure on your forearm wrongly can result in injuries.
          • Keep your back straight and your shoulders back.
          • Inhale to ensure maximum contraction of your ab muscles.
          • Raise and lower your legs as you would in the conventional hanging leg raise.

            3. Weighted Hanging Leg Raise

              The weighted hanging leg raise is a fantastic strength-training exercise. As if using your bodyweight doesn’t provide enough challenge, many powerlifters and bodybuilders resort to adding weights to hanging leg raises. This provides increased resistance that activates the muscles more, increases muscle mass, and results in a shredded torso in the long run.

              Depending on how adventurous you feel, you might opt to use weighted plates, medicine balls, ankle weights, and even dumbbells.

              Place your preferred weight between your straight legs and proceed with a conventional hanging leg raise. It is, however, essential to go with weights that will not compromise your form or result in injury.

                4. Single-Arm Hanging Leg Raise

                  This legendary hanging leg variation is not for everyone. While this calisthenics exercise focuses on the abdominal muscles, it also engages your forearms and hip flexors to a great extent. This variation exerts the shoulder and requires high muscle strength, stability and endurance.

                  To do the single-arm hanging leg raise:

                  • Hold the overhead bar with a neutral grip with your palm facing inwards.
                  • Stretch your free hand outward laterally to help with balance
                  • Inhale and engage your core muscles.
                  • Raise and lower your legs as you would in a conventional hanging leg raise. Steady yourself and avoid rocking your body.

                  This unilateral leg raise variation can be exhausting. For extra power bursts and muscle pumps to get you through your sets, taking  N.O.7 before you lift is a great idea. It's formulated to increase the production of nitric oxide in your muscles, in order to increase endurance during high-intensity workouts like this variation.

                  The Takeaway

                  Hanging leg raises are bound to take your core workouts to the next level.

                  Guaranteed to provide you with chiseled abs when paired with the right  ab exercises, this legendary exercise improves your core strength, hip mobility, and arm strength.

                  Start with a simple variation and work your way up to the problematic variations for a mind-blowing effect in no time.