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January 13, 2022 9 min read

If you are searching for a bodyweight exercise to add to your ab workout routine, leg lifts should be a top choice. Although they might look basic, they are great for tightening the abs. 

Leg lifts, also called leg raises, are fundamental low impact exercises. To get the most out of your leg lifts, here are some form tips and tricks to help you along the way.

What Are Leg Lifts?

Leg lifts are one of those basic staple ab exercises that work wonders on the upper body. It enhances core strength, improves hip mobility, enhances your flexibility, and increases your range of motion. For an exercise so low in impact, it provides significant advantages that many exercises would get you sweating for. 

At first look, leg lifts might look too simple to achieve any muscle contraction. Admittedly, raising and lowering your legs repeatedly does not look so promising; however, you are looking at it all wrong. If your abs are not fired up during leg lifts, you do it wrongly.

Leg lifts are somewhat of a reverse crunch strength-training exercise.

Leg lifts are designed to target the upper and lower abdominal wall muscles. It activates and strengthens them, improving core strength as you go. While your abs get most of the movement, your hip flexors, hams, and back muscles are not left out. Essentially, leg lifts fire up a range of significant muscle groups across your body. Although the basic leg lift exercise is done by unilaterally lifting your legs up and down, other variations involve moving your legs across other planes.

The muscles activated in each variation might vary with a slim difference, but your abs and core muscles remain the primarily engaged muscles. 

Study shows that  leg lifts activate abdominal muscles better when compared to other exercises. Besides their fantastic ability to target the ab muscles, what makes leg lifts stand out is their impact on the stabiliser muscles. Leg lifts are a great starting ground for other high-intensity, weighted exercises.

Muscles Worked During Leg Lifts

Like crunches and planks, Leg lifts focus on the stimulation and contraction of the abdominal wall. It covers a lot of ground in core tightening, providing a slim waistline.

Unlike these other exercises, however, leg lifts not only work the upper abdominal muscles but also target the lower abdominal muscles like the transverse abdominis, pyramidal, and rectus abdominis. 

Leg lifts help to achieve a toned six-pack.

It activates the rectus abdominis muscle, a band of visible abdominal muscles popularly known as the six-pack muscle.

Mass gains and strengthening of this muscle is not only aesthetically pleasing but also an improvement for weighted exercises in the gym. The leg lifts primarily target the core muscles. Core strength is a functional need evident in daily activities like standing, running, walking, and climbing the stairs. Core strength is also necessary for the gym for lifting heavily and even using treadmills. Core strength is enhanced by general engagement in exercises and even more specifically in exercises that engage the multifidus, obliques, erector spinae, diaphragm, and pelvic floor muscles, all of which are leg lifts involved.

Several exercises target the obliques, but leg lifts activate both the internal and external obliques. Since the obliques help pull the chest downwards and compress the abdominal cavity, it performs the critical task of keeping your torso stable. Obliques also help in the rotation of the torso, improving functional flexibility and mobility. 

The hip flexors and the muscles of the inner thighs help the movement during the leg lifts.

Hip lifts increase the hip flexor’s range of motion, enhancing its flexibility and increasing its mobility. Other than the contraction of your abdominal muscles, the leg lifts focus on rotating your legs as far as they will go. This hip movement also engages the adductors of the inner thighs that aid flexion. 

How To Do Leg Lifts

 

Although leg lifts are basic and easy to execute, you can execute them wrongly. Leg lift goes past simply lifting your legs. It involves the engagement of the core and a discipline that goes into holding proper form. Your ability to properly perform leg lifts hinges on your ability to hold proper form. Your form is not only crucial for the engagement of the correct muscle groups but also helps in keeping your muscles safe from stress and injuries. 

To do leg lifts properly:

  • Start by laying flat on your back.
  • Keep your arms at your sides and stretch out your legs, keeping them together.
  • Keep your spine straight and neck neutral. Your body should be a straight line from head to toe.
  • Brace your core and inhale.
  • Control your movement. Slowly and simultaneously lift both your legs.
  • Lift your legs as far as you can go without arching your back. At the peak of your movement, your legs should be at a 90-degree angle with the floor.
  • Without breaking the engagement of your core, pause at the top of this movement and exhale.
  • Inhale and slowly bring your legs to the ground, returning to the starting position.
  • This is one rep. Complete as many reps as you can fit in your set.

The key to perfectly performing the leg lift is to keep your lower back on the floor and to engage your core throughout the movement. If you are new to this routine, you will feel the burn of the workout in your abdominal wall.

If this intensity is too much on your back muscles, place your palms face down underneath your back. To crank your leg lift up a notch, do not lower your legs all the way. Stop once your leg hovers an inch off the floor before starting another rep. This will increase the intensity of the isolation of the ab muscles, resulting in better results.

Benefits Of Leg Lifts

Other than being an easy way to build your six-pack muscles, build a stronger back, and get a toned waistline, leg lifts are great for a lot of reasons. It is a functional movement and helps to strengthen other major muscle groups.

  • Stronger hips: Leg lifts help counteract the harmful effects on the hip and hip flexors that come from a sedentary lifestyle of sitting all day. Sitting all day leads to weaker, shorter and tighter hip flexors. Leg lifts help to stretch and strengthen the hip flexors. This is important because the hip flexors connect to and stabilise the pelvis and spine, enabling you to move in all directions without injuries. Leg lifts are also a favourite choice for the physical rehabilitation of the hips. Some modifications of leg lifts like  the opposite arm and left leg are one of the best exercises for older adults. Leg lifts are one of the most recommended exercises for hip injuries. 
  • Better posture: Leg lifts incorporate the core muscles, hip muscles, and back muscles, which are vital to the posture. These muscles, especially those of the core and lower back, are directly affiliated with the erector spinae, which is involved with the vertebral column. Leg lifts improve postures by strengthening these muscles, reducing the strain on them and correcting their tightness and placement. This goes a long way to easy posture-related back pain.
  • Increase flexibility and mobility: Leg Lifts increase the flexibility of the hips, thereby increasing your range of motion. This reduces the risk of injury during movements.
  • Toned thighs: the leg lifts you work your thigh adductors and abductors that run along the thighs. This helps to strengthen and tone them for a more fitted look.

Leg lifts are used for many things, including  the clinical evaluation of sciatica. They can be performed for various reasons regardless of your fitness level.

Leg Lift Variations

There are tons of leg lift variations and modifications to rev up or decrease the intensity of the basic leg lift. Each leg lift primarily engages the core but differs in the degree to which they engage supporting muscles. The best leg lift for you depends on your athleticism and fitness goals. 

Some of the best leg lift variations include:

1. Side Leg Lifts

     

    The side leg lift changes the plane of movement. Instead of moving your legs from top to bottom, you push your legs out laterally. Not only does this variation engage the ab muscles, but it also activates the muscles of the inner thighs, outer thighs, hips, and glutes. 

    The side leg lifts help to target the gluteus medius, the strongest and most overlooked backside muscle that helps in the stabilisation of the pelvis. It increases the range of motion in tight hip flexors, enhances your flexibility, activates minor muscles crucial to the movement, and improves muscle tolerance.

    To do the side leg lifts:

    • Lie straight on your right side.
    • Extend your legs and stack your feet on each other.
    • Fold your right arm, so it is at a 90-degree angle with the floor. Support your head on the palm of your hand.
    • Place your left palm in front of you for extra stability.
    • Inhale and engage your core by pulling in your abdomen.
    • Straighten your back and relax your knees.
    • Exhale and slowly raise your left leg towards the ceiling, keeping it straight all the way. Go as far as you can without feeling an uncomfortable tightness in your side.
    • Hold this position for a second.
    • Inhale and return your leg to the floor.
    • Perform a complete set before switching to your other side.

    Side leg raises can also be done standing by gripping sturdy support for balance.

    2. Bent Knee Lifts


    Bent knee lifts are a beginner-friendly leg lift variation. They are low-intensity as you keep your legs bent throughout the sets.

    To do this variation:

    • Lay on your back with your legs extended straight in front of you.
    • Keep your arms beside you with your palms face down.
    • Bend your knees at a 90-degree angle.
    • Keep your spine straight and neck neutral
    • Inhale and engage your core.
    • Exhale and lift your foot off the floor, driving your knees towards your head until your shins are parallel to the floor.
    • Hold this position for a second.
    • Inhale as you return your feet to the floor.

    To crank up the intensity, hover your feet a few centimetres off the floor after every rep.

    3. Weighted Leg Lift


    Weights increase the resistance of your leg lifts, increasing the activation of each muscle group. It works the lower and upper abdominal muscles, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, calves, and back muscles. 

    To do the weighted leg lifts:

    • Hold your choice of weighted equipment in between your feet. You can use sandbells, dumbbells, ankle weights, or medicine balls.
    •  Ensure you have a solid grip to avoid being hit in your face.
    • Lay on your back.
    • Keep your legs extended in a straight line in front of you.
    • Place your hand's palm down beside you.
    • Engage your core and squeeze your glutes.
    • Inhale and slowly lift your feet in sync.
    • Pause at the peak of the movement before slowly lowering your feet.
    • That is one repetition.

    4. Dip Bar Leg Lifts


    The dip bar or dip station leg lifts provide all the advantages of a basic leg lift with the added benefit of arm and grip strength. You perform the dip bar leg lift while suspended from a dip bar machine, using your body weight and gravity as a means of resistance. It is an advanced leg lift variation that focuses on the isolation and contraction of your abdominal muscles. The dip bar leg lift is easy to learn but requires an immense degree of arm strength and stability. Breathing technique is essential as breathing can be compromised during the leg raises.

    To do this variation:

    • Stand with your back to the dip station.
    • Back up and climb into the foot platform
    • Grip the handles of the machine.
    • Stabilise and raise yourself, suspending from the handles.
    • Keep your back straight, gaze forward, and chest proud.
    • Keep your legs together.
    • Engage your core, squeeze your glutes, and exhale.
    • Inhale and lift your legs in front of you. They should be straight and parallel to the floor
    • Pause for a second and exhale.
    • Lower your legs to the starting position and repeat.

    Dip bar leg lifts can be done as straight leg lifts, bent knee lifts, or bent knees to straight legs lift. This leg lift variation is an excellent exercise for shedding extra body fat.

    There are other variations like the hanging leg raises, scissors leg lifts, and unilateral raises that engage various muscles. Leg lifts can be modified to suit your fitness needs and goals without compromising the activation of your core muscles.

    Tips To Hold Form

    To hold proper form:

    • Keep your core engaged: Engaging your body would help you maintain better form and stimulate mass gain in your abdominal muscles.
    • Don't arch your back: Beginners' common mistake is reflexively lifting their back off the floor as they raise their legs. This is bad for the back muscles. When you feel back begin to rise, press it firmly into the floor.
    • Keep your legs together: Do not lift your legs separately unless the leg lift variation requires it. Keep your legs together, and toes pointed to the ceiling to engage your thigh muscles.
    • Practice proper breathing technique: The success of your leg lift also depends on your breathing technique. Do not hold your breath during your reps. This can engage your core wrongly and hasten must be fatigue. Exhale as you lift your legs and inhale as you lower your legs.
    • Move slowly: This would help you keep the proper muscles engaged. Mindless fast movements will swing your legs with zero muscle contraction.
    • Relax your neck: Do not strain your neck by lifting your neck every time you raise your legs. This can hurt your neck muscles. Keep your head on the floor and gaze at the ceiling at all times.
    • Warm up: Although it might not look like it does, the leg lifts takes its toll on your body. Warm-up with stretches to reduce the impact of this exercise on your muscles.

    Bottom Line

    Leg lifts are a simple, fun exercise that can be easily integrated into your ab day workout routines. There are various leg lift modifications for you to explore but regardless of your choice, ensure that you execute them in perfect form. This would enable you exploit the advantage of this workout. To help you on your quest for shredded abs and impressive core strength, here are some simple and rewarding  core exercises for you.