How to Do Leg Raises the Right Way

Jake Boly, C.S.C.S.
·4 min read

From Men's Health

The leg raise is a fantastic core exercise that every lifter should keep in their ab exercise library. Leg raises can be easily scaled and performed virtually anywhere with no equipment needed. Given it's position, the move can be a great core progression for other exercises like dead bugs and more advanced maneuvers like dragon flags.

If you’re stuck doing home workouts or just want more core exercises to add to your library, then give this movement a try. Let's break down the leg raise exercise, the most important reasons you should do it, and discuss some tips to keep in mind.

How to Do Leg Raises

For this how-to, we’re going to discuss the most common leg raise variation. For that, you'll place the arms by the sides of your body.

Step 1: Establish Your Position

To begin this exercise, lie supine (flat on your back) and extend the legs. Extend your arms and place them by the sides of the body, then lightly press the hands into the ground.

Step 2: Exhale and Lift

To initiate the movement ground the torso by producing tension through the core and pressing the lower back into the earth. You’ll use this low back grounding cue as a means to produce proper positioning.

Photo credit: Men's Health
Photo credit: Men's Health

Exhale, then lift the legs upwards until you reach a point where you feel as though the lower back is going to “peel” off of the ground. Once you reach this point before the lower back feels as though it’s going to lose contact with the ground, stop, and begin the lowering pattern.

Coach’s Tip: The reason I prefer an exhale during the concentric (lifting) portion is due to the fact that we can produce slightly better core contractions due to the torso having less of an inflated brace.

Step 3: Lower and Repeat

During the lowering process, you’ll take a small inhale and control the legs on the way down maintaining the ground contact with the lower back. At the bottom of the movement, keep the feet hovering off the ground, then repeat the above three steps for the prescribed reps.

Leg Raise Tips and Mistakes to Avoid

As with most exercises, the devil’s in the details for the leg raise's effectiveness. Below are three tips and mistakes to avoid for anyone working to improve their leg raise.

Tip 1: Work Within Your Means

This essentially means to avoid replicating another lifter or athlete’s form who may be more advanced than you are. Remember, there’s no “perfect” range of motion that you need to hit here (aside from keeping your lower back grounded throughout the exercise), and you’ll be much better served to perform effective reps that you’re able to execute fluidly with the steps above.

Tip 2: Breathe Properly and Focus On Core Tension

With this exercise, control is synonymous with strength. By following a fluid breathing strategy (exhale during lifting, inhale during lowering), we can focus on quality contraction. Additionally, we can zone in even more on what the lower back is doing and how our core is producing tension throughout the entirety of the set.

Tip 3: Check Your Ego and Progress Accordingly

The final tip is to use progressions based on your skill level. By doing so, we can actually learn this exercise and make it effective per our goals, needs, and means. Three killer progressions going from beginner to advanced include:

Braced Leg Raise

Hold on to a surface to produce more upper body stability.

Traditional Leg Raise

Hollow Body Leg Raise

Assume a hollow body hold while lifting the legs.

Start with the progression you feel most comfortable with and once you’re able to check this exercise’s form boxes successfully with the variant you’re performing, then jump to the next progression.

Leg Raise Benefits

There are many physical benefits you'll get when you do leg raises, but my favorites center on one key factor: accessibility.

Benefit 1: No Equipment Needed, Ever

The first major benefit of leg raises is how user friendly the move is, as in you can perform virtually anywhere without equipment. This makes this ab exercise a phenomenal option for those traveling, or doing home workouts with minimal equipment.

Benefit 2: Lots of Variations and Ways to Scale

Besides the three leg raise progressions listed above, there are many other variations you can perform.

For example, you can lift the legs, then the pelvis off the ground for a more advanced variation. Or you could bring the legs up to the side to focus a bit more attention on the obliques. This benefit makes this exercise a great option for virtually any training population trying to target the core.

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