While a lot of effective core exercises have you working out on a mat on the floor, there are other loftier options. Just look up to add some variety to your core routine, and try a hanging leg raise.
The body-burning exercise works multiple abdominal muscles while also building strength in your upper and lower bod (hip flexors, grip, and forearms), according to Shelly Mayfield, CPT, co-owner of Studio Diva in New Jersey. This makes hanging leg raises a great finisher after any other workout or a must-add your core routine.
Wondering how a hanging leg raise works, exactly? Basically, you hold onto and hang from a pull-up bar, then lift your feet off the ground, flexing and extending the spine to work your abs, Mayfield says. And, you can do hanging leg raises whenever you want to train your core, says Ashley Rios, CPT, CEO of Fitness by Ashley. Aiming for three times per week is plenty to feel the burn and get core results, Mayfield says.
If you've never done a hanging leg raise before, you definitely want to get all the intel before you try them IRL. (Otherwise, you’re risking injury, folks!) Get ready to hang around and work those abs.
How To Do A Hanging Leg Raise With Proper Form
Hold the pull-up bar with an overhand grip. Keep arms fully extended and legs straight. (This can be an official pull-up bar or any bar in the gym that is high enough off of the ground that your feet won’t drag.)
Brace your core and bend at your hips to lift your straight legs to 90 degrees, or as high as you can. (If this is your first time trying this exercise, focus on form and height will come with strength and practice.)
Once you reach your highest point with your legs at or close to 90 degrees, slowly lower your legs back down to their starting position with as much control as you can maintain. Don't swing to initiate leg movement. You want your hip flexors and core to do the work, not momentum. That's one rep.
How To Add The Hanging Leg Raise To Your Routine
So, how often should you do hanging leg raises? It’s great to incorporate core movements like hanging leg raises into every workout, Mayfield says. If that sounds intimidating, aim for three times per week, she adds.
Exactly when you do hanging leg raises during your workout is really up to your “training style, individual goals, and frequency of training,” Rios says. Hanging leg raises can be done at the end of a lifting session, during a circuit, or mixed in with supersets, Rios says.
Work it in: Start with two to three sets of 8 to 10 reps of hanging leg raises. Rest one or two minutes in between sets. Do the move three times a week.
Try a few reps, and you'll instantly know these are intense. “Hanging leg raises are an advanced movement, so I would start off small and build in more reps and sets as you master the form,” Rios says.
Benefits Of Hanging Leg Raises
Improves grip strength. Since you’re grabbing onto the bar with your hands and holding up the entirety of your body weight as you do this exercise, you’re also improving the grip strength, explains Rios. This can help you improve your performance in other exercises that require a bar and regular activities that have you crushing, pinching, and carrying in your day-to-day life.
Strengthens hip flexors. Hanging leg raises also help you improve your hip flexor strength, since you’re hinging at your hips throughout the exercise, Mayfield explains. Increasing your hip flexor strength can help you improve your posture and relieve any tightness or immobility you might experience in your hips from sitting at a desk all day. (Hip mobility exercises can help, as well.)
Works multiple abdominal muscles. “This is one of the best exercises for strengthening your entire rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis,” says Mayfield. Hanging leg raises work both the part of your abs that is visible (six pack) *and* your innermost core, so you’re getting a pretty 360-degree approach to your middle.
Common Hanging Leg Raise Mistakes To Avoid
Here are typical slip-ups people make when completing hanging leg raises that can make the move less effective or up your injury risk—plus how to fix them.
1. You don't lift your legs high enough. While it’s difficult for some to bring their legs up to a 90-degree angle when doing this movement, you should try to get them as close as you can, Mayfield explains. “Otherwise you’re just working your hip flexors, not all of the other potential muscles, which can create tightness,” Mayfield says.
Fix: Modify your movement and lift with bent knees–you’ll get more height and ensure you work the intended muscles.
2. You’re swinging on the bar. Yup–sometimes people get lost in the movement and start swinging their legs, creating too much momentum, Mayfield says. This motion means you’re not actually engaging your core.
Fix: Focus on pulling your belly button inward and curving through the spine and moving with control instead of swinging, Mayfield explains.
3. You don’t stretch afterward. This can be an intense exercise that works the entire body, so it’s important to do a cool down and stretch after completing hanging leg raises, Mayfield says.
Fix: Whether you spend 10 minutes doing some light jogging or you take time to specifically stretch out your hip flexors and abs, incorporating light movements after your workout will make sure you don't experience uncomfortable tightness or an injury.
Hanging Leg Raise Modifications And Variations
Let’s be real: While hanging leg raises seem like a super fun way to work your core (it's kind of like doing monkey bars as an adult, hah), they’re also tough. If you need some modifications to make this exercise actually work for you, don’t stress. The following are easy ways you can make hanging leg raises more approachable.
Bend your knees. Yup, it’s totally normal to not be able to fully raise your legs up while straight. To make this movement more accessible, try bending your knees as you raise so that you’re still reaching 90-degrees (or close to it) but not dealing with the extra strain of keeping your legs straight, too, Mayfield explains.
Use a captain’s chair. While hanging leg raises are commonly done while *literally hanging* from a pull-up bar, you can also complete them in what’s called a captain’s chair, Mayfield says. You’ll find it in the gym and it looks like a chair with no bottom, complete with armrests on the sides, which you'll rest your forearms on while you hang. You’ll complete the hanging leg raise like normal when using a captain’s chair–it just decreases the strain on your grip and upper body, Mayfield says. In this position, you’re holding your weight from your shoulders, which tends to be stronger.
Not looking to make hanging leg raises easier, but rather, more of a challenge? I gotchu, too. Here's how to level up hanging leg raises to amp up your sweat sesh and fire up your core.
Add free weights. Stick a light dumbbell or other free weight in between your feet before you leave the ground to add some extra resistance, Rios says. You’ll still do the same movement as before, but you exert more effort lifting your legs off the ground and stabilizing your core with the added weight.
Take it to the ground. Not all leg raises need to be hanging. If you want to keep this workout fresh while still working relatively similar muscles, try laying on your back instead of hanging from the bar, Mayfield says. Keep your arms at your side or above your head (for higher difficulty) and do what is essentially a reverse crunch, drawing the knees upward toward your chest, flexing your core, and lifting your hips off the ground, Mayfield says. Again, feel free to add weights to this movement to amp up the effort if need be.
Use a resistance band. If you’d like to add challenge without weights, try incorporating resistance bands instead, explains Rios. To do so, secure the resistance band at the base of your bar so that it’s hanging down, then step your feet in so that they’re resting inside of the band and pulling it further downward, creating tension. From there you will complete the hanging leg raise like normal. When you’re lowering your legs (typically more of your resting point in the exercise), you will experience resistance from the band that makes it more difficult for you to return to the starting point.
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