Looking for an abdominal exercise that produces results?
While sit ups and crunches may be marginally effective for your upper abs, your best choice for abdominal and core training is hanging leg raises and the many variations available.
A flat stomach and washboard abs are the result of smart training and low body fat levels.
Hanging leg raises are a compound, multi-joint virtually full body movement which allows you to hit a variety of muscle groups at the same time, resulting in more efficient and productive training.
You’ll burn more calories and build more lean muscle more quickly.
- Hanging leg raises improve your grip strength from grabbing the bar in an overhand grip. Once you become more experienced and the number of your reps increases, your grip and forearm strength will also be forced to adapt.
- Your lats also get a workout during your hanging leg raises. Again, as you progress and do more reps, you will be able to keep your lats fully engaged throughout the movement.
- All major abdominal muscles including your rectus abdominus, and external obliques plus the ab contraction muscles, including the iliopsoas and pectineus muscles of the hip and the rectus femoris of the thigh.
To perform a basic hanging leg raise, hang from a chin-up or pull-up bar with both arms extended using a shoulder width or wide grip.
To stimulate more lat involvement, use an overhand grip, to stimulate more biceps and forearm involvement use an underhand grip.
Your legs should be hanging straight down with your pelvis slightly back. This is the starting position.
From this position, bend at the hips and raise both legs until your torso forms a 90-degree angle, or an “L” position. DO NOT SWING.
More advanced variations will involve raising your knees to your chest, twisting, or even adding weights as resistance.
Hanging leg raises, progression.
Sit on the edge of a sturdy bench with your feet together and legs outstretched. Bending at the waist (hips) raise your legs until your body forms a “V”.
You can perform seated leg raises throughout your workout to stimulate your lower abs and prepare for your hanging leg raises.
Regardless of the variation you perform, avoid using momentum and swinging to “cheat” during your hanging leg raises. It’s also important to control the negative portion of the movement to avoid additional swing.
The purpose of hanging leg raises is to provide constant stress and tension on your core and abdominals, don’t cheat yourself by swinging.
Here are some examples of hanging leg raises and variations that are both excellent abdominal AND core strengthening exercises:
1. Hanging Leg Raises with Twists
2. Alternating Hanging Leg Raises
Two approaches, start with both legs extended (hanging) and raise only one leg up as far as possible, return to the start and alternate legs and repeat. For more challenge, start from the “L” position and pull one leg up, lower, alternate and repeat.
Proper demonstration of alternating hanging leg raises
3. Weighted Hanging Leg Raises
To add intensity once leg raises become to easy, add resistance using leg (ankle) weights, a dumbbell between your feet or a resistance band. Perform any of these variations using the added weight.
Example of weighted hanging leg raise
4. Straight Leg Raises
The basic movement, start with a 90 degree angle or “L” and advance to a “V” movement by raising your legs higher and decreasing the angle.
5. Knee Raises
While hanging, pull your knees straight up to your chest. Knee raises place less stress on your lower back.
6. Knee Crossovers
Perform knee raises, but pull your knees up toward your left or right shoulder and alternate left, right, left.
7. Ceiling Kicks
An advanced movement, continue your leg raise until your feet touch the bar (point to the ceiling).
8. Windshield Wipers
Also an advanced exercise, perform a ceiling kick, stabilize, then add a rotation left and right as though your legs are a windshield wiper.
9. Side Wipers
To focus rotation to one side, perform windshield wipers from center to left OR right and repeat. Complete your required reps to that side before alternating to the opposite side.
10. Leg Overs
Move a high chair or an object or person taller than waist height in front of your bar. Start in your straight leg raise position to one side then move both legs over the object to the opposite side, hold and then return to the start position. Leg overs build rotational strength and stability.
Hanging leg raises do more than train your lower abs, consider them hanging core exercises that increase latissimus dorsi strength and stability, improve your grip and forearm strength, provide intense and effective rotational training, all while producing less stress on your lower back.
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