How to do Toes to Bar/ Hanging Leg Raises Correctly (With Progressions)

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When it comes to abdominal training there are very few exercises that are more difficult than the hanging leg raise. This exercise strengthens your ab muscles by resisting resisting flexion and extension of the spine.

The most difficult variation of this exercise requires you to touch your toes to the bar, an exercise that can only be done by advanced trainees.

In this article, we break down several strategies you can use to achieve a toes to bar hanging leg raise.




Do not attempt the full toes to bar variation until you have mastered the first three progressions



  • The hanging leg raise has many different variations making it easy to scale to any fitness level
  • It strengthens the rectus abdominis, oblique muscles, and transversus abdominis muscles via anti-flexion and anti-extension
  • The hanging leg raise is more efficient than other ab exercises because you cannot do endless repetitions of this exercise


  • Rectus Abdominus
  • Obliques
  • Transverse Abdominus
  • Forearm/Grip Muscles


  • For the first variation of this exercise, find a pull-up bar that is high enough to get to your feet completely off the floor
  • Jump up and grab the pull-up bar at a distance that is approximately shoulders with and your palms facing forward
  • From this position brace your abdominal muscles and glutes, and take a breath
  • In a controlled manner lift your knees up towards your chest by focusing on squeezing your abdominal muscles together
  • Keep your knees bent throughout the movement
  • Pause for a one-count, And slowly reverse back to the starting position

  • For the second variation, you will keep your knees extended when performing the exercise
  • Again brace your core and your glute muscles, take a breath and slowly begin to raise your legs with your knees straight
  • The goal is to raise your legs until you are at a 90° angle
  • Slowly return back to the starting position

  • For the third variation, you are going to bring your knees to your elbows
  • From the hanging position brace your core and your glutes, and take a big breath
  • Begin by bringing your knees up to your chest as you did in the first variation
  • Once they are at the level of your chest you are going to gently lean back so that your knees can continue to travel up and towards your elbows
  • Once your knees make contact with your elbows, slowly return your legs back down to the starting position

  • For the final variation, you are going to bring your toes all the way up to the bar with your legs extended
  • As in all of the variations, brace your core and your glute muscles and take a big breath before each repetition
  • Slowly begin bringing your legs straight out in front of you as you did in the second variation
  • Once your legs have breached parallel you gently begin to lean back
  • Continue bringing your legs up all the way around until your toes make contact with the pull-up bar
  • This movement should be done in a controlled fashion with no excessive swinging or momentum
  • Is important to lower your legs back down in a controlled manner without bending the knees



This exercise is meant to teach core strength and stability. Using too much momentum can introduce instability into the system and increase the risk of low back and shoulder injuries. Control the exercise and only progress to the next variation once you have mastered the prior movement



I Can’t Feel Hanging Leg Raises In My Abs. Am I Doing Them Wrong?

This is likely due to the fact that you are more focused on just throwing your legs up into the air to touch the bar without actually focusing on contracting your core muscles. It is important to develop a mind-muscle connection in all of the core stability exercises in order to get the most out of them.

Squeeze your abs as you initiate each rep, and SLOWLY lower you legs back down to the starting position.


How Many Hanging Leg Raises Should I Do?

Work your way up to sets of 15 reps. If you can do 15 reps with clean form, then try holding a light dumbbell in between your feet to increase the difficulty of the exercises.

I Can’t Do The First Variation. How Can I Do Hanging Leg Raises For Beginners?

If you cannot perform this exercise from the hang position, then I recommend that you do it in a captain’s chair with your elbows supporting your weight. Go through the first two progressions shown in the video which are

1) Bent Knee Raises 2) Straight Leg Raises

Once you can comfortably do these, then move on to the hang position.

I Can’t Keep My Legs Straight On Hanging Leg Raises. Why?

Because you haven’t yet mastered the three previous regressions that I have demonstrated in the video above.

Only move on to the next progression once you can do 15 repetitions with clean form.


What’s That Exercise That Uses Hanging Leg Raises With A Twist?

This exercise is known as windshield wipers. It is another good variation to target the oblique muscles more.

Here’s a quick video I found on youtube. (Do not attempt to do this exercise until you can achieve at least 5 clean toes to bar repetitions.



How Can I Integrate This Exercise Into My Training?

Check out our workout template for busy individuals to learn how to incorporate the hanging leg raise and every other functional exercise into your training routine.




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Alex Robles, MD / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH

Alex Robles, MD / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH

Alex & Brittany Robles are OBGYN's, fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy individuals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader's Digest, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

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