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 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.
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HANGING LEG RAISE PROGRESSION VIDEO
Do not attempt the full toes to bar variation until you have mastered the first three progressions
HANGING LEG RAISE BENEFITS
- 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 last key benefit is that hanging leg raise also strengthens the hip flexors and improves your core compression strength
WHICH MUSCLES DO HANGING LEG RAISES WORK?
- Rectus Abdominus (Particularly the lower abdominals)
- External Obliques
- Transverse Abdominis
- Hip Flexors (Rectus femoris)
- Grip and Forearm Strength
THE HANGING LEG RAISE/ TOES TO BAR PROGRESSION – HOW TO DO IT WITH CORRECT FORM
- For the first variation of this exercise, the hanging bent knee raise, 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 barat a distance that is approximately shoulder width and your palms facing forward (overhand grip)
- 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
- The second variation is the hanging straight leg raise
- For this 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 reached parallel you gently begin to lean back
- Continue bringing your legs up all the way around until your toes make contact with the
- 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
USING TOO MUCH MOMENTUM
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 lower back and shoulder injuries.
Control the exercise and only progress to the next variation once you have mastered the prior movement.
LETTING THE LOWER BACK ARCH
When lowering your legs back to the starting position, do not let your lower back arch.
Keep your abs engaged and your glute muscles turned on.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What are hanging leg raises good for?
Hanging leg raises are good for developing core and hip flexor strength while improving your core compression skills.
In addition, this exercise will strengthen the upper body while improving your grip strength as well.
Are hanging leg raises hard?
Hanging leg raises are an advanced exercise that many people struggle with. It is important to work your way through easier progressions before attempting the full variation of this challenging exercise.
Why are leg lifts so hard?
Any exercise that requires you to lift your legs is challenging because it involves hip flexion strength. Many people in the general population have weak and underdeveloped hip flexors.
Are hanging leg raises better than sit ups?
Hanging leg raises are a much better exercise than sit-ups when it comes to building functional strength in the abdominals and hip flexor muscles. The leg raises primarily train your lower abs while sit-ups train the upper abs.
In addition, leg raises don’t place as much stress on your vertebrae / lumbar spine as compared to a sit-up which requires repetitive flexion at the spine.
Should I do hanging leg raises with knees bent or straight?
The bent knees variation is much easier to perform as the moment arm between your abs/hip flexors is decreased relative to your legs.
As you get stronger, you should do them with straight legs, and ultimately the full hanging leg raise/toes to bar.
By the way… if you want to see a complete list of all the best exercises for every body part (including the best core exercises), check out our E-book: The Best Compound Exercises For Your Entire Body!
In it, you will find complete written descriptions on how to do each movement with proper form plus a video tutorial for each exercise!
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 your legs back down to the starting position.
How Many Hanging Leg Raises Should I Do Per Day? (Sets and Reps)
Work your way up to sets of 12-5 reps of hanging leg raises. Here’s a pro tip – If you can do 15 reps with clean form, then add 2.5 lb ankle weights or a light dumbbell between your feet to increase the difficulty of the exercise.
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 Roman chair / Captain’s chair with your elbows supporting your weight.
1) Bent Knee Raises on a Roman Chair
2) Straight Leg Raises on Romain Chair
Almost all gyms have this machine. Once you can comfortably do these, then move on to the hang position.
How Can I Do Hanging Leg Raises at Home?
To do hanging leg raises at home, all you need is a pull-up bar. I pesonally use a squat rack with a pull-up bar that is 81 inches tall.
Ideally, the bar should be high enough so that your feet are not making contact on the ground.
Other Hanging Leg Raise Variations and Progressions
If you are looking for other hanging leg raise progressions and regressions, check out this short video I made.
The windshield wiper variation is a great movement to work your way up to.
How Can I Integrate This Exercise Into My Workout Plan?
Check out our workout template for busy individuals to learn how to incorporate the hanging leg raise and every other functional exercise into your fitness routine.
HANGING LEG RAISE ALTERNATIVES
If you cannot perform hanging leg raises, there are two alternative exercises that will strengthen your core in a similar fashion. They include:
- Ab Wheel Rollout
- Dragon Flags (Reverse Crunch Progressions)
Both of these movements are advanced exercises, and should only be done after you have achieved a sufficient level of core strength.
Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM Certified Personal Trainers, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a resource dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals using time-efficient strategies. Their advice has been featured in My Fitness Pal, Prevention, Livestrong, Reader’s Digest, Bustle, The Active Times, and more. Learn more about them here.