What are leg raises and how to them correctly

Benefits of leg raises

Leg raises are one of the best exercises you can do for an ab workout, it really targets the rectus abdominus. But your hip flexors actually get some great benefits from this exercise, so don’t be surprised if you feel a bit of burn in your hips during this.

Strengthening the hip flexors will improve your running and your squat, so this is a great step to add to any routine regardless of any activity of your choice. Leg raises can also help reduce lower back pain, because it improves the strength and stamina of your spine for those who spends a lot of time sitting at a desk.

Keep reading for our complete guide on how to master the act of the perfect leg raises. Once you’ve mastered it, move on to more challenging variations that you can use to validate your status as a leg raise expert.

Anatomy of a Leg Raise

There are 11 hip flexors, most of which helps in flexion such as the abductors and adductors which performs various motions like raising the leg and flexing of the hips. All the adductors and the rectus femoris all coordinate with the iliopsoas in flexing the hip but only to 90 degrees.

The Rectus Abdominus runs from the ribs down to the pelvis but does not cross the hips and does not play a role in hip flexion.  For the rectus abdominus to work, which is probably what a person tries to do with most of their abdominal exercises, most especially on a leg raise, one would need to flex the spine in order to effectively target the abdominals.

How to do leg raises
  • Start by lying on the floor or mat.
  • Lie flat with your arms at your sides and legs stretched out next to each other, and raise your legs.
  • Raise them up until they are pointing to the ceiling, or as close as possible, make sure your toes are pointed.
  • Then lower them slow and controlled.
  • Lower it until it floats just above the ground, then raise them up again.
  • Do this for three sets of 10 reps, or simply do as much raises as you can do – do this in a slow and controlled manner.

If you’re having difficulties doing 10 traditional leg raises. You can do the movement easier by bending your legs to your body. Once your thighs are facing directly to your body, try and straighten your legs to point at the ceiling.

Leg raises variations
  • Single leg raises

what are leg raises

BruceBlaus, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

As mentioned above, one way to make the leg lift is easier to bend the knees during this exercise, to even make it easier is to raise it one at a time. Raising one leg at a time will help stabilize your body as you raise the other leg, so you can focus on perfecting your form.

  • Medicine ball leg raise

what are leg raises

“Abdominal exercise leg raise” by PTPioneer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

You can also increase the resistance of this exercise by using a medicine ball, do this by gripping a medicine ball between your feet and raise up high. This will really tax your abs, hips and adductors due to the extra weight added.

  • Weighted leg raise

Like most exercises, you can make the leg raise tougher by using weights. With this variation you hold a dumbbell between your feet as you do this exercise. Keep the weight light, because it doesn’t take much to make the leg raise a really big challenge, and you also don’t want the heavy dumbbell to slide when you hold it with the legs fully extended over your hips.

  • Leg raise at the dip station

“Leg Raises – only knees (Benlyft), Strength Training (Styrketräning)” by Ulf Liljankoski is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Leg raise on a dip station is another tougher variation you can do if you are not ready yet to try the hanging leg raise yet. This variation of leg raise add an extra challenge for your abs, hips and adductors (the insides of your thighs), your arms and shoulders as well will get a good workout too.

If you want to take your leg up but you are not ready to try to lift the suspended leg yet, go to the dip station. Support yourself with both arms, which should be extended by your sides, raise your legs straight in front of you, and then lower them slowly. If this seems too difficult you can bend your legs and bring your knees up instead.

  • Hanging leg raise

what are leg raises

This variation involves hanging from a pull bar or exercise rings while raising your legs. Also, you can start by bending your legs and raising your knees to your chest as a way to work up to full exercise, and it is best to try some dead hangs first to make sure you have the upper body strength and grip to hold yourself up while doing the leg raise.

  • Hanging knee raise

“Hanging Leg Raises” by personaltrainertoronto is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you aren’t able to properly do a hanging leg raise or do not have the required strength to get through to the end, give the hanging knee raise a try. Using an overhand grip, hang from a bar and bring your knees up slowly until your thighs are parallel to the ground, then lower them slowly in a controlled manner. This variation will still hit the abs very well and help you to develop the necessary strength to be able to do a hanging leg raise.

  • Garhammer raise

Both the hanging leg and knee raises are fantastic exercises for working the abdominal muscles, but when it comes to the garhammer raise there is one slight adjustment which it more effective and that is with both leg and knee raise towards your chest you extend them back down but not fully which releases the tension in your abs, until the set is fully completed.

Knee height and leg height are good exercises for working your core, but raising a garhammer makes one adjustment that makes it even more effective – if you can control it. Both leg and knees lift extend your legs under you after each turn, which removes tension in your abs; by raising a garhammer you don’t get that rest, because you never stretch your legs fully until the set is complete.

How to do the garhammer raise;

what are leg raises

“garhammer Raises” by personaltrainertoronto is licensed under CC BY 2.0

  • Using an overhand grip, hang from the bar.
  • Bend your legs and raise your knees until your thighs are parallel with the ground. This is the first position.
  • Raise your knees as high as possible towards your chest, then lower them slowly until your thighs are parallel to the ground again.

This variation maintains a constant tension in your core muscles which will work your abs like crazy.