To strengthen and build any muscle group, you need to overload it and take the right protein. Easy exercises won’t cut it. Moves like crunches and sit-ups soon lose their potency when you can do more than 20 reps or so. That’s where exercises like hanging leg raises come in.
Hanging leg raises are MUCH more demanding, and they provide your abdominals with all the overload they need to keep getting stronger. As such, leg raises are an advanced exercise, and you should only attempt them if you’ve already got strong abs. Doing them before you are ready could result in injury.
Also, to do hanging leg raises, you need a bar to hang from. That’s not a problem when you’re at the gym, but it may not be possible or practical at home. And, even if you do have a bar to hang from, you’ll need strong hands and arms to do hanging leg raises.
The good news is that there are plenty of hanging leg raise alternatives that are every bit as effective. Some are a little easier, and some are harder. Others use alternative training equipment or different movements to work your abs.
Hanging Leg Raise Alternatives
Use these alternatives to hanging leg raises to keep your abs training fun and productive.
What Is A Hanging Leg Raise?
Hanging leg raises are a bodyweight abdominal exercise. To do hanging leg raises, you hang from a sturdy overhead bar and then lift your legs until they are parallel to the floor. In other variations, you lift your legs until your toes touch the bar you’re hanging from or bend your legs and tuck your knees into your chest. The bent knee version is considerably easier than using straight legs.
All of these variations work the following muscles:
Rectus Abdominus – known as the abs for short, is the muscle on the front of your abdomen. When you are lean, this is what gives you a six-pack. The Rectus abdominus flexes your spine and also compresses your abdominal contents. It’s part of the core, which is the collective term for the muscles that encircle your abdomen.
Hip Flexors – located on the front of your hips, the hip flexors do what their name suggests; they flex your hips. The hip flexor muscles are the rectus femoris, psoas major, and iliacus.
Many people think that leg raises work your lower abdominals when, in reality, there is no such thing. Your rectus abdominus is a long flat muscle that runs from your sternum to your pubis. It can pull your shoulders down toward your legs or pull your hips up toward your shoulders. Hanging leg raises involve the latter movement. It’s the same muscle doing the work; it’s just that the movement differs.
11 Alternatives to The Hanging Leg Raise
Bored of hanging leg raises, or just not quite ready for them yet? Here are 11 alternatives to this useful but challenging abdominal and hip flexor exercise.
1. Captain’s Chair
The captain’s chair is an abs training bench that makes hanging leg raises much more comfortable. Instead of hanging from your extended arms, you rest on your elbows. This means your grip (or lack of it) is no longer a limiting factor, and you’re free to focus on working your abs to the limit. You can do bent and straight leg raises using a captain’s chair.
V-ups work your abs and hip flexors like leg raises, but you do them lying on the floor instead of hanging from a bar. They’re still a challenging exercise but much more accessible and ideal for home exercisers.
Lie on your back with your legs straight and your arms above your head. Lift your legs and simultaneously raise your upper body. Reach up and touch your toes, so your body looks like a V. Lie back down and repeat.
Too tough? Bend your legs and pull your knees in instead. This easier variation is called a W-up.
3. Bench Leg Raises
This exercise is very similar to hanging leg raises, but you do it sitting on a bench. It works the same muscles, but the resistance is considerably lower. Bench leg raises are ideal for anyone who isn’t ready for full hanging leg raises.
Sit on an exercise bench with your hands next to your hips for balance. Straighten your legs and rest your heels on the floor. Lean back, so your torso is inclined to about 45-degrees. Lift your legs and bend your knees, pulling them onto your chest. Sit forward as your legs come up. Lean back as you lower your legs and repeat.
You can also do this exercise while sitting on the floor, but the range of movement is considerably smaller.
4. Flutter Kicks
Flutter kicks are a popular exercise with special forces. It’s deceptively simple but very challenging. It works your abs and hip flexors just like hanging leg raises.
Lie on your back with your legs straight. Place your hands under your butt. Lift your head and shoulders a few inches off the floor, and then raise your legs by the same amount. Keeping your shoulders up, kick your legs up and down like you are swimming. This exercise is best done for time rather than reps – e.g., 30-40 seconds.
5. Cable Reverse Crunches
The main advantage of this exercise is that you can gradually make it more challenging as your muscles get stronger. Use it to develop the strength you need to do hanging leg raises.
Put on ankle cuffs and lie down next to a low pulley machine, with your feet nearest the weights. Attach the cable to your cuffs. Starting with your legs straight, lift and then bend your legs, pulling your knees in toward your chest and lifting your butt off the floor. Extend your legs and repeat.
6. Floor Leg Raises
This exercise involves the same movement as hanging leg raises, but with less gravity to overcome, it’s considerably easier.
Lie on the floor with your legs straight, hands on the floor next to your hips. Without bending your legs, lift them up until they are vertical. Push them up toward the ceiling to raise your butt a few inches off the floor. Lower your legs and repeat.
This hanging leg raise alternative can also be done using bent legs.
While this exercise looks nothing like hanging leg raises, it works the same muscles and can be every bit as demanding. You can do it with an abs wheel or a barbell loaded with small weight plates.
Kneel down and place your wheel/barbell on the floor in front of you. Hold it with an overhand grip, arms straight. Push the wheel/barbell out in front of you as far as you can. Keep your core tight, and do not allow your lower back to hyperextend.
Use your abs to pull yourself back up and then repeat.
You can also do this exercise from standing, but that’s a much more challenging option.
L-sits are almost as hard as hanging leg raises, but you don’t need a bar to do them. Instead, this exercise needs no equipment, so it’s ideal for home use.
Sit down with your legs straight and your torso upright. Place your hands flat on the floor next to your hips, fingers pointing forward. Brace your abs. Straighten your arms and lift your butt and legs off the floor, keeping your hips flexed to 90-degrees. Hold for as long as possible and then rest. Do NOT hold your breath!
9. L Pull-Ups
If you’ve mastered hanging leg raises, take your abs workout to a whole new level with L pull-ups. As well as working your abs and hip flexors, this exercise also targets your biceps and back muscles.
Hang from your pull-up bar with an overhand wider than shoulder-width grip or an underhand, narrower grip. Alternatively, use a parallel grip. Raise your legs, so they’re parallel to the floor. Keeping your abs braced and legs up, bend your arms and pull your chin up and over the bar. Straighten your arms and repeat. Keep your legs up for the duration of your set.
10. Stability Ball Pikes
This exercise uses the same muscles and movement as hanging leg raises, but instead of lifting your legs, you’re going to use your abs to lift your hips.
Adopt the push-up position and place your shins on a stability ball. Brace your abs. Flex your hips and, keeping your legs straight, lift your butt into the air and pull the ball toward your hands, so your body looks like an inverted V. Extend your legs and repeat. Do not let your hips sag down toward the floor, as doing so puts a lot of unwanted stress on your lower back.
11. Dragon Flags
Dragon flags are a popular abs exercise from the world of martial arts. It’s as tough as hanging leg raises and uses the same muscles, but you do it while lying on the floor.
Lie down with your legs straight. Hold something heavy with your hands to keep your head and shoulders on the floor. Without bending your knees, lift your legs until they are vertical. Then, lift your butt and lower back until the only thing touching the floor is your upper back and shoulders. Lower your back and then your legs down to the floor and repeat.
High-rep sets of abs exercises like crunches and sit-ups are a big waste of time. Muscles only get stronger when they are challenged, and if it takes you 50 reps to fatigue your muscles, whatever exercise you are doing is too easy to be beneficial.
As for the whole idea that high reps burn fat from the area you are training – spot reduction –, that’s another exercise falsehood. Your body stores and then burns fat globally and not locally. No amount of targeted exercise will melt fast from your abdomen.
The best way to strengthen your abs is with progressively more demanding exercises. Doing more and more reps is not an efficient use of your time or your energy. It’s much better to seek out harder exercises so that the demands of your workout increase over time.
Once you have mastered beginner movements like crunches and sit-ups and can do 20 reps or so, you’re ready for more challenging exercises. Lifting your legs instead of your head and shoulders is the logical progression, as your lower body is much heavier.
But, as good as hanging leg raises are, they may be too advanced for you right now. Also, like any abs exercise, they’ll lose their potency if you do them too often.
Use these 11 variations to build the strength you need to do hanging leg raises and then to keep your workouts varied and interesting so that you don’t get stuck in a training rut.