If you’re looking for a new way to spice up your core routine, look no further than hanging leg raises. The body burn exercise works multiple abdominal muscles while strengthening the upper and lower body (hip flexors, grip and forearms), according to Shelly MayfieldCPT, co-owner of studio diva in New Jersey This makes hanging leg raises a great addition to your next gym session or a regular part of your basic routine.
Wondering how exactly a hanging leg raise works? Basically, you grab and hang from a pull-up bar, then lift your feet off the ground, flex and extend your spine to work your abs, Mayfield says. You can do hanging leg raises whenever you want to train your core, he says. Ashley RiosCPT, CEO of Ashley’s exercise. Aiming three times a week is enough to feel the burn and get major results, says Mayfield.
Meet the experts: Shelly Mayfield, CPT, is the co-owner of Studio Diva in New Jersey and also a certified yoga instructor. Ashley Rios, CPT, is the CEO of Fitness by Ashley in New York.
If you’ve never done hanging leg raises before, you’ll definitely want to get all the information before you try them in real life. (Otherwise, you risk injuring yourself, folks!) Get ready to hang out and work those abs.
How to Do Hanging Leg Raises with Proper Form
- Hold the pull-up bar with an overhand grip. Keep your arms fully extended and your legs straight. (This can be an official pull-up bar or any gym bar that’s high enough off the ground that your feet won’t drag.)
- Strengthen your core and bend at the hips to raise your straight legs to 90 degrees, or as high as you can go. (If this is your first time trying this exercise, the focus on form and height will come with force and practice.)
- Once you reach your highest point with your legs at or near 90 degrees, slowly lower your legs back to your starting position with as much control as you can maintain. Do not rock to start the leg movement. You want the hip flexors and core to do the work, not the momentum. That’s a repeat.
Pro tip: Add a cool-down and deep stretch to loosen up your hip flexors and spine after your entire workout or immediately after your sets of hanging leg raises, Mayfield recommends.
Benefits of Hanging Leg Raises
There are many basic exercises, but hanging leg raises offer some unique advantages. These are the main advantages, according to the coaches:
- Improve grip strength. Because you hold on to the bar with your hands and support your entire body weight while doing this exercise, you’re also improving your grip strength, explains Ríos. This can help improve his performance in other exercises that require a barbell and regular activities that require him to smash, pinch, and load in his everyday life.
- Strengthens the hip flexors. Hanging leg raises also help you improve hip flexor strength, since you’re swinging your hips throughout the exercise, Mayfield explains. Increasing the strength of his hip flexors can help him improve his posture and relieve any tightness or immobility he may experience in his hips from sitting at a desk all day. (Hip mobility exercises can also help.)
- Work multiple abdominal muscles. “This is one of the best exercises for strengthening your entire rectus abdominis and transversus abdominis muscles,” says Mayfield. Hanging leg raises work both the part of your abs that’s visible (six-pack) *and* your innermost core, so you get pretty much a 360-degree focus on your core.
Common Hanging Leg Raise Mistakes to Avoid
Here are the typical slip-ups people make when completing hanging leg raises that can make the movement less effective or increase the risk of injury, plus how to fix them.
1. You don’t raise your legs high enough. While it’s hard for some to bring your legs to a 90-degree angle when doing this move, you should try to get them as close together as you can, Mayfield explains. “Otherwise, you’re only working the hip flexors, not all the other potential muscles, which can create stiffness,” says Mayfield.
Arrange: Modify your motion and lift with your knees bent – you’ll get more height and make sure you’re hitting your intended muscles.
2. You are swinging on the bar. Yes, sometimes people get lost in the motion and start swinging their legs, creating too much momentum, Mayfield says. This movement means that you are not actually engaging your core.
Arrange: Focus on pulling your belly button in and curving through your spine and moving with control instead of swaying, Mayfield explains.
3. You don’t stretch afterwards. This can be an intense exercise that works your entire body, so it’s important to cool down and stretch after completing hanging leg raises, says Mayfield.
Arrange: Whether you spend 10 minutes doing a light jog or take the time to specifically stretch your hip flexors and abs, incorporating light movement after your workout will ensure you don’t experience uncomfortable strain or injury.
Hanging Leg Raise Modifications and Variations
Let’s face it: while hanging leg raises sound like a super fun way to work out your core (it’s like doing grown-up monkey bars, ha), they’re also I weighed. If you need a few modifications to make this exercise really work for you, don’t stress. The following are easy ways you can make hanging leg raises more accessible.
- Bend your knees. Yes, it’s totally normal to not be able to fully lift your legs while standing upright. To make this move more accessible, try bending your knees as you lift so you’re still reaching 90 degrees (or close to it), but without dealing with the added stress of keeping your legs straight as well, Mayfield explains.
- Use a captain’s chair. While hanging leg raises are commonly done *literally hanging* from a pull-up bar, you can also complete them in what’s called a captain’s chair, says Mayfield. You’ll find it in the gym and it looks like a bottomless chair, complete with armrests on the sides, which you’ll rest your forearms on as you hang. You’ll complete the hanging leg raise as usual when using a captain’s chair, it just decreases the stress on your grip and upper body, says Mayfield. In this position, you support the weight of your shoulders, which tend to be stronger.
Not looking to make hanging leg raises easier, but more of a challenge? I also. Here’s how to level up hanging leg raises to amp up your sweat session and fire up your core.
- Add free weights. Place a light dumbbell or other free weight between your feet before lifting off the ground to add some extra resistance, Rios says. You’ll continue to do the same movement as before, but you’ll put more effort into lifting your legs off the ground and stabilizing your core with the added weight.
- Take it to the ground. Not all leg raises have to be hanging. If you want to keep this workout fresh while still working relatively similar muscles, try lying on your back instead of hanging from the bar, says Mayfield. Keep your arms at your sides or overhead (for more difficulty) and do what is essentially a reverse crunch, bringing your knees up toward your chest, flexing your core, and lifting your hips off the ground, says Mayfield. Again, feel free to add weights to this movement to increase the effort if needed.
- Use a resistance band. If you want to add a challenge without weights, try incorporating resistance bands instead, Rios explains. To do this, secure the resistance band at the base of the bar so it hangs down, then tuck your feet in so they’re resting inside the band and pull the band down, creating tension. From there, he will complete the hanging leg raise as usual. When you are lowering your legs (usually past your rest point in the exercise), you will experience resistance from the band that will make it difficult to return to the starting point.
How to Add Hanging Leg Raises to Your Routine
So how often should you do hanging leg raises? As far as frequency, Mayfield says it’s great to incorporate core movements like hanging leg raises into every workout. If that sounds intimidating, aim for three times a week, he adds.
Exactly when you do hanging leg raises during your workout really depends on your “training style, individual goals, and training frequency,” says Rios. Hanging leg raises can be done at the end of a lifting session, during a circuit, or mixed in with supersets, says Rios.
Work it on: Start with two to three sets of 8 to 10 repetitions of hanging leg raises. Rest for a minute or two between sets. Do the movement three times a week.
Try a few reps and you’ll instantly know they’re intense. “Hanging leg raises are an advanced movement, so I’d start small and build up to more reps and sets as you get the hang of the form,” says Rios.
Madeline Howard is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and creative. Her work has been published in Esquire, Nylon, Cosmopolitan and more. Among other things, she was previously an editor at Women’s Health. Sign up for her ‘hey howie’ newsletter at madelinehoward.substack.com.