How to Do Captain's Chair Hanging Leg Raises: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Captain's chair hanging leg raises are great for building the abs and hip flexors. They require the use of a chair-like frame. If you have access to this equipment, this exercise can be a useful addition to a strength-training routine, working several muscles at once.

Also Known As: Vertical crunch, hanging knee raise, Roman chair leg raise

Targets: Abs and hip flexors

Equipment Needed: Captain's chair or Roman chair

Level: Intermediate

How to Do a Captain's Chair Hanging Leg Raise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Stand in the captain's chair frame and place your forearms on the padded armrests. Grab the handles, if available. Check that your arm position is firm (stable arms enable you to lift your legs with proper form). Your back should be straight.

  1. Inhale and engage your abdominal muscles to prepare for the leg lift.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and raise your legs upward until your quads are parallel to the ground.
  3. Lower your legs in a controlled movement, exhaling as you go, until you're back in the starting position. Keep your core engaged.

The captain’s chair or Roman chair is a workout frame found in many gyms. Standing in the frame, you use the chair's two arms to support your body weight as you raise your legs.

Benefits of the Captain's Chair Hanging Leg Raise

This exercise targets the abdominal muscles, creating more than 130% maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) in the rectus abdominis and 88% MVC in the external obliques. It also works the hip flexors (iliopsoas).

Hanging leg raises rely on isolation techniques. Isolation exercises target one specific area of the body or muscle group, giving you the opportunity to strengthen certain areas that may be weaker or would otherwise benefit from a strength training program.

In day-to-day life, many different muscles are used to complete tasks like climbing the stairs or carrying groceries. These muscles have to coordinate and work together and captain's chair hanging leg raises help to prepare them for this.

In a 2018 study involving participants with poly-substance dependence (dependence on several substances), those who performed this exercise as part of a circuit training routine reported improvements in mood and a short-term decrease in drug cravings.

Other Variations of the Captain's Chair Hanging Leg Raise

The captain's chair hanging leg raise can be performed in different ways depending on your access to gym equipment and your fitness goals.

Leg Raise Without a Captain's Chair

Lying hip raises can provide a similar workout if you don't have access to a chair frame or other apparatus for hanging leg raises. To do them, lie on your back, bend your knees slightly, and lift your legs so your toes point toward the ceiling. Engage your core and lift your hips up.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Bent-Knee Hanging Leg Raise

To make the move a little easier, try doing the lifts in the chair frame with your knees bent versus having your legs straight. Your body needs less core strength for this hanging leg raise variation. It also places less stress on your lower back.

Pull-Up Hanging Leg Raise

Add another element of challenge to hanging leg raises by using a pull-up bar instead of a chair frame. Grasp the bar so your hands are a bit wider than shoulder width, palms facing away from you. Allow your body to hang while raising your legs. Keep your back straight and core engaged.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Captain's Chair Kicks (Single-Leg Raises)

Doing single-leg captain's chair hanging raises requires that you use more core strength. That makes this exercise good for more advanced exercisers. To do this variation, follow the same steps as a standard hanging leg raise, but raise one leg at a time. This movement winds up looking more like a kick, hence the name.

Captain's Chair Twist

This variation targets your obliques. As you lift your legs, twist your torso so your knees are at a slight angle to your body. Do twists to the right and the left so you work both sides of your abs evenly.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these mistakes to keep your captain's chair hanging leg raises safe and effective.

Arching Your Back

This exercise places a lot of stress on the spine, causing it to compress. As you perform the leg raises, keep your back straight (not arched) and pressed against the pad. Your head and neck should be steady.

Not Engaging Your Core

One of the keys to performing hanging leg raises with good form is engaging your core before you lift your legs. If you lift your legs before your abdominal muscles are fully engaged, you're not only missing out on the strengthening benefits of the move, you're also putting yourself at risk for injury.

Relying on Momentum

Keep your movements controlled. Relying on momentum prevents you from enjoying the maximum benefits of this exercise.

Holding Your Breath

As you engage your abdominal muscles and prepare to lift your legs, you may be tensing up so much that you forget to breathe. Timing your lifts with your breathing will help you avoid holding your breath. Remember: Your muscles need oxygen to perform optimally.

Safety and Precautions

Moves like captain's chair hanging leg raises require your upper body and core to do a lot of work. You may need to avoid them if you:

  • Are pregnant or recovering from childbirth
  • Have recently had surgery on your abdomen
  • Have a condition called diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles, such as after pregnancy)
  • Are recovering from injuries or surgery involving your back, neck, arms, or legs

If you have any of these health conditions, or others that affect your ability to exercise, check with your doctor before starting an exercise routine or adding something new to your workout. And always stop if you feel pain. (Discomfort is normal; pain is not.)

Strive to complete 8 to 10 raises before resting. As you get stronger, work up to three sets of 10 raises.

If you have any questions about whether captain's chair hanging leg raises are safe for you, ask a trainer or physical therapist for their recommendation.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. McGill S, Andersen J, Cannon J. Muscle activity and spine load during anterior chain whole body linkage exercises: the body saw, hanging leg raise and walkout from a push-up. J Sports Sci. 2014;33(4):419-26. doi:10.1080/02640414.2014.946437

  2. Paoli A, Gentil P, Moro T, Marcolin G, Bianco A. Resistance rraining with aingle vs. multi-joint exercises at equal total load volume: Effects on body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness, and muscle strengthFront Physiol. 2017;8:1105. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.01105

  3. Ellingsen M, Johannesen S, Martinsen E, Hallgren M. Effects of acute exercise on drug craving, self-esteem, mood and affect in adults with poly-substance dependence: feasibility and preliminary findings. Drug Alcohol Rev. 2018;37(6):786-93. doi:10.1111/dar.12818

By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.