How to Do Hanging Leg Raises

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Also Known As: Vertical crunch, hanging knee raises, captain's chair hanging leg raises, Roman chair leg raises

Targets: Hip flexors, abs, obliques

Equipment Needed: Gym workstation

Level: Intermediate

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 the legs.

Hanging leg raises require enough upper-body strength to support your body weight. You also need to be able to use the frame. But when you're ready, these exercises can be a useful addition to a strength-training routine, as they help work several muscles at once.

Benefits

The exercise targets the abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis), hip flexors (iliopsoas), and the external obliques. It also introduces isolation techniques. Not only is isolation important to many other exercises, it can also help improve your functional fitness level, prevent and reduce pain, and help you avoid injury.

In your day-to-day life, you'll engage many different muscles groups to complete tasks like climbing stairs or carrying groceries. As you participate in your activities of daily living, these muscles have to coordinate and work together. Isolation exercises can give you the opportunity to identify your body's unique areas of weakness and develop a workout to strengthen them.

Step-by-Step Instructions

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  1. Stand in the frame with your arms resting on the arms of the chair. Grab on to the handles of the chair, if it has them.
  2. Check that your arm position is firm (you need to be able to lift your bodyweight from the floor).
  3. Inhale as you engage your abdominal muscles to prepare for the leg lift.
  4. Lift your legs by bending at the knees. Go no higher than your waist.
  5. With an engaged core, exhale as you lower your legs in a controlled movement until you're back in the starting position.
  6. Aim for 8 to 10 raises before resting (one set). Work up to 3 sets of 10 raises.

Common Mistakes

You're Arching Your Back

As you perform the leg raises, keep your back straight, not arched, and pressed against the pad. Your head and neck should be steady.

Your Core Isn't Engaged

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 toning benefits of the move, you're also putting yourself at risk for injury.

You're Relying on Momentum

The same can be said for swinging your lefts or relying on momentum. Keep your movements controlled.

You're 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.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

If you're struggling to grip the frame, try using arm straps.

Lying hip raises can provide you with a similar workout if you don't have access to a gym or your gym doesn't have a chair frame or another apparatus for hanging leg raises.

Up for a Challenge?

Try these different versions of hanging leg raises:

  • Straight leg lift: To make the move more of a challenge and really work your core, try doing the lifts with your legs straight out rather than bent at the knees.
  • Pull-up leg lifts: Add another element of challenge to hanging leg raises by using a pull-up bar instead of a chair frame.
  • Captain's chair kicks: Raise just one leg to waist level, keeping your knee straight. In a slow, controlled movement and a straight back, do a flutter kick. Alternate legs for your desired number of reps.
  • Captain's chair twist: As you lift your legs, twist your torso so your knees are at a slight angle to your body. This variation targets your obliques.

Safety and Precautions

To perform classic hanging leg raises, you need the right equipment. Ensure that the gym where you work out has made an investment in stable, well-maintained apparatuses.

If you have certain health conditions, injuries, or are recovering from surgery, it's a good idea to check with your doctor before starting an exercise routine or adding something new to your workout. Moves like hanging leg lifts require your upper body and core to do a lot of work. You may need to avoid hanging leg lifts if you:

  • Are pregnant or recovering from childbirth
  • Have recently had surgery on your abdomen
  • Have a condition called rectus diastasis
  • Are recovering from injuries or surgery involving your back, neck, arms, or legs

In some cases, you may be able to perform the move with modifications. Ask a trainer at your gym or a physical therapist for recommendations.

Try It Out

Captain's chair leg lifts are a great intermediate level move to add to your workout. The next time you hit the gym, try pairing hanging leg lifts with these moves:

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