How to Do the Captain's Chair Hanging Leg Raise

The Captain's chair or hanging leg raise station is a workout frame used in many gyms. The two chair arms support your body weight while you raise the legs. The exercise targets the abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis), the hip flexors (iliopsoas) and the external obliques — muscles that run down the sides of the abdomen. A more difficult hanging leg raise can be done while hanging from a pull-up bar.

If you need more guidance on weight training please refer to the beginner's guide.


The Starting Position

Captain's chair exercise
(c) Paul Rogers / Cooloola Fitness
  1. Stand in the captain's chair frame with arms resting on the chair arms. Grasp the upright handles if your model has them.
  2. Ensure a firm position with the arms because you will be lifting your bodyweight from the floor.
  3. Make sure you breathe in ready for the leg raise.
  4. Brace the abdominal muscles at the midriff.

Exercise Movement and Notes

Captain's chair exercise
(c) Paul Rogers / Cooloola Fitness
  1. Proceed to lift the legs upward while exhaling at the same time. Don't hold the breath. Inhale as you lower the legs ready for the next leg raise.
  2. You can either lift the legs with knees bent so that the thighs are approximately parallel to the floor (see picture), or raise straight legs outward, which is much harder.
  3. Control is important, do not swing your legs or rely on momentum. Any such extraneous motion will reduce the effectiveness and might even lead to a strain.
  4. Lower the legs to the starting position and do the next one immediately.
  5. Do multiple raises in a single set. Try 8 to 10 raises in succession before you rest. Aim for 3 sets of 10 raises.
  6. Keep the back straight and pressed against the pad with the head and neck steady. Do not arch your back.


  • Straight Leg Lift: Don't bend the knees as you raise your legs parallel to the ground.
  • Captain's Chair Kicks: Raise one leg at a time with straight knee until it is at waist level. Do a flutter kick, alternating legs. This will need to be done slowly to keep control without arching your back.
  • Captain's Chair Twist: Bring up your knees at a slight angle to your body, targeting the obliques.


  • This exercise requires equipment, and so it is usually done in a gym where they have made that investment in stable equipment.
  • It can't be performed if you aren't able to hold up your body weight. If you are a beginner to ab exercises, you may need to build up to it.
  • It can be hard to keep your upper body straight without back support. 

Does the Captain's Chair Exercise Work?

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) sponsored a study in 2001 to measure which abdominal exercises were the most effective. The study was conducted at the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State Univerity and let by Peter Francis, Ph.D. They measured muscle activity during each exercise by electromyography in the rectus abdominus and the obliques.

The captain's chair was the most effective for the obliques and the second most effective for the rectus abdominus out of 13 exercises and machines. It beat every type of crunch and the highly marketed Ab Rocker and Ab Roller devices. Its muscle activation score was double that of some ab exercises.

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Article Sources
  • American Council on Exercise, Abdominals Exercise Study, 2001.