How to Do Hanging Leg Raises: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Targets: Hip extensors and abdominals

Equipment Needed: High bar or pull-up bar

Level: Advanced

The hanging leg raise is a high-level isolation exercise that helps build the hip flexors and abdominal muscles. All you need is access to a high bar and you can easily add this exercise to your advanced core workout.

How to Do a Hanging Leg Raise

woman doing pull-up hanging leg raise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Hanging leg raises require the use of a bar that you can grasp above your head. This bar must be stable and able to support your full body weight, as well as withstand the stress that is added when you raise and lower your legs.

A pull-up bar is a good choice. A round bar is more comfortable to grasp than a squared-off bar or square wooden beam. Don't use a door frame or ledge, as this isn't safe.

Some bars have hooks or rings that you can grasp. Others have ab straps attached, providing support to your upper arms while you grasp the bar with your hands.

Grab the bar with an overhand grip, your thumbs wrapped around the bar to improve stability. You don't have to necessarily be hanging at this stage but, ideally, your hands should be grasping the bar well above your head.

  1. Exhale as you lift your feet off the ground, raising your straight legs outward in front of you. Tilt your pelvis slightly back and engage your abdominals and hip flexors to assist with the movement.
  2. Raise your legs to a level that feels challenging but still enables you to keep good form. Strive to get them parallel to the ground (so that your hips are bent at 90 degrees), or a little higher if you can.
  3. Lower your legs back down slowly until they return to the starting position, inhaling during this portion of the exercise. Maintain your posterior pelvic tilt, even at the bottom of the movement.

Benefits of the Hanging Leg Raise

Both primary hip flexors—the sartorius and the iliopsoas—work hard during hanging leg raises. The longest muscle in the body, the sartorius assists with hip and knee flexion. The iliopsoas flexes the hip to draw the thighs to the trunk, aids in side bending, and flexes the lumbar spine.

The rectus femoris, tensor fasciae latae, pectineus, and adductor longus are synergistic muscles that are also activated during the hanging leg raise. The stabilizing abdominal muscles during this exercise are the rectus abdominus and the obliques.

While the traditional crunch and its variants give a top-down approach to working the abs, the hanging leg raise is a bottom-up approach that works them in a different way than many other exercises. Advanced exercisers can use this movement to vary their ab routine.

The effects you get from this exercise depend on how far you are able to raise your legs—but you will feel your abdominals working hard at just about any level. A strong core makes it easier to lift heavy items while also supporting a healthy posture.

Other Variations of a Hanging Leg Raise

You can perform this exercise in different ways, depending on your fitness level, to make it easier at first and to give more of a challenge as you progress.

Bent-Leg Hanging Raise

If you have difficulty bringing your legs up while straight, try the bent leg version. Use your abs and hip flexors to bring your knees up to waist level, so they are bent at 90 degrees. As your strength increases, work on extending your legs when your knees reach your waist, and then lowering the extended legs.

Captain's Chair Leg Raise

Another slightly easier version of the hanging leg raise is the captain's chair leg raise. This chair has back and arm pads to help keep you in position. Place your forearms on the armrests, grasp the handles, and lift your extended legs in front of you before lowering them again.

captain's chair hanging leg raises

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Shoulder-Level Hanging Leg Raise

To increase the difficulty of this exercise, continue raising your legs up to shoulder level. This causes the rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscle) to work even harder. Only do this more challenging variation if you can keep proper form.

Weighted Hanging Leg Raise

Once you are ready to progress, you can also add ankle weights or hold a dumbbell or medicine ball between your feet when doing hanging leg raises. If you use this variation, choose a weight that you are able to lift without sacrificing your form and hold it securely between your feet.

Hanging Leg Raise With Flexion and Extension

Extending and bending your knees while in a raised position will provide a further challenge. Raise your straightened legs to waist height and, keeping them raised, bend your knees before straightening your legs again. Then, lower your straightened legs back down.

Single-Arm Hanging Leg Raise

One-arm hanging leg raises (with straight legs or bent knees) are another advanced version. The steps are the same, you're just hanging by one arm versus two. If this places too much pressure on your forearms or wrists, you might want to bypass this option.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors to get the most from this exercise and prevent strain or injury.

Swinging

Don't swing in an attempt to raise your legs with momentum. Instead, concentrate the effort in your abs and hip flexors to help control the movement and activate your core.

Shoulders Hunched

Keep your shoulders down to help protect them during this exercise. To get them in the right position, while hanging, move your shoulders as far away from your ears as you can.

Lowering Legs Too Fast

Your core muscles work hard during the lowering phase of this exercise. If you rush this phase and try to lower them too fast, you will miss this benefit. Keep the descent of your legs slow and controlled, again, avoiding any swaying or swinging while retaining good form.

Safety and Precautions

Ensure that the bar or hanging apparatus is stable and well-maintained so you can hang from it safely. 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.

You may need to avoid hanging leg lifts if you:

  • Are pregnant or recovering from childbirth
  • Have diastasis recti
  • Recently had surgery on your abdomen
  • Are recovering from injuries or a surgery involving your back, neck, arms, or legs

In cases such as this, ask a personal trainer or a physical therapist for recommendations on which exercises would be better substitutes. Stop this exercise if you feel any pain.

Aim to perform 10 repetitions in a set—or as many as you can manage. As you gain strength, try to work your way up to 30 repetitions in total.

Try It Out

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

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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.
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