If you are looking for a new way to brighten up your life core routine— look no further than hanging leg raises. The body-busting exercise works multiple abs while simultaneously building strength in your 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 finisher to your next gym session or a regular part of your core routine.
Curious how a hanging leg raise works exactly? Basically, you hold on and hang on to one pull-up bar, then lift your feet off the floor, flexing and straightening the spine to work your abs, says Mayfield. You can do hanging leg raises whenever you want to work your core, says Ashley RiosCPT, CEO of Fitness by Ashley. Aiming for three times a week is enough to feel the burn and get core results, says Mayfield.
If you’ve never done hanging leg raises before, you’ll definitely want to get all the info before trying them IRL. (Otherwise you risk injury, 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 arms fully extended and legs straight. (This could be an official pull-up bar or another bar at the gym that’s high enough off the floor so your feet don’t drag.)
- Brace your core and bend at your hips to lift your extended legs 90 degrees, or as high as you can. (If this is your first time trying this exercise, the focus on form and height will come with strength and practice.)
- Once you reach your highest point with your legs at or near 90 degrees, slowly lower your legs back to their starting position with as much control as you can maintain. Do not swing to initiate leg movements. You want your hip flexors and core to do the work, not the momentum. That’s one rep.
Benefits of hanging leg raises
There are many core exercises out there, but hanging leg raises offer some unique benefits. According to trainers, these are the main benefits:
- Improves grip strength. Because you’re gripping the bar with your hands and holding up your entire body weight while doing this exercise, you’re also improving the grip strength, explains Rios. This can help you improve your performance in other exercises that require a bar and regular activities that involve crushing, squeezing, and carrying in your daily life.
- Strengthens hip flexors. Hanging leg raises also help you improve your hip flexor strength because you hinge at your hips throughout the exercise, Mayfield explains. By increasing the strength of your hip flexors, you can improve your posture and relieve any tightness or immobility in your hips when you sit at a desk all day. (Hip mobility exercises may also help.)
- Works multiple abs. “This is one of the best exercises to strengthen your entire rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis,” says Mayfield. Hanging leg raises work both the part of your abs that are visible (six pack) *and* your deepest core, so you get a nice 360-degree approximation of your center.
Common hanging leg lifting mistakes to avoid
Here are typical mistakes people make when performing hanging leg raises that can make the move less effective or increase your risk of injury, plus how to fix them.
1. You don’t lift your legs high enough. While it’s hard for some to get their legs into a 90-degree angle with this move, you should try to get them as close as possible, Mayfield explains. “Otherwise, you’re only working your hip flexors, not all the other potential muscles, which can cause strain,” says Mayfield.
To repair: Modify your movement and lift with your knees bent – you’ll get more height and ensure you’re working the targeted muscles.
2. You’re swinging on the crossbar. Yes, sometimes people get lost in the movement and start swinging their legs, creating too much momentum, says Mayfield. This move means you’re not really engaging your core.
To repair: Focus on pulling your navel in and bending through the spine and moving in a controlled manner instead of swinging, Mayfield explains.
3. You don’t stretch afterwards. This can be an intense exercise that works the entire body, so it’s important to cool down and stretch after hanging leg lifts, says Mayfield.
To repair: Whether you jog lightly for 10 minutes or specifically take the time for it stretch your hip flexors and abs, with light movements after your workout, you make sure you don’t experience an unpleasant tight feeling or an injury.
Hanging Leg Raise Changes and Variations
Let’s be real: While hanging leg raises seem like a super fun way to work your core (it’s kind of like doing monkey bars as an adult, hah), they’re also difficult. If you need some adjustments to really make this exercise work for you, don’t worry. The following are simple ways you can make hanging leg raises more accessible.
- Bend your knees. Yes, it’s perfectly normal not to be able to fully lift your legs while stretched. To make this move more accessible, try bending your knees as you raise so you still reach 90 degrees (or close to it) but don’t have to deal with the added strain of keeping your legs straight, Mayfield explains .
- Use a captain’s chair. While hanging leg raises are often done while *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 chair with no bottom, complete with armrests on the sides, where you rest your forearms while you hang. You complete the hanging leg raise as normal when using a captain’s chair — it just takes the pressure off your grip and upper body, says Mayfield. In this position, you keep your weight off your shoulders, which are usually stronger.
Not looking for a way to make hanging leg lifting easier, but rather more of a challenge? I get it too. Here’s how to take hanging leg raises to the next level to strengthen your sweat sesh and activate your core.
- Add free weights. Light a lamp dumbbell or other free weight between your feet before you leave the ground to add some extra resistance, says Rios. You’re still doing the same movement as before, but you’re applying more effort by lifting your legs off the floor and stabilizing your core with the added weight.
- Take it to the ground. Not everything leg goes up have to hang. 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. Hold your arms at your sides or overhead (for higher levels of difficulty) and do what is essentially a reverse crunch, pulling the knees up toward your chest, flexing your core, and lifting your hips off the floor, says Mayfield. Again, feel free to add weights to this move to increase the effort if needed.
- Use a resistance band. If you want to add a challenge without weights, try recording resistance bands instead, Rios explains. To do this, attach the resistance band to the base of your bar so that it hangs down, then step your feet so that they rest inside the band and pull it further down, creating tension. From there, complete the hanging leg raise as normal. When you lower your legs (usually more of your resting point in the exercise), you will experience resistance from the band that will make it more difficult for you 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 for frequency, Mayfield says it’s great to incorporate core moves like hanging leg raises into every workout. If that sounds intimidating, aim for three times a week, she adds.
Exactly when to do hanging leg lifts during your workout really depends on your “workout style, individual goals, and workout frequency,” says Rios. Hanging leg lifts can be done at the end of a lifting session, during a circuit, or mixed in with supersets, says Rios.
Work it in: Start with two to three sets of 8 to 10 reps of hanging leg raises. Rest one or two minutes between sets. Do the move three times a week.
Try a few reps and you’ll know right away that these are intense. “Hanging leg raises are an advanced move, so I would start small and build in more reps and sets as you master the form,” says Rios.
Madeline Howard is a writer, editor and creative based in Brooklyn. Her work has been published in Esquire, Nylon, Cosmopolitan and more. She was an editor at Women’s Health, among other things. Subscribe to her “hey howie” newsletter at madelinehoward.substack.com.