The hanging leg raise is the powerhouse of abs exercises, recruiting all sorts of yummy-looking stabiliser muscles in addition to your lower abdominals. You may have read by now that sit-ups and crunches are surprisingly ineffectual at giving you a six-pack, focusing almost entirely on the upper abdominals. So if you’re looking to get that seriously shredded look, these bad boys will eventually appear in your routine.

The basics of doing a hanging leg raise

It all looks fairly straightforward, grab a pull-up bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and slowly raise your legs, keeping them straight until they’re at 90° with your torso. Then lower them back down to the starting position.

But if it were really that easy you would all be doing them now instead of reading this article. The mechanics of keeping your torso stable, your legs straight, your core engaged, and the movement controlled – all while holding your own bodyweight – isn’t as easy as the Instagrammers make it look.


Common mistakes

1. Be sure to keep your torso and hips still, otherwise, you reduce the level of stress on your abs and put it on your hip flexors instead.
2. Don’t swing. Unless you’re in a CrossFit competition there’s no need to rush your hanging leg raises. Swinging means your legs are doing most of the work and your abs will hardly feel a thing. It’s not a muscle-up.
3. Don’t tense your shoulders, keep them passive in order to focus the workload on your core muscles. Engaging your shoulders inevitably leads to a sort of front lever movement which is working all sorts of different muscles other than your core.
4. Don’t cheat on the range of motion. Make the most of the movement and perform the full range of motion. This is a great exercise for a reason, and only performing part of the movement is seriously limiting the benefits of doing it at all. If you’re not ready for the full movement, try an adaptation rather than just cheating.

Hanging leg raise variations

Image: 123rf | undrey

1. Tucked position

Keep your knees bent as you raise them. This keeps the centre of mass closer to the body, making it easier on your abs and doesn’t require the flexibility of the full hanging leg raise.

2. Straddle

Raise your legs with them straight, but out to the sides. This bridges the gap between the tuck and the pike, with the added benefit of feeling like the lead from FAME!

3. Isometric hold

If you have that flexibility but you’re struggling with keeping your torso stable, try an isometric hold, where you raise your legs up and hold them out at 90° for several seconds before lowering them down to the starting position. The reduced movement will make the move easier and help you work towards the full version.

4. Partial range of motion

Starting from a dead hang, raise your legs up to 90°and then lower them again. If this is too easy, try the top half, going from 90°to a toe-touch.

5. Tuck to pike

Raise your legs to 90° tucked, then extend them out to lower them, performing the eccentric or negative portion of the movement with your legs extended.

6. ADVANCED

If the regular hanging leg raise is too easy, try adding some twists in order to engage the obliques more, performing a windscreen-wiper motion with your legs extended.

Gay Fitness Challenge 2018

If the hanging leg raise is too much of a challenge (or not challenging enough), why not sign up for our next Gay Fitness Challenge? Work towards your own goal, with a training and nutrition program specially designed for you. You can train alone or take part in gay group exercise classes, and you’ll have the support of fellow gay guys who are going through the same thing you are.


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