The Benefits of Doing Straight Leg Raises

Straight leg raises won't build lots of muscle, but they can tone them up.
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The straight leg raise offers a low-impact, equipment-free exercise suitable for virtually all experience levels. Straight leg raises won't melt away fat, and they can't sculpt your lower body all by their lonesome, but they can help give your hips, thighs and abs that all-important tone and definition. Include the exercise alongside staples like squats and lunges as part of a regular lower-body routine.

Muscles Worked

    Despite the name, straight leg raises squarely target the iliopsoas muscles of the hips. This simple exercise also engages tons of thigh muscles – including the sartorius, pectineus, rectus femoris and the adductors – as synergists, or muscles that help other muscles complete a movement. The quads, abs and obliques – or “outer abs” – also get a secondary workout as you lift your legs skyward.

Other Benefits

    In addition to toning the lower body, “Health” magazine recommends straight leg raises to encourage back strength. Under the supervision of a health professional, the straight leg raise lends itself to injury rehabilitation, helping mend everything from quad strains to iliopsoas inflammation to an ACL rupture. Although you might not use the exercise in this capacity on the regular, the straight leg raise can also help you identify serious back problems – if you feel acute low back pain during the lift, it might indicate a herniated disc.


    You can do the standard straight leg raise lying on a mat or flat bench, but putting the exercise on an incline recruits all new muscle groups, including the rectus abdominus, pecs, lats, deltoids and triceps. The hanging straight leg raise works the same muscles groups as the lying version, but you'll get a little more burn for your buck as this variation increases the challenge. For an even more intense workout, you can add ankle weights or hold a weight plate between your feet.

Things to Consider

    While you might turn to straight leg raises to flatten the tummy, your abs and obliques will only benefit if you achieve waist flexion. In English, this means that you must focus on driving the leg raise movement from the hips and moving your legs inward, slightly beyond the vertical position. Like any ab exercise, straight leg raises only exercise the muscles under fat. Despite myths of spot reduction, you'll need to reduce overall body fat via regular cardio and a healthy diet to flatten your tummy for the long haul.

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