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.
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.
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.
- ExRx.net: Lying Straight Leg Raise
- ExRx.net: Incline Straight Leg Raise
- ExRx.net: Hanging Straight Leg Raise
- ExRx.net: Weighted Hanging Straight Leg Raise
- Sports Injury Clinic: Straight Leg Raise
- ABC News: What Is a Straight-Leg-Raising Test and What Is It Used For?
- Health: 4 Steps to a Stronger Back: Straight Leg Raise
- ExRx.net: Spot Reduction Myth
Dan Ketchum has been a professional writer since 2003, with work appearing online and offline in Word Riot, Bazooka Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Trails and more. Dan's diverse professional background spans from costume design and screenwriting to mixology, manual labor and video game industry publicity.