The leg lift – a classic calisthenic exercise that traces its roots back to the 1950s – may conjure up dated images of day-glo spandex and mail-order exercise tapes, but it still lives on in many forms. Today, bodyweight leg lifts come in standing, lying, hanging and sitting forms, each of them serving to tone the legs and possibly the core. Although many experts continue to recommend leg lifts as part of women's workout routines, this exercise has its share of vocal detractors.
Although the numerous variations of leg lifts heighten the focus on toning and shaping specific muscles, virtually every type of leg lift targets the all-important glutes, thighs and core. In addition to these target areas, leg lifts also engage the hamstrings as a secondary muscle group. Leg lifts won't pack on muscle or burn a ton of calories; they focus instead on defining and toning the lower body. “Sport Illustrated” recommends the side leg lift exercise for toning the thighs and hips, in particular.
Standing leg lifts, perhaps the most common of all the exercise's varied iterations, focuses squarely on firming the glutes. Seated varieties, such as the one recommended by “Shape” magazine, include the seated single-leg lift. This move works the quads and core while hanging variations focus specifically on toning the abs. To intensify your lower-body workout, you can add a resistance band or ankle weights to this exercise. For a simultaneous upper-body workout, pair standing leg lifts with a medicine ball or dumbbells.
Despite the focus on toning, you still stand to burn a few calories when performing leg lifts. According to estimates from the “Washington Post,” leg lifts burn about 125 calories per half hour, equaling the caloric burn of common calisthenic exercises such as pushups, crunches and lunges. It doesn't look like much on paper, but that's just enough calories to burn off the average slice of cake.
Though some trainers and prominent fitness publications continue to recommend leg lifts, some fitness gurus doubt the potential benefits of the exercise. For instance, the National Council on Strength and Fitness, a governing board for personal trainers, calls the entire concept of lifting your legs to tone your abs “flawed at the biomechanical level.” The group does not, however, doubt the exercise's leg-shaping effects, and does recommend hanging leg lifts for abdominal and core development.
- Fitness Magazine: 5-Minute Core Workout: Strong Abs and Back – Standing Leg Lift
- Bodybuilding.com: Leg Lift
- Shape: 25 Deceiving Exercises (They Tone More Than You Think!) - 13. Pilates Single-Leg Lifts
- The Washington Post: Feel the Summer Burn
- CalorieLab: Cake Calorie Counter
- National Council on Strength and Fitness: The Problem with Leg Lifts
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.