If you’re tired of doing the same old crunch routine to firm and tone your midsection, give hanging leg raises a try. Not only are leg raises effective in building your lower abs, they also help to strengthen your lower back. Leg raises are typically done with a pullup bar, but don’t worry if you don’t have a lot of upper-body strength; pullups are not a part of the exercise. Whatever your skill or strength level, there’s a leg-raise version for you.
Place a step stool below a pullup bar. Step on the stool to help you reach the bar. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, with your palms facing down. Position your hands so that they are shoulder-width apart. Step off the stool and hang two or three seconds with your body in a straight line.
Perform a beginner's leg raise first to gauge your strength level. Tighten up your midsection and keep your upper body as still as possible. With your legs together, slowly bend your knees and hips and raise your knees up toward your chest as high as you can. Concentrate on using your abs to lift your legs. Pause for a quick second, slowly lower your legs and repeat.
Perform straight-leg raises once you've developed the necessary strength. Start as if you were going to perform the beginner version. Keep your legs together and straight but, instead of bending your knees, bend only your hips and raise your legs until they are parallel to the floor. Point your toes, pause, lower your legs and repeat. If you feel some stress in your lower back, do the exercise with your knees slightly bent.
Swing your legs left and right to take the exercise to the next level. Using the beginner version technique, bend and lift your knees toward your chest. Before lowering your legs, swing your knees to the right, then to the left and back to the middle. Lower your legs and repeat. If you need more challenge, keep your legs straight while swinging them side to side.
Add ankle weights if you dare. Strap the weights around your ankles and perform straight leg raises. Lift your legs as usual, but instead of stopping when your legs are parallel to the floor, continue to lift your legs until your feet touch the bar. Try to do one set of five and gradually increase the number of reps.
- Leg raises can be hard on your hands when you first start. Wear gloves until your hands get stronger.
- Avoid swinging or swaying your body to raise your legs. The movement should be slow and controlled.
- Start with one set of five reps and work your way up to 10 reps.
- If you have had or are susceptible to lower back pain, get the OK from your doctor before doing leg raises.