Core work is often associated with grueling repetitions on the floor or wobbling on an exercise ball. But the beauty of core work is the many incarnations it can take that move your workout beyond traditional exercises and into a challenging realm of innovation. Hanging leg raises are one of many effective exercises that target the core in its entirety and pick you up off the floor for a new perspective on working out your core.
Exercises are most effective when executed with proper form. Form is key to ensuring that your sweat and burn are accomplishing their intended goals rather than wasting your time. Whether gripping a pullup bar in an overhand grip or using ab straps, your starting position should be with the body hanging straight down from the arms. Initiate the movement by rounding the lower back and tilting the pelvis under. Maintain this tuck throughout the motion to keep your body from swinging back and forth like a trapeze artist. Whether your legs are straight or bent, raise them towards your chest in a slow controlled motion, then straighten them again with the same control. Yanking the legs up quickly will only make your body swing precariously and the target muscles will get left out of the workout.
Concentric and Eccentric Movement
As the legs move towards the chest the body hinges at the waist which immediately activates the rectus abdominis in a concentric contraction. The eccentric motion of straightening out the hips and taking the legs back down again incorporates the stabilizing muscles of the abdominals as well as the erector spinae, the lumbar multifidus and the quadratus lumborum muscles at the lower back.
Though the majority of the burn you may start to feel seems to center on the lower abdominals, the entire core is being put through the wringer. The flat muscle of the rectus abdominis is the most visible muscle working, but the deep stabilizing muscles of the core stay flexed throughout the range of motion as well. Muscles such as the transversus abdominis, the internal obliques, diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles may not be visible deep under the six-pack rectus abdominis, but these deep muscles squeeze tight to make sure your body stays stable and doesn’t swing, as well as assisting the rectus abdominis to curl up as you lift your legs. Though they may not be the primary focus of the exercise, the wings of your latissimus dorsi of the back just under the arm pits are also activated as your arms work against the pull of gravity.
You can easily play with hanging leg raises to increase difficulty or to target the external obliques. Raising the legs sideways instead of forward targets the obliques as does starting with the torso twisted in one direction or the other. Hinging from the waist to raise the legs while maintaining the twist in the body gets the obliques to pull most of the weight in the exercise. Putting a medicine ball or light dumbbell between the knees or ankles steps up the resistance considerably. Maintain proper form with slow and controlled movements regardless of how you vary the exercise.
- MuscleandStrength.com: Hanging Leg Raise Video Guide
- The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding; Arnold Schwarzenegger
- ExRx.net: Hanging Leg Raises
- High Performance Core Conditioning; Paul Chek
- National Academy of Sports Medicine Essentials of Sports Performance Training; Michael A. Clark
Jullie Chung writes regularly for various websites. She is a nationally certified fitness trainer and performance enhancement specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and trains regularly in yoga, flatwater kayaking, boxing and mixed martial arts. An avid outdoor fan, she regularly hikes, climbs and trail runs.