The hanging leg raise is a brutal core exercise. Not only does it provide a killer workout for your upper and lower abdomen, but it also tests your grip and hip flexor strength. Whilst this exercise deserves a place in your workout regime, there are alternatives if you’re looking to diversify.
In this article, I will be discussing 9 of the best substitutes for this movement, which require similar patterns of movement and, therefore, develop your core and hip flexor strength in a comparable way.
Understanding the Hanging Leg Raise Movement
It’s important to grasp the benefits of hanging leg raises in order to understand which exercises make good alternatives, and why. The hanging leg raise involves hanging in a dead hang position whilst lifting either straight or bent legs up towards your torso. Some of the benefits are:
- All your major abdominal muscles including your obliques are worked, hard.
- Auxiliary muscles used for abdominal contraction are strengthened to a high degree, i.e. your rectus femoris, iliacus, psoas, iliocapsularis, and sartorius (hip flexor muscles).
- Spinal posture is considerably improved through the development of various spinal stabilizing muscles, as well as the way in which the spine gets to stretch through the exercise.
- The eccentric phase of hanging leg lowers create a significant amount of muscular overload on the muscles recruited, due to the weight of your legs (especially when kept straight).
Hanging Leg Raise Substitutes
Below you will find a list of 9 hand-picked exercises you can do as well as, or instead of the hanging leg raise.
They range in difficulty, so whether you’re looking to broaden your ab workout horizons or build up suitable strength to be able to perform the hanging leg raise – you’re in the right place.
1. Roman Chair Leg Raises
This exercise is as close to a hanging leg raise as it gets. The roman chair provides upper body support, by means of ‘arm rests’, whilst you perform your leg raises. Of course, these can also be done with bent knees, in which case it would become more of a beginner level exercise.
Either way, roman chair leg raises do everything that hanging leg raises do, less the grip strength development. If grip strength is holding you back from effectively performing the hanging leg raise, then give these ones a whirl!
- Keep your lower back firmly against the back plate whilst lifting your legs.
- A slight bend in your knees will help maintain appropriate load on your core.
V-ups hit every muscle in your core and give your hip flexors something to write home about – so, there’s no wonder this exercise features on this list! It’s a challenging exercise which requires an appropriate level of spinal stability to be able to perform.
This exercise has you go from full body extension on the floor into a ‘V’ shape through hinging at the hips, contracting through the core and raising both your straight legs and torso towards one another. Variations exist whereby you can sit on the edge of a bench and support your upper body with your arms and keep your knees bent.
- Look out for excessive lower back hyperextension.
- Use your breathing to your advantage. Inhale on extension, exhale on contraction.
3. Flat Bench Leg & Hip Raises
This exercise utilizes a very similar movement pattern to the hanging leg raise, albeit in a lying down position whilst you grip the bench behind your head for additional support. The ‘hip raise’ element of this exercise is not essential but gives your upper abdominals a bit of extra work to do.
Starting with your body extended out straight, you then lift your legs up to form a 90-degree bend at the hips before rolling your hips and lower back upwards off the bench. This creates a large range of movement and an exceptionally challenging eccentric phase.
- Look out for excessive lower back hyperextension on the way down.
- The leg and hip raise and lower should be performed in a slow and controlled manner to maximize time under tension.
4. Fit Ball Knee Tucks
This is a good entry-level exercise that requires the tucking/ lifting of the knees towards your chest, like in the hanging leg raise, but without the additional forces of gravity! You are still required to stabilize through your spine, especially as you roll the ball away from you and extend through your body.
Supporting your upper body on extended arms on the ground with your shins on the fit ball, roll the ball towards you and then away from you by tucking your knees in and then returning to starting position via extension of the hips.
The more advanced version of this would be the fit ball pike, which is one step closer to the hanging leg raise and is discussed a little further down in this list.
- Keep your body in a straight, strong line on extension. Don’t let your hips sag as this puts unnecessary pressure on your lumbar spine.
- Avoid bending your arms and loading your chest and shoulders to concentrate the load on your core and hip flexors.
A popular exercise in gymnastics training, the l-sit is another brutal core exercise that requires pre-conditioning to master without injury or excessive strain. This exercise differs from hanging leg raises in that it is a position held for time, rather than a range of movement repeated several times.
Whilst supporting your weight on extend arms, you are required to lift your (straight) legs to form a 90-degree angle at the hips… and then hold this position for a set amount of time. Long story short, it’s the hardest part of the hanging leg raise, frozen in time. Good luck!
- Don’t let your hips swing backwards behind your arms. Drive forward through the hips (keep them in front of your arms) to maximize the load on your core and minimize the load on your arms.
- Avoid sinking into your shoulders, keep firm and engaged through your upper body too.
6. Fit Ball Pikes
One of my personal favorites, the fit ball pike! As mentioned earlier in this article, this is a great progression from the fit ball knee tuck and a regression from the hanging leg raise. If you can perform these without too much difficulty, you’re well on your way to mastering the hanging leg raise.
Whilst supporting your weight on extend arms, in push up position with your shins on the fit ball, hinge at the hips and contract through the core. This will send your hips upwards and roll the ball towards your torso. At the end of the movement, there should be an almost vertical line from your hips to your hands before you go back into extension to begin your next repetition.
- Avoid sagging through the lower back when your body is extended.
- Keep your elbows and knees locked to encourage your core and hip flexors to do all the work!
7. Double Crunch
The double crunch is an exercise that has you flexing and extending through the core. It requires you to drive your chest towards your knees, and your knees towards your chest, thus using your core and your hip flexors, as in the hanging leg raise.
If you’re struggling to do v-ups, as laid out earlier in this list, then this exercise is a good starting place. Technically a bent leg version of the v-up -- you are required to lay fully extended on the floor and then drive your chest and knees upwards creating a ‘v’ at your hips before returning to starting position.
- Keep your spine neutral throughout the movement.
- Maintain tension on your core and hip flexors by not resting your legs on the ground in between your repetitions.
8. Lying Down Leg Lowers
This exercise is referred to as both ‘leg lowers’ and ‘leg raises’, depending on who you talk to. In fairness, you are both raising and lowering your legs, so either name will do.
This exercise is very similar to the hanging leg raise, less the hanging part! Where hanging leg raises places focus on both your lower and upper abs, this laying down version will specifically work your lower abdomen.
Depending on your current level of core strength and hip flexor conditioning, you can have your hands under your hips for added lumbar support, or by your side if you want to go the whole hog. Keeping your legs straight and together, raise them to form a 90-degree angle at the hips and then lower the back to the ground slowly, maintaining a neutral spine.
- Keep your whole back on the floor for the entire movement. If your lower back is curling off the floor, you have lifted your legs beyond where they need to go.
- If you’re not wanting your hands under your hips or by your sides, you can hold onto something stable behind your head, i.e. the base of a cable tower.
9. Reverse Crunches
The reason this exercise has a place on this list is that it’s a core exercise that requires you to lift the bottom half of your body through contracting your core, rather than the top half. This makes it somewhat like the hanging leg raise and is a good way for beginners to build up the core strength required to eventually do the hanging leg raise.
Lying on the ground with your arms by your side and your legs bent at the knees with feet off the ground, you are to lift your hips and lower back off the ground, crunching your abs. It’s literally the reverse of a standard crunch whereby you would roll your neck, shoulders and upper back off the ground instead.
- Keep your repetitions slow and free of momentum.
- Once you have rolled your hips and lower back off the ground, hold for a second with your core fully engaged before you return to starting position.
It goes without saying that core strength is a fundamental contributor to your all-around functional strength and conditioning. And the hanging leg raise is referred to as the holy grail of abdominal exercises. But as you can see there are others that work your core (and hip flexors) in a similar way.
All the exercises you have just read about can be done as alternatives to the hanging leg raise, as well as the hanging leg raise, or to be able to eventually do the hanging leg raise! Whatever your fitness and strength level may be, there is an exercise on this list for you.
Can you think of any other good substitutes? Let our readers know by commenting in the comments section below!