We all want flat abs or a six-pack. Men and women alike spend a lot of time on abdominal exercises. We are always on the lookout for new ways to work our abs. Leg raises are not new; however, they can be very effective at working the core muscles. Personal trainers often include leg raises as part of a complete workout plan.
What Are Leg Raises?
If you have been to a gym, you have probably seen members doing this exercise. The leg raise is a strength training exercise which works several muscle groups at the same time. Besides working the abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis) isometrically, they strengthen the oblique muscles and the hip flexors (iliopsoas).
Benefits of Leg Raises
Doing leg raises regularly can help to strengthen your lower back as well as your abdominal muscles, helping to reduce the risk of back injuries. Leg raises can be much more effective at working your abs and obliques than traditional crunches. There is no need for fitness equipment. This exercise can be done at home or at the gym.
There are modifications that can be used if needed, and progression can be achieved in numerous ways. Adding intensity with weight and using different types of equipment expands the value of this exercise. However, if you are looking for spot reduction, leg raises are not going to help. It is a misconception that exercising your abdominal muscles alone will give you a flat stomach. No exercise will do that. Losing stomach fat requires a complete diet and exercise plan.
How to Do Proper Leg Raises
As with most exercises, form is paramount. If you want to get the maximum benefit from an exercise, you must pay close attention to form. Looking around the gym and watching someone do an exercise is not the best way to learn proper form. Unless you are a personal trainer, you probably will not know if someone is doing it right or not. The last thing you want to do is copy someone who is doing it wrong.
You don’t need any special equipment to do this exercise. It’s easy to do at home or at the gym. To perform this exercise properly, all you need is a flat surface. A yoga mat or other cushioned mat to lie on is recommended for this exercise, but not essential. If you experience lower back pain, you may want to put a rolled or folded towel under your lower back.
Using Proper Form
Good form is essential to getting the maximum benefits from the exercise as well as preventing injuries. Often times, we rush through an exercise to get it over with or to reduce the time needed for a workout. The time saved can turn out to be time wasted; or worse.
There are a few important things you need to think about while performing leg raises. First, think of your body as one long muscle you want to elongate and contract. Second, keep your legs straight. Third, use controlled movements.
- 1Lie flat on the floor with your arms out to the side and on the floor with your palms facing down
- 2Make sure that your head, legs, and bottom are all in contact with the floor
- 3Draw your navel toward your spine and fully engage your stomach muscles
- 4Keeping your legs straight, slowly lift your legs to a 90-degree angle
- 5Pause for a second, then slow and controlled, lower your legs back down
Ultimately, a goal to reach for is three sets of 15 repetitions each. More is not necessarily better. There is a misconception that the more repetitions you do, the bigger the benefit. If you are accustomed to doing sets of 50 or 100 crunches easily or working up to 200 situps, you may want to reevaluate your routine.
Proper form is everything. Doing repetitions quickly and/or with improper form may do more harm than good. The faster you do something, the less time you have to concentrate on all the details of proper form. Also, doing a movement too quickly often causes you to use momentum instead of the intended muscle or muscles.
If you are just starting out, you may need to do fewer repetitions and sets with a longer rest between sets. It is better to do five controlled leg raises with good form than to do 15 with poor form. If you find that your arms are getting sore, you may be using your triceps to help lift you up. Focus on using your abdominal muscles. You may also try using a workout bench. Instead of having your arms on the floor, you can bend your elbows, pointing them toward the ceiling and hold on to the bench over your head.
There are several variations of the basic leg raise exercise. If you are a beginner, you may need to use a modified version.
One modification is to lower your legs only partly down. The closer your legs are to the floor, the more challenging it is. The most difficult part of the exercise is lowering your legs the last few inches.
Another modified, beginners' version is done with your knees bent instead of straight. It is sometimes referred to as knee raises. The steps are the same. The only difference is that you bend your knees instead of keeping them straight.
When you find you can do three sets of 15 repetitions with near perfect form, you may want to try an advanced version or variation. There are many advanced options for leg raises. One variation is to add weight. You can use ankle weights or a small medicine ball held between your feet. If you are going to add weight to your leg raises, start with a light weight and progress from there. If you try to use a heavy weight before your body is ready, you could injure yourself. Remember, quality over quantity
Another advanced option is the hanging leg raise. For this exercise, you will need an overhead bar or pull-up bar. Most gyms have them. With this exercise, you are raising your body against gravity, increasing the difficulty of the exercise. This variation requires a lot of core strength and grip strength. Besides being more challenging, it is also easier to do it wrong or with poor form.
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There are pieces of fitness equipment that can also be used to do leg raises. A captain’s chair, a dip bar, or ab slings or straps are commonly used to perform this exercise and are often available at gyms.
A captain’s chair is a piece of fitness equipment that looks like a tall, seatless chair. It has arms and a backrest. You climb up into the chair via pegs or small steps. Similar to ab straps, your arms rest on the armrests. However, because your back is against the back of the chair, it helps to stabilize you to prevent your body from swinging. The captain’s chair is a good transition from standard leg raises.
A dip bar is a U-shaped bar that surrounds your body at the waist. It is so named because it is used to perform triceps dips. However, it can also be used for leg raises. Your weight is distributed through your arms as you hold yourself up above the dip bar.
Ab slings attach to an overhead bar or pull-up bar. Instead of using your hands to hold yourself up, you place your elbows in the straps, taking the weight off your hands and distributing it to your arms. Ab straps are helpful if you find you don’t have sufficient grip strength to hang from a pull-up bar. They can also prevent back strain.
There are a few challenges when doing hanging leg raises. When you hang from an overhead bar, it is easy to use a swinging motion, helping you build momentum. Also, if your abs are not properly engaged, the spine can easily hyperextend. Neither of these is proper form and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise as well as increasing the risk of injury.
Leg raises work several muscle groups at the same time. Doing leg raises builds muscle and strengthens your core. Doing them regularly can help to strengthen your lower back and therefore reduce the risk of back injuries. Performing the exercise properly is crucial if you want to gain the maximum benefit. Proper form is also important to prevent injury.
Leg raises can be performed at home or at the gym. To perform the leg raise exercise properly, all you need is a flat surface. A mat can make you more comfortable, but it is not necessary.
There are several variations of the standard leg raise. Depending on your fitness level, you may want to start with a modified version. When you find you can do three sets of 15 repetitions, using proper form, you can progress to more challenging variations. Adding weight or using a captain’s chair, dip bar or pullup bar makes the exercise more challenging.