There are a couple of reasons why standard sit-ups and crunches are not the most effective ways to spend your time when working on your core, especially if you’re chasing a six-pack, but one of the biggest is that they do little to work your lower abs. Fortunately, there are other exercises that do, and perhaps chief among those is the leg raise.
The leg raise is a simple and effective exercise for improving your core strength, and it also brings considerable benefits for the strength and flexibility of your hips and lower back – both persistent problem areas for people who regularly log long hours at a desk.
Below you’ll find our expert guide to pulling off the perfect leg raise, plus some variations on the exercise to freshen up your routine once you become a lower-limb-lifting legend.
How To Do Leg Raises
Start by lying down on the floor or a mat. Unfortunately, it gets tougher from here. Lay flat with your arms at your sides and legs stretched out next to each other, then raise those legs. Even if you can’t hold them perfectly rigid, keep your legs as straight as possible, and lift them until they are pointing at the ceiling, or as near as you can get. Make sure your toes are pointed.
Then lower them back down, being careful to keep your movements measured. The return journey should be at the same pace at which you raised your legs. Lower them until they’re hovering just above the ground, and then raise them again. Shoot for three sets of 10 reps, or simply do as many raises as you can – keeping the pace steady – in a set time as part of a circuit.
If you’re struggling to do even 10 traditional leg raises, you can make the movement a bit easier by bending your legs at right angles when you lift. Once your thighs are perpendicular to your body, try and straighten your legs to point at the ceiling.
A good way to ensure you’re keeping your movements steady, and test your leg-raising abilities, is to set a metronome running and do the exercise in time with the beat. At 50bpm, you should lift on one beat and lower on the second. Try and stick with the beat for a minute, rest for 30 seconds and do it again.
Leg Raise Variations
Single leg raise
As explained above, one way to make the leg raise easier is to bend your knees during the movement, but another less taxing variation is to lift one limb at a time. Keeping one leg grounded will help stabilise your body as you raise the other leg, so you can focus on perfecting your form.
Medicine ball leg raise
Add an extra challenge for your abs, hips and adductors (the insides of your thighs) by gripping a medicine ball between your feet.
Weighted leg raise
As with most exercises, you can make the leg raise tougher by introducing some weight. With this variation you hold a dumbbell or sandbell between your feet as you perform the exercise. Keep the weight light, because it really doesn’t take much to make the leg raise very challenging indeed, and also you don’t want a heavy dumbbell to slip when you’re holding it with legs fully extended above your crotch.
Leg raise on dip station
If you’re looking to take your leg raises airborne but aren’t quite ready to try the hanging leg raise yet, head for the dip station. You’ll work your core all the harder to keep your torso still, and your arms and shoulders get a workout as well. Supporting yourself on both arms, which should be extended and by your sides, raise your legs straight out in front of you, then slowly lower them again. If this is proving too tough then you can bend your legs and bring your knees up instead.
About as tough as leg raising gets, this variation involves hanging from a pull-up bar or gymnastic rings while you raise your legs until they are parallel to the ground. Once again, you can start by bending your legs and raising your knees to your chest as a way of working up to the full exercise, and it’s also worth trying some dead hangs first to ensure you have the upper-body and grip strength to hold yourself up while leg raising.