In this leg raise tutorial you will learn the progression to mastering the leg raise from beginner to advance.
Why leg raise?
Because it is a basic exercise to build up strong abdominals. To be able to do a full leg raise, you have to have an strong core. It’s a tough exercise for most people, however, compare it to other bodyweight exercises, this one is more basic and relatively easy to master.
Since it’s quite basic, you’ll have to learn this in order to progress into other exercises like dragon fly’s, front levers or V-sits. A nice by-product of the leg raises is of course the six pack you build up with it. There’s no one that can do 12-15 leg raises and does not have good abdominal muscular development. Obviously, when you have fat covering it up you can’t see the abs, but that’s a different ball game and requires a good nutrition strategy.
Not the correct way
Not the correct way
What muscles are involved?
It’s important to understand what muscles are involved in this exercise, because then you know what you are doing and how to correct yourself.
The first muscle group is not the one you probably think of: the hip flexors. They do a lot of work in the exercise. To be more specific: the first 90 degrees is almost only the hip flexors. After the 90 degrees the abdominals start to do all the heavy lifting. This is where the pelvic needs to tilt and the abdominals contract.
Common mistakes when performing the leg raise
What’s also important is to balance yourself during the exercise, no swinging like I see a lot of people do. This is compensating since you gain momentum. When performing a good leg raise you should hang perfectly still.
Leaning back too much is a compensation technique because either you are lacking strength or the flexibility in your hamstrings to perform a solid hanging leg raise. If it’s the hamstrings, make sure to stretch them enough. If it’s the strength, use an other technique to get a strong core as described in this post.
Leg raise progressions
Let’s get into the leg raise progressions. I’m not starting at the very basics here, you can read those here where I explain: diamond push up benefits. I’ll assume you already have at least some core strength and ability to control pelvic movements.
1. Leg lifts
Important side note: keep your lower back touching the floor. You will find yourself compensating for sure if you do this the first time. This can hurt your back if you hollow it. Therefore you need your lower back touching the floor during the whole exercise. This is also a basic position for gymnastics/calisthenics and the exercises that come with it. If you progress to the dragon fly and have a hollow lower back position, you will definitely hurt it if you do this repeadetly. So better build it up the correct way directly.
You need to be able to do 3 sets of 12 reps before progressing.
2. Knee tucks with back supported
This makes you focus purely on the abdominals as you mostly take the compensation component out: the swinging. You can still compensate by moving your legs backwards too far. Be sure to not do this. If you can get your knees up to your chest: 12 reps for 3 sets, move on to the next.
3. Support knee tucks without back support
The next exercise. If you cannot really get the knees up yet, try them hanging. Be sure to not swing. Feel what muscles you flex when correcting yourself. This helps you understand the exercise better so you can consciously focus on these muscles. You should be able to get your knees up all the way to your chest. Your pelvic should nutate a little bit, otherwise you are not flexing your abs, but your hip flexors.
4. Support leg raises wit back support (slightly bend knees)
It’s ok to slightly bend your knees at first. It makes the exercise heavier which is good for progression. Keep the momentum in mind and build up 8 – 10 reps for 3 sets before moving on.
5. Hanging knee tucks
The main focus here should be the momentum. Do not swing and get your knees up all the way to the chest for 12 reps and 3 sets. If this is hard to progress for you, grab a little weight (like 1 or 2 kilos at most), hold it with your feet and do some reps. If you attempt the leg raise next time it will feel like a breeze.
6. Full leg raise
You can probably do about 3-4 straight leg raises now. Stick to them and you’ll progress very quickly in repetitions or add a little weight to switch it up.
7. Hanging leg raise (slightly bend)
Now you should be able to do a leg raise. Build them up until you can do 8-10 reps for 3 sets and you can move on.
Other supportive exercises
There are a lot of ab exercises, but others I really recommend are the ones with weight. So the weighted ab crunch machine for example. Build up the strength in your abs. If you can do a maximum of 12 reps safely, you do not have any back problems, you can go quite heavy on these. Pick a weight where you can do a maximum of 8 reps and really flex the abs. This really helps you with the leg raises.