captains chair exercises

Captains Chair Exercise: Home Based Alternatives

The Captains Chair Exercise

One of the best pieces of equipment for building core strength is the captains chair. It might sound a bit scary, but it’s a relatively simple piece of kit. Due to its simplicity, it can be used for a range of exercises, making it a highly versatile machine.

Muscles Worked

Captains Chair Muscles Worked

When we think of the core we often think about the rectus abdominis, commonly known as the six pack abs. However, there’s more than just this, we’ve also got the transverse abdominals, internal obliques, and external obliques. The captains chair targets each of these muscle groups, as well as our hip flexors.


So, how is the captains chair better than other conventional core exercises? The captains chair versatility allows it to hit all areas of the core. Other core exercises often target just one or two of these areas. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) listed the captains chair as one of the best core exercises.

Mistakes to Avoid

While the captains chair is pretty simple to use, there are a few minor common mistakes often made:

  1. Momentum: Slow and steady wins the race during core movements. Performing core exercises too quickly can result in a lack of core engagement, something we don’t want to happen.
  2. Back Engagement: Keep your lower back pressed against the pad to ensure you’re protecting your spine. When exercises get hard, it’s tempting to arch our backs, but this also leads to reduced core engagement.
  3. Breath: Many of us hold our breath during core movements, but this is only going to make the exercise harder in the long run. Be sure to consistently breathe throughout the exercise.

10 Captains Chair Exercise Alternatives

While the captains chair is a great piece a kit, unfortunately, it’s not always accessible. More of us are working out from home, and still want to build a strong core without having to buy a new piece of equipment. Luckily, it’s possible to build a strong core without a captains chair. We just need to be creative in our variations, to ensure we’re working those different core areas. Here are 10 suitable captains chair exercise alternatives you can perform at home, with minimal equipment, from beginner to advanced levels.

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1. Hanging Knee Raise

Hanging knee raises are very similar to a captains chair exercise, just without the back support. Hanging knee raises target the rectus abdominis, hip flexors, obliques, and forearm muscles.

How to do it:

  • Start by gripping onto a pull up bar in a hollow position.
  • Lift your knees towards your chest, then slowly lower your legs back to full extension.
  • Avoid any swinging motion by keeping your body tight throughout.

2. Hanging Leg Raises

Just like the hanging knee raises, leg raises will be performed on the bar. Leg raises also target the rectus abdominis, hip flexors, obliques, and forearm muscles, but this time the movement is made a little bit harder. Raising our legs out moves our weight away from our center of gravity, making the exercise harder.

How to do it:

  • Start by gripping onto the bar in a hollow position.
  • Raise your legs, bringing them up as close to the bar as possible.
  • Slowly lower your legs back to the starting position.
  • You should not be swinging, this movement is performed with control.

3. Leg Lifts

If you don’t have access to a bar, no problem, we can perform the same movement lying on the floor. The floor acts as the backrest in the captains chair, we use it to press our lower back into it. Leg lifts predominantly target your transverse abdominals (the deep core muscles).

How to do it:

  • Begin laying on your back with legs fully extended and hands at your side.
  • Raise your legs to a 90-degree angle, then slowly lower to just above the floor.
  • Keep your lower back pressed into the floor throughout the movement.

4. Bicycle Crunches

Bicycle crunches work on your rotational core muscles, including the internal and external obliques. In the captains chair exercise, we focus on the lower part of the abs, however, in this exercise, we also use our upper body to hit our upper abs as well.

How to do it:

  • Begin lying on our back with legs extended slightly off the floor.
  • Bring one knee to our chest, and the opposite shoulder to our knee.
  • Then alternate across the body.
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5. Crunches

Crunches isolate the abdominal muscles, perfect if you’re looking to build that six-pack. It is difficult to isolate muscle groups in the captains chair, so crunches are great if you’re looking for isolation.

How to do it:

  • Begin lying on your back, bend your knees, and place hands on your temples.
  • Lift your upper back off the floor until your abs fully contracted, then slowly lower.

6. Leg Raise Hold

Leg holds work our static strength in our core and hip flexors. Similar to the captains chair exercise, but this time we’re on the floor.

How to do it:

  • We’re going to perform the leg raise hold just like a leg raise, without the lift.
  • Lay extended on your back with your feet and upper back off the floor until your abs are contracted, then hold.

7. Reverse Crunches

Just like regular crunches, but this time we’re raising our legs off the floor, not our upper backs. Again, we’re targeting the abs but placing more focus on the lower ab portion.

How to do it:

  • Begin lying on your back with your knees bent, and place your hands on your temples.
  • Lift your feet off the floor bringing your knees towards your chest, then slowly lower.

8. Bench Leg Raises

Bench leg raises are a great mimic of the captains chair. The bench acts as the back padding, allowing you to absorb any momentum. However, unlike floor leg lifts, the bench allows you to work through a greater range of motion, helping you target your hip flexors.

How to do it:

  • Lay on a bench, with your legs hanging off the end.
  • Keeping your legs straight, lift them to a 90-degree angle, then slowly lower until your lower back begins to arch.

9. Heel Touches

Heel touches focus primarily on the oblique muscles. In a captains chair crunch, we’re crunching our lower body to our upper. Heel touches work the reverse; upper to lower.

How to do it:

  • Begin lying on your back with your knees bent, and hands at your side.
  • Lift your upper back off the floor, then move side to side to touch your heels.
  • Really feel that crunch action on each side.
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10. Russian Twists

Russian twists help build strength in our hip rotators, psoas, and obliques. Unlike the captains chair, Russian twists use our lower and upper body to work the core.

How to do it:

  • Sit on the floor with your knees bent, and torso upright.
  • Lift your feet off the floor then use your core to twist side to side.


Your core is essential to everything we do. From lifting heavy weights to standing up out of a chair, our core is going to be involved. So, whether you’re looking to enhance your performance in the gym, or just want to become more functional in everyday life, working on your core strength is vital.

The captains chair is a great piece of equipment to help work all areas of the core. However, it is not a necessity for your training. Combining several other core exercises will allow us to work on the same areas, and therefore develop the same results. Remember to perform each exercise with complete control to ensure the core is really getting worked.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Make A Captains Chair At Home?

There are a couple of options for making a captains chair at home; find a bar, or use support to replace the pad. Hang a bar from your door frame, or assemble a free-standing bar. For the padding alternative, you can use a bench, or simply just the floor.

What Is A Captains Chair Leg Raise?

In a captains chair leg raise, you use the frame to support your weight, then raise your legs to bring your feet in line with your hips. Pause briefly, then slowly lower.

Are Hanging Crunches Good?

Hanging crunches are great for working the ab muscles. However, they don’t hit all the core muscles. If you’re looking to isolate the ab muscles, then this exercise is for you. If you’re looking for a total core exercise, there are more suitable alternatives available.

Michaela Summers

Michaela Summers is a health and fitness content creator. She holds a BSc in Exercise and Sport Sciences and a Master of Research in Health and Wellbeing from the University of Exeter. She is on a mission to help people live a fulfilling, impactful life through fitness and lifestyle. When she's not writing, she can be found in the gym, playing tennis, or exploring the great outdoors.

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