hanging leg raise alternative

10 Hanging Leg Raise Alternatives for Any Fitness Level

The hanging leg raise is a great core movement that not only effectively stimulates the core muscles, but most of the body at the same time! Research has found this exercise to stimulate the entire anterior chain, and especially the upper and lower abdominal muscles.

Although this exercise looks great when being performed properly, it is a significantly challenging movement. Studies have found the hanging leg raise to provide the highest challenge to the abdominal wall compared with other anterior chain movements.

This article will provide 10 great alternatives for you to practice, both to build up to a strong hanging leg raise and even advance beyond.

10 Hanging Leg Raise Alternatives

1. Reverse Crunch

Also known as a lying leg-hip raise, this is a great starter exercise for practicing knee raise movements while taking the grip strength and gravity elements out of the equation.

Equipment: None

Muscles Worked: Lower rectus abdominis


  • Lay on your back, with arms either side, palms down, and knees bent.
  • Lift the feet off the floor, press the hands into the floor, and tuck your knees up towards your chest.
  • Control back to the starting position.
  • Perform 10-15 repetitions.

2. Lying Leg Raise

This progression will further challenge your hip flexor strength, developing suitable strength in the core to advance to more difficult variations.

Equipment: None 

Muscles Worked: Lower rectus abdominis, hip flexors


  • The setup is similar to the reverse crunch, but with straight legs.
  • Be sure to flatten the lower back against the floor, using the abdominals to lift the legs without arching the back.
  • You can progress from the reverse crunch to the lying leg raise by straightening the legs a little more each session.
  • 10-15 repetitions should be a sufficient challenge with this exercise.

3. Jack knifes

The jack-knife sit-up starts to introduce some upper body strength into the mix, adding to the foundation of strength needed to perform hanging leg raises.

Equipment: None

Muscles Worked: Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, hip flexors


  • Lay on the floor with the arms and legs outstretched.
  • While tucking the knees toward the chest, crunch with the upper abs and scoop the hands down to meet the ankles.
  • Squeezing through the entire anterior trunk, slowly control the upper and lower body as you lay back down into the starting position.
  • Work up from 5 to 10 slow and controlled repetitions.
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4. V-Ups

Again a progression to change leg positions and add leverage to create a challenging move from a lying down position.

Equipment: None 

Muscles Worked: Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, hip flexors


  • Begin in the same position as the jackknife.
  • The lower body action is the same as in that movement.
  • The upper body, however, performs a full sit-up with the arms arching straight forwards rather than out to the sides.
  • Meet the knees to the chest at the top of the sit-up, and control yourself back down slowly.
  • Try 10-15 repetitions once you establish good core control.

5. Decline Leg Raise

This move starts to add some gravity into your training, increasing the challenge to your core. This exercise can also be done with an incline workout bench.

Equipment: Decline bench

Muscles Worked:  Lower rectus abdominis, hip flexors


  • Position yourself on the decline bench so your hips are at the lower end, with your arms reaching overhead to hold the top of the pad.
  • From there, perform the leg raise as you would off the floor, feeling the added resistance provided by gravity.
  • The outstretched position of your arms will make you want to arch your back, so concentrate on keeping the lower back flat to the bench.
  • Try up to 10 slow, controlled repetitions.

6. Captain’s Chair Knee Raise

The first move coming into a vertical position, this exercise can be great for the lumbar spine, allowing it to stretch and decrease pressure with your legs hanging free.

Equipment: Captain’s chair

Muscles Worked: Lower rectus abdominis, serratus anterior


  • Place your forearms on the pads, holding the handles and pressing down to lift your feet off the ground.
  • Pressing your back into the back pad or bosu ball, tuck your knees to your chest, controlling them down slowly.
  • Work up to 10 to 15 reps per set.
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7. Captain’s Chair Leg Raise

A straight leg version of the above exercise, take care if you struggle with any shoulder issues, as your upper limb is supporting your weight for an extended period of time in this movement.

Equipment: Captain’s chair

Muscles Worked: Lower rectus abdominis, serratus anterior


  • Using the same setup as the knee raise on this machine, keep your knees straight as you lift the feet up, bending the hips to 90 degrees.
  • Really try to contract your deep core muscles to prevent arching your spine during this exercise.
  • Start with relatively low repetitions as your strength increases.

8. Hanging Knee Raise

Now we begin to work on grip strength development and finger strength. The dead hang position significantly increases the muscle activity of these core movements.

Equipment: Pull-up bar

Muscles Worked: Rectus abdominis, hip flexors, forearms


  • Hang from a chin-up bar with an overhand grip, your hands the same width as your shoulders.
  • Keeping your spine neutral, brace your abdominal muscles as you tuck your knees up towards your chest.
  • Once you can easily perform 15 reps of this exercise, try the more advanced version – the straight leg version of the hanging raise.

9. Dragon Flags

Made famous by Bruce Lee, the dragon is about as far from a standard crunch as you can get. Be sure to practice proper form in this exercise to preserve integrity in your thoracic spine.

Equipment: Post or bench

Muscles Worked: Entire anterior chain


  • Lay on a flat bench, incline bench, or exercise mat, holding the end of the bench or a post.
  • Using your core strength, lift your entire body from your feet to your shoulders, bringing your feet towards the sky.
  • The finishing position should be a straight vertical line from your shoulders up to your toes.
  • Hold your support tight as you lower your entire bodyweight back down to a lying position.
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10. Toes-to-Bar

This final move is for those who want an alternative exercise to the hanging leg raise, but one that is actually more challenging. The strict toes-to-bar movement is a very advanced exercise, but one that is definitely achievable if you’ve mastered the previous movements.

Equipment: Pull-up bar

Muscles Worked: Rectus abdominis, hip flexors, forearms


  • Hang from a bar with the hands about shoulder-width apart.
  • Lean back from shoulder level, engaging the abs to lift the feet.
  • Rotate upwards as you bring the toes all the way up to the bar.
  • Lower back down to hanging with control. Work up to 5-10 reps of this advanced exercise as your strength level increases.


We hope this article has given you some ideas. Take the time to practice the correct form in these exercises as you gain strength and progress to the more intense ab exercises.

Frequently Asked Questions

What muscles do hanging leg raises work?

Hanging leg raises are a challenging exercise that strengthens your abdominal muscles, your deep hip flexor muscles, and your grip strength. They are really a large compound exercise, working the entire anterior chain as well as many accessory muscles in the back and trunk.

Why can’t I do hanging leg raises?

Although they seem like a popular exercise, hanging leg raises are a brutal core exercise, and not really suitable as a beginner-level exercise. However, by practicing some of the substitute exercises in this article, you’ll be able to give them a go before long.

How do you do hanging leg raises at home?

To perform a vertical leg raise abdominal exercise at home, you just need a bar or beam to hang from, with enough room to hang with your feet clearing the floor. This may be with a doorway chin-up bar, a home gym squat rack with a pull-up bar, or simply a sturdy roof beam or tree branch in the garden!

Jesse Hyson

Jesse Hyson is an Accredited Exercise and Sports Scientist with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. Jesse is currently completing a Master of Clinical Exercise Physiology at Charles Sturt University, Australia.

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