How to perform a Leg Raise correctly

How to perform a Leg Raise correctly

If you frequent the gym or training parks, you’ll have noticed many people doing the leg raise exercise, often hanging from a bar: Leg raise.

You’re probably wondering what muscles are being worked and what benefits are obtained with this exercise, and even if it’s advisable to introduce it into our training sessions.

What are leg raises?

As the name suggests, this exercise consists of raising the legs either from a lying position on your back or hanging from a bar.

As a result, hip flexion occurs when raising the legs, keeping them together and the spine as stable and straight as possible.

However, as there is a high lever arm, poorly executed, the tension produced in the lumbar spine can be excessive and damaging.

The abdominal muscles must be kept active to stabilise the spine, and the breathing and activation of the deep transversus abdominis must work synergistically for correct pressure management, avoiding pushing the rectus abdominis outwards in excess.

Otherwise, either due to fatigue or lack of good activation, an outward thrust of the rectus abdominis usually occurs (see diastasis abdominis).

leg raise exercises

Consequently a weakening of the quadratus lumborum leading to a flexion of the quadratus lumborum.

There are different variations to this classic exercise, some of which are more recommended for those suffering from pathologies in the lumbar area or who don’t yet have a correct execution technique and core muscle activation to help them avoid possible injuries.

How to do leg raises

  • Hip flexion movement (a large lever arm – resistance – has to be used). At the same time, there’s a strong contraction of flexor muscles: Rectus Anterior Quadriceps, Psoas Iliacus and Sartorius.
  • To avoid modifying the lumbar lordosis, the abdominal muscles have to be activated to stabilise the pelvis. As a result, correct activation and control of the abdominal and stabilising musculature is necessary.

If there is a lack of abdominal control and strength: the pelvis turns in retroversion and there may be some inversion of the lumbar area, and this is precisely what can result in discomfort or injury in the area.

Hanging leg raises

To perform this exercise correctly, the spine must be kept in a neutral position that produces the least amount of stress on the vertebral structures.

Good flexibility of the posterior hamstring muscles will help to control pelvic retroversion and lower back discomfort.

Lying flat on your back

  • With your hands under your glutes or on the floor parallel to the body, raise and lower the legs.
  • The greater the angulation in the lowering phase (closer to the ground), the greater the resistance or lever arm, and the greater the tension to be managed.
  • The movement must be carried out in a controlled manner avoiding bouncing.

The head, neck and shoulders must remain relaxed without creating tension.

If this happens, it’s an indicator that the exercise is not being performed with the correct muscles.

Lying on your back

The back, as I have indicated, should remain in contact with the floor.

If there’s excessive arching of the lumbar region, we should choose other less demanding options or decrease the angle (shorter descent).

What does the leg raise work?

According to the above, this apparently simple exercise isn’t so simple – there are many muscles involved that must work synergistically.

The main focus is on working the lower abdomen, but also:

  • Deep transverse;
  • Rectus abdominis; and
  • Dorsal stabilising muscles
It requires good lumbo-pelvic stability; this is incedibly important when performing the exercise.

On the other hand, the Iliacus Psoas works hard in the exercise, traversing and creating shear forces on the vertebrae of the quadratus lumborum. This is combined with a compressive force on the lumbar spine.

As a result, it’s not recommended for people suffering from pathologies or injuries in this area.

Benefits of the Leg Raise Exercise

As with any other exercise, the risk-benefit ratio should always be assessed according to your level of physical fitness and motor control.

For athletes with good motor control, core activation (especially the transversus abdominis), and with a high level of fitness, this exercise presents a challenge to the work of the rectus abdominis muscules.

On the other hand, given that there are different variations of this exercise, it’s possible to efficiently train the muscles of the rectus abdominis and obliques, apart from the more traditional exercises.

For people with discomfort, pathologies in the lumbar area, discopathies, this exercise isn’t advisable, due to the above mentioned.

Types of leg raises

There are different variations of leg raises from the supine position (lying on your back):

Lateral

Lateral leg raise

Lateral leg raises target the hip adductors on the inside of the thigh.

  • They’re done lying on your side with one hand resting on the floor and the opposite foot on the floor in front of your leg, as a support.
  • With the upper leg slightly bent and at rest.
  • The lower leg, closer to the ground, is raised upwards against gravity.
  • The foot should be kept in slight flexion and the lower back should remain neutral without swaying.

Alternate

This can be a good option for those just starting with the exercise as it diminishes compression in the spinal area as well as tension in the rectus abdominis.

On the other hand, it allows you to focus more attention on the control of the movement.

  • It can be done with both legs extended vertically, or with one foot resting on the ground (knee in flexion), with the other leg performing the raises.

On the floor

Leg raises on the floor

  • They can be performed on a raised surface, on a bench, for example, or directly on the floor.
  • Normally, your hands are placed on the surface (or on the armrests) and support part of your body weight, reducing the weight supported by the buttocks and increasing abdominal recruitment.
In this exercise, the knees flex and extend (increasing resistance), and the pelvic floor also bears a great load or tension.

How to do hanging crunches

One leg raise option is to do the exercise hanging. It means the body is suspended and it’s the most intense option, requiring greater strength and control of the abdominal area.

If it’s performed with the legs extended, without bending the knees, both good stability of the shoulders (remember that we’re suspended) and the core must be maintained.

How to do hanging crunches

It’s a very intense option.

Another variation, which can be done before moving on to the previous more intense option, is to flex and extend the knees:

That’s to say, you bend your knees from the starting position, and then extend them by returning your legs to the vertical without swinging.

Leg raise exercise routine

Given the above and depending on the level of difficulty, we could incorporate some of these variations into our training sessions.

Given that they require strong motor control, stability of the middle zone, the first thing to do would be to start with activation work such as the one presented in this video:

Start with variations of leg raises from a lying position, with 3 sets x 10 raises.

Once you’ve acquired sufficient abdominal strength and control, we could move on to performing the knee raises from a hanging position. For example: 3 sets x 5 repetitions.

When you’ve mastered the previous ones (it may take a few weeks of progression), you’ll move on to the hanging leg raises:
  • 3 sets x 10 reps (alternating one with knee bend + leg raise).

Other tips

Before moving on to the more intense options, start by checking the leg raise movement of the easier options and consult your trainer beforehand to assess which option is best for you.

Remember that, if you suffer from any injury or discopathy in the spine and/or lumbar region, this exercise is not the most suitable for you, and there are other interesting alternatives.

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About Isabel del Barrio
Isabel del Barrio
Sport runs in the blood of Isabel, which she has proven since she was very little up until now. She wants to share that passion with all those who are passionate about sports.
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