Hanging leg raises are a stellar bodyweight workout for core strength. But what if you don't have a pull-up bar or captain's chair available? Or do you just want to shake up your abdominal exercises?
That's where hanging leg raise alternatives come in handy. The moves in this list are guaranteed to work everything from your grip strength to your thigh muscles to — you guessed it — your abs. Let's dig in.
What's So Great About the Hanging Leg Raise Anyway?
Most popular abs exercises target your abs isotonically (with movement) from above, like crunches or sit-ups.
The hanging leg raise, on the other hand, targets your abs isometrically (without movement) from below, especially your lower abs.
Okay, yes, you are moving during the leg raise, but it's your legs moving, not your abs. Your abs are constantly under tension during a hanging leg raise. They just don't contract like they do during crunches.
Plus, hanging leg raises work your quads, hip flexors, and inner thighs, so they're a great lower body workout.
TL;DR: Leg raises are unlike other core exercises in that they target your abs isometrically, plus they strengthen your legs.
What Muscles Do Hanging Leg Raises Work?
We touched on this a bit above, but done correctly, a hanging leg lift works your upper and lower abs, obliques, hip flexors, inner thighs, and quads.
Again, your core is doing mostly stabilization work during a hanging leg raise. Plus, if you do raises with your legs bent, you can activate your hamstrings as well (though if hamstrings are your main focus, you're better off doing a different exercise, like deadlifts).
You also get some grip strength benefits, which is excellent for helping you do other heavy lifts.
TL;DR: Work your lower body and build core strength with leg raises.
Shouldn't I Just Go and Buy a Pull Up Bar and Be Done With It?
Short answer: Yes.
Yes, you should buy a pull-up bar and use it for many, many exercises, not just raises.
If you're on a budget or have limited space, you can go with a door frame bar. Or, if you have a bit more space and money to invest, you can get a full pull-up power tower with a back pad (I own that one and can personally attest to its durability and ease of use).
Plus, pull-up bars are useful for working your way up to a pull-up. For example, you can practice a hollow body hold (which is a great leg raise alternative), do scapular pull-ups, then chin-ups, then full pull-ups. Bonus? Feeling like a badass.
TL;DR: Yes, go buy some type of pull-up equipment right now. I'll wait.
13 Best Hanging Leg Raise Alternatives
Alright, we've covered why the straight leg raise is so effective, what muscles they work, and that you need to invest in pull-up equipment. Now it's time to go through each leg raise alternative for a well-rounded core routine.
1. Reverse Crunch
Reverse crunches are excellent because they don't need any equipment, and most folks — even beginners — can do them. In addition, they target your lower abs especially, meaning they hit many of the same muscles that the best hanging leg raise will do.
In a regular crunch, you lift your upper body off the floor with your feet flat on the ground. You flip-flop that and lift your legs up instead in a reverse crunch. You can keep your legs straight, or your knees bent, either way.
- Lay down on your back on a mat. Anchor your arms into the floor on either side of your torso. Keep your knees bent or straighten your legs, either way. This is your starting position.
- Contract your lower abs and press your hands flat into the ground to lift your legs. Take care not to use momentum or pass your feet too far over your head.
- Carefully lower your legs back down to start, keeping your core tight and engaged throughout the movement.
2. Lying Leg Raise
If you don't have a way to complete a hanging leg raise, good news — you can just lay down!
A lying leg raise is sort of like reverse crunches, except instead of bending your knees and lifting your glutes/lower back off the ground, your body stays flat.
This deceptively simple move requires immense core strength (plus working your hip flexors), so don't be surprised if you're a beginner and can't do more than one or two.
Pro tip: use a bench like in the video for a greater range of motion.
- Lie flat on the floor or on a flat bench. Extend your legs out straight and either press your hands into the ground or grip the bench above your head.
- Exhale as you contract your abs to lift your legs to about a 90º angle with your upper body. Make sure you're rocking your pelvis up slightly to activate more of your abs than your hip flexors.
- Inhale as you lower your legs back to starting position.
3. Stability Ball Pikes
Get yourself a stability (or Swiss) ball for a wide variety of movements, including some serious core work. These large inflatable balls should seriously be a staple in your home gym equipment, just like your pull-up bar.
Stability ball pikes are a killer move to target your lower abs, but they also work your shoulders, arms, and hips. So the balance needed to pull these off is key!
- Get in a push-up position on the floor, hands beneath your shoulders and arms straight. Carefully place one shin and then the other on top of the ball. For proper form, keep a nice, flat back.
- Exhale as you use your rectus abdominis to pull the ball toward your chest. Keep your legs straight (you won't get the ball all the way toward your upper body). Stop when your hips are stacked over your shoulders.
- Inhale as you carefully return to the starting position.
Throughout the move, keep your entire body tight and engaged. And it's probably a good idea to not do these next to anything breakable in case you fall over.
4. Bicycle Kicks
This popular exercise is a great alternative to a hanging leg raise. It's focused almost exclusively on your core and obliques, making it a more advanced version of a regular crunch. Plus, like the lying leg move above, it doesn't require any equipment.
- Lie flat on your back on a mat or carpet. Lift your legs, so your knees are bent somewhere around 90º. Lift your head and neck off the floor. Either keep your hands on the floor on either side of you or, if that hurts your neck, keep your hands behind your head for support.
- Extend one leg out straight. If you're also moving your arms, you will twist your torso, so the arm on the side that's got your leg out comes toward the leg that's still bent.
- Bring your extended leg back in as you simultaneously extend the bent leg. Next, twist your torso in the opposite direction so your arm meets the other knee of the leg you're pulling back in. That's one rep.
- Repeat, alternating legs, and torso twists.
5. Lying Hip Raise
Also known as a glute bridge, this move targets your glutes but can be excellent for your core. A hip raise is a stellar exercise to work your posterior chain (the muscles from your back to your hamstrings) and strengthen your core.
- Lie flat on the floor with bent knees and feet on the floor. This is your starting position.
- Exhale, contract your abs and lift your pelvis toward the ceiling. Next, squeeze your glutes at the top and tilt your pelvis up to activate your abs.
- Inhale and lower back down to the ground.
6. Oblique Crunches
Next in our hanging leg raise list of alternative exercises is the oblique crunch. It's like taking regular crunches and putting them on their sides. Or, well, your sides.
- Lie on the floor on a mat or soft surface. Whichever side you're working, take that leg and bring it over your body, so your lower body is twisted, but your upper body stays relatively flat.
- Exhale as you contract your obliques to lift your head and neck off the floor. Again, the movement shouldn't be huge — a little goes a long way here, and the rest of your body should stay still.
- Inhale as you lay back down. Swap sides and repeat.
7. Jackknife Sit-Ups
This alternative to a hanging leg raise takes crunches to the next level. You might even consider this move a double crunch, in a way.
The idea is to lift both your upper body and your legs, so they meet together (rather than regular crunches, where you lift only your torso). These sit-ups are killer for your core, but you must do them with proper form and be careful not to rely on momentum to do the work for you.
This move works the entire muscle group of your core. It's also sometimes called a V-up or V-ups.
- Lay on the floor on a yoga mat or soft surface. Extend your arms overhead.
- Exhale as you lift both your straight legs and your arms to meet over your core. Your legs should be at about a 45º angle, and your arms should be parallel to them.
- Inhale as you lower back down.
8. Mountain Climber
Mountain climbers are a staple full-body exercise that again requires you to rely not on momentum but on good form. If you have exercise sliders, you can use those, but you can also simply lift your feet off the ground or use a towel on a hard surface.
- Get on the floor in a push-up position. Keep your shoulders over your wrists and maintain a straight line from your head to your heels (watch for lifting your butt or sagging your lower back).
- Using one leg at a time, bring your knee toward your chest. Move with purpose and go slower than you think you should. Moving too quickly risks breaking your form.
- Alternate legs, squeezing your core with each rep.
9. Hollow Body Hold
This alternative to a hanging leg raise is also great practice for perfecting your pull-up position. The primary purpose here is full-body tension. You're going to be tightening everything in this hold. If you're new to ab work, you can start with your knees tucked as a level 1 option, like the video demonstrates.
- Lay down on the floor on a mat or soft surface. Keep your lower back pressing tightly into the floor.
- Lift your head and neck off the ground, extend your arms, and tuck your knees into your chest. If this is hard for you, stay here.
- Extend your legs out to hover about a foot or two off the ground. The lower you let them go, the more difficult this move is.
- Extend your arms above your head, so your body forms a gentle U-shape. Hold for your prescribed number of seconds.
Ahh, the humble plank. It's so deceptively simple and yet an excellent alternative to a hanging leg raise. You might already be doing planks, but if you're not, it's time to add this stellar whole-body exercise to your routine.
The most crucial thing in this move is your position: you need to hold a straight line from the top of your head to the bottoms of your heels. If it helps, imagine a broomstick along your back that touches only the back of your head, your shoulders, and your tailbone.
- Start with your knees on the floor, bracing your torso on your elbows. Your elbows should be underneath your shoulders and your forearms flat against the ground. If this is challenging enough, stay here.
- Otherwise, lift off your knees and brace on the tips of your toes. Remember, your spine should be straight and even.
- Hold this position for however long your workout says to. If you're a beginner, try 3 reps of 10-second holds. For more experienced folks, you can hold it for longer.
We're coming to the end of our best alternative exercises for a hanging leg raise. This one is killer so build up some strength before trying it. It's sort of like a hollow hold but sitting up. This video does a great job explaining:
- Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you, toes pointed. Place your hands with fingers spread wide, close to your hips.
- Take a deep breath in and exhale as you lift your glutes off the floor. Keep your body tense and tight as you then also lift your heels off the floor.
- Your entire body should now be hovering off the ground, with your torso and legs forming an L-shape.
- Hold for as long as you can with good form.
12. Dragon Flag
We've reached the end of our best hanging leg raise options! It also happens to be the most challenging, so it's not for the faint of heart (or core).
Make sure you've mastered the leg raise before you try this. It's basically taking that movement to the next level — the only difference is you're lifting more of your body off the floor. This video explains the progressions to work up to this move better than I ever could:
- Lie down with your hands anchored, holding something sturdy over your head. Keep your legs extended and your entire body tight.
- Exhale as you lift your legs, lower back, and mid-back off the floor. Your legs are in a straight line with the rest of your body, so only your upper shoulders are still on the floor.
- Inhale as you slowly return your legs toward the floor. If you can't do the full range of motion, that's okay. Refer to the video above for progressions.
There you have it! To build fine-tuned abs and a killer core — without needing much equipment — keep this list bookmarked.