If like me, you’re on a quest to achieve a defined midsection, leg raises are one exercise that can help. Personally, I incorporate leg raises into my gym routine once a week. I’m certainly not a slave to them, but on the flip side, I definitely could push myself to do more of them in my ab workouts.
Leg raises are pretty much exactly what they say on the tin — they’re an ab workout that involves lowering and raising the legs, using the core muscles as well as the hip flexors. In my understanding, there are three different types of leg raises — lying leg raises, hanging leg raises, and then the leg raises done using the Captain Chair frame — that weird-looking machine you’ve probably spotted in the gym.
In an attempt to really focus on the move, and work my abs, I opted to do 50 leg raises a day, for two weeks. In the name of good journalism, I primarily focused on hanging leg raises as these are the most challenging variation. Read on to find out what happened.
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How to do a leg raise
Let’s start with leg raises that are performed on the ground, lying on a mat, with your arms by your side and your legs together. To do the leg raise, slowly lift your legs up to the ceiling, keeping them straight until they are at a 90-degree angle to your body. As you do this, keep your back pressed into the ground by tilting your pelvis upwards. Then slowly lower the legs back down.
There are also hanging leg raises. As the name suggests these involve hanging — typically gripping onto a high bar — and lifting the legs up and out in front of you. The key here is to maintain a tight core and back, keeping the torso still, as the core drives the legs (which remain straight throughout) up. I typically get my legs up to a point where they form a 90-degree angle to my torso, although to be honest, I do find these hard, so often my knees are bent when I raise my legs.
Finally, leg raises on the Captain’s Chair frame — the majority of my leg raises for my experiment were done on this. Here, your forearms are resting on the arms of the chair, supporting the body, your back is pressed against the Bosu ball, and you engage your core to drive your legs up. It’s far easier to maintain control using this machine, plus, if you don’t have a good grip strength, this allows you to work your core, without worrying about hanging onto the bar.
I did 50 leg raises a day for 14 days — here’s what happened to my abs
Is 50 leg raises a day the secret to the six pack of my dreams? Here’s what happened when I did the move for 14 days.
My hip flexors felt stronger
Hanging leg raises are ideal for working the hip flexors — the muscles at the front of the hips which help you flex your leg up towards your body. During leg raises, especially if you manage to keep your legs straight throughout, the hip flexors are firing up big time as you raise your legs.
Doing 50 leg raises most certainly perked mine up and I found my weighted barbell lunges were a little easier at the end of the two weeks — an exercise that requires hip flexor strength.
Leg raises are not easy
Doing leg raises on the ground — fine. Hanging leg raises — a different story completely. After just a few reps my legs struggled to stay straight and my hands are screaming at me as I grip the bar. If you’re new to the world of hanging leg raises, I recommend that you don’t go straight in with 50-a-day. Instead, if you have the option, opt for leg raises on the Captain’s Chair — although these are still hard, they’re not as uncomfortable.
You can throw in many variations
Getting bored? Try mixing things up with some leg raise variations, such as around the world (where your legs pause at different points from high to low), hanging windshield wiper (legs move side to side in front of your face), and toes to bar ( where your legs come all the way up to the bar) are just three examples.
They’re all brutal — I can manage about three hanging windshield wipers before my body wants to collapse. The other two variations are a total no-go in my eyes, but, if you’re up for a challenge, give them a go.
My grip improved
When performing hanging leg raises, both hands need a solid grip around a bar. To boost grip power, many people use chalk, which is placed on the palms of the hands to keep them dry. My gym didn’t have any chalk handy, so I simply gripped the bar with my bare hands, ultimately gaining a few calluses in the process. But, after a week, I did notice my grip strength was getting better, and it was easier to hold onto the bar.
To start with, I’d do about six leg raises before I had to drop down and give my hands a breather. This meant that 50 leg raises took a pretty long time, so the Captain’s Chair became very useful at this point. By the end of the two weeks, however, I was doing 12 hanging leg raises without breaks.
My lower abs popped
I don’t tend to train my abs every day, rather, I throw in some ab moves at the end of my workouts once or twice a week. Going full hog and doing leg raises every day made my core muscles fire up, big time.
After just a few days, I noticed my midsection was noticeably more toned. However, I will add, that my body fat percentage — whilst it could be lower — is just about low enough for some of my abs muscles to show already. (Here’s how to calculate your body fat percentage, and why it matters).
I did 50 leg raises a day for two weeks — here’s my verdict
This is one of the hardest challenges I have ever agreed to do, mostly because I could only manage around 10 hanging leg raises before I needed to drop down and reset. As I didn’t want to stick to lying leg raises, I switched between hanging or Captain’s Chair leg raises, so 50-reps a day did take up some time.
That said, the hard work paid off — my abs have certainly woken up and I feel like I’ve strengthened other areas of my body, such as my grip strength.
Would I recommend this challenge? 100% — you’ll definitely see the benefits in your core. That said, if hanging leg raises are too tricky, I advise that you start with lying leg raises, and throw one or two reps of hanging leg raises in at the end of the session. Or, if your gym has one, the Captain’s Chair will be your best friend.