Want functional core stability? Hanging leg raises will probably get you most of the way there for anterior chain movements and will open up a lot more possibilities when it comes to advanced bodyweight movements. A staple for the bodyweight workout arsenal, hanging leg raises offer multiple benefits such as anterior trunk stability/compression, static shoulder stability and posterior chain mobility and as always it can be executed with minimal equipment.
So why are hanging leg raises such an effective exercise?
It essentially combines three elements people usually suck at to begin with. In our relatively sedentary lives we often struggle to create anterior trunk and shoulder stability, let alone hanging from a bar. We also usually struggle with posterior chain mobility due to a tight lower back or hamstrings. Fairly ironic considering we spend most of our day in forward flexion on our phones and computers.
Hanging leg raises force you to focus on whole chain mobility (posterior) whilst creating enough compression to achieve the movement. Add the weight of your suspended legs, it will really show what you’ve been skipping in your training regime. Now taking away the CrossFit “toes to bar” version, here’s how to nail strict hanging leg raises in 5 steps:
Step 1: Lying Leg Raise 2×15 – Pushing the lower back into the floor, lower your legs to the point before your back peels up off the floor. Return to the start position. Effort should be made to complete slow and controlled reps. Tucking your chin into your chest may help lower in a more controlled manner.
Step 2: Back Bodyline Drill 3×10 – Keeping the lower back forced into the floor, bring the arms up and pretend to snap the stick outwards. The legs are brought up at the same time; knees locked, toes pointed, quads and groin squeezed. Lower down under control only as far as your lower back will not peel off the floor. Return to the start position.
Step 3: Hanging Knee Raise 3×10 – In an active hang position (shoulders sucked to the hips and chest pushed to the bar) raise both knees to parallel with the floor or higher. Lower down under control and repeat. Do these slow and controlled at a tempo of about 3-5secs per knee raise.
Step 4: Bent Leg Raise 3×5 – With a bend in both knees repeat the instructions from the knee raise. Avoid swinging into the movement and keep the tempo around 3-5seconds per raise. You can try each leg separately to see whether there is a weakness in either side to improve the overall movement and fix any asymmetries you find.
Step 5: Hanging Leg Raise – With legs now straight and in an active hang, raise both legs up pulling the toes back towards or pointing away from the body. Squeeze the glutes, abs and groin through out the movement and focus on compression. Avoid excessive swinging during the movement. The movement finishes when legs are parallel with the floor.
If you find you have movement restrictions you can use something like this trigger point series to help improve mobility before you practise. Focusing on the fundamental beginning elements of hanging leg raises such as the seated leg raise and back bodyline drill to work on compression of your anterior chain will also greatly improve your chance of reaching full hanging leg raises. If you’re looking to nail more advanced bodyweight movements such as the handstand and planche be sure to focus on perfect technique and small reps, as the anterior compression, posterior chain mobility and shoulder stability you will develop are pre-requisite skills you will need.