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Hanging Leg Raise Machine Exercise Guide (Captain’s Chair)

    hanging leg raises for abs with machine

    Do you hate crunches, sit-ups, and other traditional abdominal exercises?

    Or, can’t you see any results from doing them?

    Switch to hanging leg raise machine (Captain’s chair)!

    Frankly, it’s my favorite ab machine because it is such powerful and versatile fitness equipment. If you read on, you’ll understand why I say that.

    Home gym tip: Best vertical knee raise machines

    Hanging leg raises benefits

    Stronger and bigger abs

    Compared to ab exercises done on the floor, the resistance is higher as your lower body is heavier than your upper body. This way, leg raises are more advanced moves but improves the size and strength of the abdominal muscles more effectively.

    Complete core training

    The regular leg lifts works the rectus abdominis, the six-pack muscles. Even if the machine puts you in such a state that helps to control the hanging leg raise, other stabilizer muscle groups such as your lower back, hip flexors and obliques are activated. So, the movement strengthens your whole core.

    Target your lower abs

    If you want to build V-cut abs, it can help you a lot. Lower body lifting exercises target the lower abs very well.

    Range of motion

    Compared to crunches or even sit-ups, the range of the movement is much longer. That is beneficial for muscle gain.

    Lower back friendly

    I started using the leg raise machine because I had a problem with my lower back. Compared to the floor drills, leg lifts don’t put such stress on the lower back. I could strengthen my abs effectively without back pain. I always use this strength equipment for the core.

    Suitable from beginners to advanced athletes

    If you are someone who is at the beginning of his workout route, then you can start with knee raises. If you are a pro, you can use ankle weights for additional resistance (but it puts more stress on the back). Or, switch to advanced practices like side hanging leg lifts.

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    How-tos: Leg raise machine exercises

    Now you know the benefits, so let’s learn the variations and the form.

    Regular hanging leg lift technique

    • The starting position: Get in the Captain chair, stand on the footrests, and with your lower back against the back pad.
    • Place your forearms on the arm pads, and grab the handles. Put your back against the pad.
    • Now, step off the footrests so that your legs hang. (At first, mainly if you are heavy, it isn’t easy since you have to hold your entire body weight on your forearms. If it is really hard, just practice hanging for the next few weeks to get the strength.)
    • By focusing on your abdominal muscles, lift your legs upwards until they get into a 90-degree angle to the ground. Don’t rush! Lift your leg in a controlled way without momentum. Keep your legs straight and tight to each other. At the top, you may want to stop for 2-3 seconds and tighten your abs. That gives an extra boost to muscles.
    • In the lowering phase, also keep the slow and controlled motion. But, don’t pause too much at the starting position, try to make exercise as continuous as possible.
    • Depending on your level of fitness, do 8-20 reps.

    Vertical knee raise form

    Follow the same steps. Keep your knees close to each other and lift your lower body until your thighs are parallel to the floor. By moving your knees more toward your chest, you can increase contraction. The vertical chair knee raise is a good start for beginners.

    Oblique side raises

    The starting position is the same as if you were doing the leg lifts or knee raises. But, when you hang, you twist your body towards the front. This way, when you raise your legs straight, more load is put on the obliques (side abs).

    Of course, side leg raises are much harder to perform. It is almost impossible to carry out with straight legs, so you can bend them a little for better focus. When you lower your legs, do it slowly. Don’t swing your legs.

    Workout Tips

    We were talking about that hanging leg raises are compound activities that strengthen multiple muscles at once. So, it’s easy to include it in your ab workout routine. If you perform 3-4 sets of front lifts and side lifts, you are ready with ab training for the day. I usually add them to my full-body workout.


    You can use the dip station, as well. However, it’s much harder to perform the hanging leg raise since the dip machine has no back and arm pads for control. So, you may swing.

    What Muscles Do Hanging Leg Raises Work?

    In all truth, the hanging leg raises require flexion and extension of the torso. This not only activates the fronts of your hips, but also the six-pack muscles of your middle. Some of the muscles that are worked by hanging leg raise include:

    ●     Iliopsoas

    The Iliopsoas is composed of two major muscles namely the iliacus and the psoas major. These muscles are known as the hip flexors and they are the prime movers for the thighs and flexing the trunk. They are fairly strong muscles. The iliopsoas is the primary muscle that is worked during hanging leg raises. It should be noted however that when these muscles become overly strong you could develop lower back pain. To avoid this you should make sure that your routine is balanced.

    ●     Rectus Femoris

    The rectus femoris is one of the four quadriceps muscles. It is actually the most superficial muscle in the middle of the front of the thigh. During a hanging leg raise, this muscle works together with the iliopsoas to flex the hips during a leg raise. The rectus femoris also crosses the knee joint and assists the other quadriceps muscles in extending the knee.

    ●     Tensor Fascia Latae

    During hip flexion, the tensor fascia latae muscle assists the iliopsoas and rectus femoris muscles. This muscle is located on the upper lateral thigh and is enclosed between layers of connective tissue known as fascia.

    ●     Adductors

    The adductors are a group of muscles that are located on the inner thighs and consist of:

    • The adductor magnus- It is the largest and strongest muscle of the medial compartment of the thigh (closest to the middle). This muscle contracts and pulls the hip towards the body’s midline. This action is a fundamental part of actions such as walking, sprinting, and other bipedal motions.
    • The adductor longus- It is a large, fan-shaped muscle that is located in the medial aspect of the thigh. It controls the ability of the thigh bone to move inward and from side to side.
    • The adductor brevis- It is flat and triangular shaped. Its main function is to pull the thigh medially.

    These muscles together with the pectineus work to press the thigh together as you raise your legs.

    ●     Rectus Abdominis

    The rectus abdominis are the most superficial muscles of the abdomen. These muscles are informally and popularly known as the abs. These muscles extend vertically from the pubic bone to the sternum. These muscles flex and rotate the lower back and stabilize the pelvis when walking. Until you raise your knees above hip level and your pubis lifts toward your chest, the rectus abdominis muscles are not engaged during a hanging leg raise.

    The Captain’s chair raises allow you to focus on ab training and work these muscles exceptionally well.

    ●     Obliques

    When performing a hanging leg raise and your knees reach a horizontal position, the external and internal obliques are worked to some extent. When the obliques work independently, they help the back muscles in trunk rotation and lateral flexion (or bending side to side).

    Rather than raise your legs straight to the front, there is a variation of the hanging leg raise that puts more emphasis on your obliques. This variation involves alternately raising your legs to the left and right.

    ●     Secondary muscles

    There are secondary muscles that are worked during hanging leg raises. The muscles of the forearms, shoulders, and back are used to grasp the bar, support your weight, and stabilize your back and shoulder joints whenever you are performing hanging leg raises.

    Hanging Leg Raise Alternative

    The hanging leg raise is a brutal core exercise. Not only does this exercise provide a killer workout for your upper and lower abdomen, but it also tests your grip and your hip flexor strength. This exercise deserves a place in your workout regime, but if you are looking to diversify, there are a couple of alternatives. These are:

    ●     V-Ups

    This exercise hits every muscle in your core and gives your hip flexors additional strength. It’s quite a challenging exercise and it requires an appropriate level of spinal stability to be able to perform it.

    This type of exercise has you going from a full-body extension on the floor into a “V” shape. It involves hinging at the hips, contracting through the core, and raising both your straight legs and torso towards one another. Variations exist whereby you can sit on a bench’s edge and support your upper body with your arms and keep your knees bent.

    When doing this exercise, look out for excessive lower back hyperextension. You should also use your breathing to your advantage. You should inhale on extension and exhale on contraction.

    ●     Flat Bench Leg and Hip Raises

    This exercise utilizes a movement pattern that is similar to the hanging leg raise, albeit in a lying down position while you grip the bench behind your head for additional support. There is a hip raise element in this exercise which isn’t so essential but gives your upper abdominals a bit of extra work to do.

    You start with your body extended out straight and then you lift your legs up to form a 90-degree bend at the hips before rolling your hips and lower back upwards off the bench.

    When doing this exercise lookout for excessive lower back hyperextension on the way down. You should also perform the leg and hip raise in a slow and controlled manner to maximize time under tension.

    ●     Roman Chair Leg Raises

    This is one exercise that is as close to the hanging leg raise as it gets. This exercise provides upper body support by means of armrests while you perform your leg raises. These can also be done with bent knees in which case it becomes a beginner-level exercise. Either way, these exercises do everything that hanging leg raises do, less the grip strength development. If grip strength is a problem for you when performing the hanging leg raise, then this is a good exercise for you.

    When doing this exercise, keep your lower back firmly against the backplate while lifting your legs. If you’d like to maintain an appropriate load on your core, then a slight bend in your knees will help.

    In a nutshell:

    A leg lifts machine is a powerful ab workout equipment to work your entire core. So, use it at the gym. It’s also not a bad idea to get one for home; the power tower is the best choice.

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    Last update on 2024-05-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


    James Wright

    James (36) has been working out since he was 15 years old. He has a home gym where he pumps iron, does bodyweight workouts and boxing. He likes sharing his experiences with others who want to build a better physique.

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