Hanging Leg Raises

If you want to strengthen your midsection in a functional fashion, forget the crunches!

Hanging leg raises will blast your abs, test your mental toughness and challenge your grip strength all at the same time.

Hangin’ (is) Tough
Before you are ready to attempt a hanging leg raise, you’ll need to have the strength to hang from a pull-up bar for at least 20 consecutive seconds. If you can’t do that yet, practice hanging on for as long as you can. It shouldn’t take too long to build the endurance needed to begin.

Knees First

Once you’ve built up some respectable hang time, you’re ready to attempt the bent-knee version of the hanging leg raise. As you begin to raise your knees, think about curling your hips forward to facilitate the movement. Keep in mind that your focus is to engage your abdominal muscles, which are attached to your pelvis, not your legs.

At first, you’ll have to go very slowly to stay in control and you’ll probably only manage to do a couple of reps. This is okay; go for quality over quantity and be careful not to swing your body. If you find yourself swinging, try to stop the momentum by touching your feet to the ground in between reps. If bringing up both knees together is too hard for you, try hanging bicycles instead.

Straight Leg
Once you can do ten consecutive bent-knee leg raises, you’re ready to try it with your legs straight. This can be extra challenging for those of us with tight hamstrings. If you have to bend your knees a bit on the way up, this is fine. In time, work towards increasing your flexibility in order to keep your legs straight. It’s also helpful to practice planks and L-sits concurrently to help build the strength and control needed to perform a full hanging leg raise.

Circle Gets the Square
After you’ve gotten comfortable with hanging leg raises, you can try leg circles or “windshield wipers”. Remember however, until your body fat is low enough, you won’t see any definition in your abs. Following a healthy diet is an essential part of developing an aesthetically pleasing midsection.

Strength Beyond Strength
Once you can perform windshield wipers, there are still new challenges ahead. You may even eventually work up to doing hanging leg raises with just one arm. Remember to take it one rep at a time; there are no shortcuts on the road to mastering your bodyweight.


For more information about hanging leg raises, check out my book, Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics.

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  • kostya

    Very good article I seriously admire you for teaching people all this serious stuff

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks, Kostya! Keep training hard!

  • http://soiltosustenance.wordpress.com Tim Huntley

    So, I definitely know how hard these are (can’t do them); however here’s what kills me. I have twin boys (8 years old) that go to gymnastics class every week. While they are practicing, there is a group of “advanced” classes going on (I am guessing the girls in the class are about 9 or 10). They do 20 of these hanging leg raises and talk to eachother while they do them. Then they do a 25′ rope climb (hand over hand) not using any legs while they hold their legs in a V (like at the top of your leg raise position). To be a kid again :) .

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    That’s great that you’ve got your boys doing gymnastics, Tim. I sometimes wish I had started at their age. It is amazing what kids can do!

  • Jenifermparker

    i love you, Al Kavadlo. For serious.

  • Jenifermparker

    PS. i’m working on the straight leg raises. totally fun, yo, totally fun.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks, Jenifer. I love all you guys and gals out there in cyberspace, too!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    We’ve got the same idea of fun – that’s for sure!

  • Jeffrobowa

    OMG, Al. We used to have to do those all the time in gymnastics. Killer. A great exercise! Miss you brother, but I love catching all your posts!!

  • http://www.jimarkus.blogspot.com Jim Arkus

    “Strength Beyond Strength”? Is that a Pantera reference?

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Good to hear from you, Jeffro! I forgot you did gymnastics until I read that. Then I remembered how you used to do kip-ups and how you tried to teach me but I would bust my ass every time! I’ve come a long way – I can actually do one now!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    It sure is, Jim.

    That’s right, I reference Pantera and Hollywood Squares in a blog post about training your abs. That’s how we do it over here.

  • Victor (P’titor)

    Hello, some people recommend to practice Handing legs raises without breaking the L, why ? And what is your opinion about it ?
    I thought that the Handing legs raises were mainly for lower abs so do we have to complement this exercise by an other abs exercise more for the hight part of the abs ? If yes what do you suggest ?
    Thank you for your help.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Hey Victor – Hanging leg raises work the entire rectus abdominus (technical name for the “abs”). Doing only the top half of the range of motion is a nice alternative version of this exercise if you want to mix it up (I assume that’s what you mean by “not breaking the L”). There are many ways to skin a cat!

  • http://www.jimarkus.blogspot.com Jim Arkus

    You already know I’m a big fan, but you just went up like 10 more levels in coolness. Best. Band. Ever.

  • http://fortheloveofcookies.wordpress.com/ Christine (The Cookie Monster)

    Haha! This is one of the smiley-est, happiest looking workout tutorials I’ve ever seen!

    This is a great post. I love doing these as part of my core training. I haven’t quite worked up to full windmills or circle leg raises yet, but I’m getting there. ;)

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks, Christine. You know how excited I get about bodyweight training!

    I bet you could get those circles with a little practice – you’re one strong gal!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks. I also referenced NKOTB in this post. Not sure if that negates any of those cool points.

  • Morten

    Hi Al. Thanks for posting this. Could´nt come at a better time. I have recently incorperated these as part of my core work out. The thing is they give me a bit of a sore lower back. I think I am strong enough since I can easily do 20 with knees bend. Whats your take on this?

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Hey Morten – Glad you enjoyed the tutorial. Hanging leg raises work your lower back muscles too, so I’m not surprised to hear that you are a bit sore there from doing them. Try going slower and really focus on staying in control, especially on the way down.

  • Stefan

    HLR’s certainly are awesome! It sucks that you can’t really do them on a doorway pull up bar like what I’m using at home.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Hey Stefan – If your doorway bar is too low to do full hanging leg raises, you could try doing a limited range of motion by just going from the “L” position up to the top and back, like Victor mentioned in his comment below.

  • Jim Arkus

    I didn’t notice that. I guess I’m too cool.

    Ohhhhhh, “hangin’ tough,” I get it…

  • Stefan Hedengren

    Good point! Will try. Unfortunately, I’m a tall guy so the ROM might be very limited.

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  • Lindy

    Al – you totally rock. I’m a trapeze artist, and I share your films with my friends – it really helps break down movements people have trouble with. Thanks!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks, Lindy! Keep spreading the word and doing your thing!

  • http://fortheloveofcookies.wordpress.com/ Christine (The Cookie Monster)

    Thanks! I should practice them more. I’m trying to include more core work in my program again…it will do me some good :)

  • CameLewis

    just stumbled on this site yesterday.  incredible.  love the attitude you bring and the practical approach to fitness that isn’t trying to sell you some gimmick.  thanks al!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks – glad you like my site!  There is a lot of content on here to keep you busy for a while!

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  • Lloydy

    Hey Al, i got my copy of your book in the post a few days ago its awesome, (informative, motivational no B.S. and make’s you feel positive about working out, i’d recommend it to anyone interested in leading a healthy lifestyle, which should be everyone!!) Thank you!!
    I have a question about leg raises: i’m not strong enough to do the full/bent knee hanging leg raises atm so i’m going to work upto them using planks and lying leg raises (like the one’s in your dragon flag video tutorial). I know that i should not arch/hyperextend my back when doing these, however i cannot find any clear information anywhere on weather you should keep a neutral spine, or keep a posterior pelvic tilt (i understand this to be pressing the entire lower back into the floor with the abdominal muscles) so that the full length of your lower back is in contact with the bench/floor?  

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Glad you enjoyed the book, Lloydy!

    It sounds like you are on the right track with your progression – glad to see you’re applying the whole free thinking approach!  Now for the part where I tell you what to do.  :)

    Keep your entire back flat on the ground for lying leg raises.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Glad you enjoyed the book, Lloydy!

    It sounds like you are on the right track with your progression – glad to see you’re applying the whole free thinking approach!  Now for the part where I tell you what to do.  :)

    Keep your entire back flat on the ground for lying leg raises.

  • Lloydy

    Thanks Al, :) now to apply this!!

  • Rob White

    Hey Al. I’ve seen a few guys, inc. Pavel Tsatsouline, doing controlled one armed hanging leg raises. It sounds easy, but its not! Requires alot of grip strength and shoulder / core strength and stability.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Rlxu9FwOeg 

    Got a clip of kettlebell beast Steve Maxwell doing them. He’s pretty strong, and even he can only do a few with control. 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02uNQD7F3hA

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Hey Rob – This is indeed a very challenging variation.  It’s actually one of the many exercises I discuss in my forthcoming book that isn’t on my blog.  And yes, I can do a few reps.  :)

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  • Paul

    Hey Al this is a great site you have. Since I have a pull up bar in my house and my feet would touch the ground if I hang straight, could I also try HLR by using the neutral grips, lifting myself towards the bar, and then trying to hold the position like an L-sit while I hold myself in the air?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robby-Taylor/44409147 Robby Taylor

    This is definitely an option…there are always modifications that can be done. You could “just” do L pull ups, if you want to add extra core work in while doing pull ups. Besides that, note that in your circumstance you don’t have to come to a total dead hang when doing full hanging leg raises. What you would do here is, keeping your knees straight and as little momentum as possible, do the hanging leg raises as high as you can, and when you come back down simply stop before the point when your feet would touch the floor…so the bottom of the rep would be you hanging with your knees straight but your hips bent just enough to keep your feet off of the floor. If you really want to fully hang the legs, you may bend the elbows enough for this to happen. However, just be sure that you do not use these two motions to generate swing or momentum; maintain total control throughout the movement.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks for fielding this one, Robby!

  • Paul

    Thanks for the reply Robby

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