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Leg Raise Variations - What They Are And Why You Should Be Doing Them

Healthy hips, core, and low back are key to a physically fit and pain free body.  Choosing the correct exercises catered around those muscles will determine the effectiveness of your training.  It is important to learn the why behind these exercises to promote a better mind muscle connection and make more progress.  In this article I will be teaching you about three simple leg raise variations that will have your body thanking you.

Hanging leg raise, straight leg raise, and lateral leg raise are all bodyweight exercises you can use to strengthen different muscles in your upper legs, abs, low back, and hips.  Below I will be dissecting these three isolated movements on what they are, a how to guide, and what muscles are being used throughout the exercise.   


Hanging Leg Raise:

What Is A Hanging Leg Raise?:

The hanging leg raise is one of many effective hip flexor exercises designed for strengthening the core and hip flexors.  The hanging leg raise exercise is the most advanced of the three leg raise variations.  It is also the most strenuous, but beneficial towards the abdominal region.  

Hanging Leg Raise

Hanging Leg Raise How To Guide:

Start by gripping the bar and letting your body hang comfortably.  Next, while keeping your core tight, bend at the hips and raise your legs up towards your hands.  Slowly lower your legs down while keeping constant tension in your abs the whole way through.  If this is difficult, start by only raising your legs to a 90 degree angle.  Or even start with the straight leg raise before you move onto the hanging leg raise.   

Hanging Leg Raise Targeted Muscles:

The hanging leg raise targeted muscles include; the lower and upper abdominals, Tensor Fasciae Latae (IT Band), Iliopsoas (upper hip flexors), rectus femoris, obliques and low back.  While you cannot feel the low back being worked in this movement, strengthening the abdominal region takes pressure off the of the low back's tendency to arch.  This counteracts as a strengthening exercise to the surrounding muscles in the low back.  The predominant muscles worked during the hanging leg raise are the lower abdominal and hip flexor muscles.  


Straight Leg Raise:

What Is A Straight Leg Raise?

The straight leg raise exercise is a light exercise often used for injury prevention and muscle building for beginners and people people participating in physical therapy.  The straight leg raise is a great exercise to evaluate hamstring tightness and overall core and hip flexor strength/mobility.  Used commonly by physical therapists, the straight leg raise exercise can bring out any obvious existing injuries a patient might have in the knee to hip flexor region.

Straight Leg Raise Exercise


Much like the hanging leg raise exercise, the straight leg raise exercise builds strength and stability in the lower back, hips, and core.

Straight Leg Raise How To Guide:

Start by lying horizontal with your arms are your side.  Flex your core and raise either one or two legs up in the air, working towards a height that is comfortable for you.  Raising two legs versus one is more demanding on the muscles and not recommended if you have an injury in the hips, knee, or core area.  When raising your leg be sure to not bend the knee joint and engage your core by not letting your lower back arch (keep back flat on the ground).  Keep your stomach muscles tight and slowly lower your leg while holding the same position.  

Straight Leg Raise Targeted Muscles:

The straight leg raise targeted muscles include; the quadriceps, Tensor Fasciae Latae (IT Band), Iliopsoas, upper thigh, lower abdomen, and lower back.   The predominant muscles worked during the straight leg raise exercise are the quadriceps, lower abdomen, and Iliopsoas (the upper hip flexors).


Lateral Leg Raise:

What Is A Lateral Leg Raise?

The lateral leg raise is much different than the hanging leg raise and straight leg raise.  The lateral leg raise works a different set of muscles and has a completely different intention behind the exercise.  That intention being strengthening muscles in the hips and buttocks.  Learning to isolate and activate muscles in the hips and buttocks will help prevent injury while making functional exercises easier and more beneficial.  

Lateral Leg Raise


Lateral Leg Raise How To Guide:

The lateral leg raise exercise can be done either lying down or standing upright.  Standing up will have a better effect on balance but lying down will be easier to isolate the Gluteus Medius Muscle.  Whichever you choose, the most important aspect is isolating the upper glute muscle.  For the lying lateral leg raise you want to start on your side propped up by your elbow.  Making sure your hips are aligned straight up and down, raise your top leg straight up until you can feel a good amount of pressure in your outer hip.  Slowly bring your leg down and repeat this for a comfortable amount of repetitions.

Lateral Leg Raise Targeted Muscles:

Lateral leg raise targeted muscles include; the Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Maximus, obliques, Quadratus Lumborum, outer thigh and hip flexors.  Predominant muscles worked during the lateral leg raise exercise are hip abductors (Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Maximus) and obliques.



[1] Donnelly, Joseph M. Travell, Simons & Simons Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: the Trigger Point Manual. 3rd ed., Wolters Kluwer Health, 2019.

[2] Davies, Clair, and Amber Davies. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief. 3rd ed., New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2013.

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