Captain’s Chair Leg Raise: Benefits, Muscles Worked, and More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
December 16, 2022

The captain’s chair is a versatile gym equipment used for a variety of workouts. It may be incorporated in regimens that target the chest and the triceps. However, one of its more common uses is for exercises that activate the abdominal muscles and help define abs, such as the captain's chair leg raise.

As primarily a bodyweight-dependent exercise, the captain's chair leg raise only requires a contraption that will hold the body above the ground while being able to perform leg raises in an upright position. This exercise has the ability to strengthen the core and hip flexors, enhance stability, and improve functionality.

While this exercise is very effective in working the core muscles, a captain's chair may not always be available, especially in a home setting. In cases like this, alternatives may be useful for attaining the goal of having six-pack abs.

What is a Captain’s Chair Leg Raise

The captain’s chair leg raise is predominantly a workout that relies on the body’s weight to act as resistance. However, it can also be progressed with the use of free weights, such as dumbbells or ankle weights, to take the exercise to a higher degree. 

captains chair leg raise

This exercise mainly targets the abdominal muscles, especially the rectus abdominis, but it is still categorized as a compound exercise as it also works on the abdominal hip flexors and external obliques.

How to Perform the Captain's Chair Leg Raise

To perform the captain’s chair leg raises, position oneself at the center of the captain’s chair frame and place the forearms on the armrests. If the chair is equipped with handles, grab the handles for support.

Upon making sure that the arms are stable enough to support the body’s weight, let the legs hang in the air to begin the leg raise. Lift both legs by engaging the abdominal and hip flexor muscles. Continue to raise the legs until the upper thighs are parallel to the ground.

Return to the starting position by lowering the legs in a controlled manner. It is important to keep the core muscles engaged throughout the activity.

Muscles Worked in a Captain’s Chair Leg Raise

Captain’s chair leg raises primarily work the rectus abdominis muscle. The external obliques, together with the hip flexors, are synergists to the movement. This means that they work to assist the rectus abdominis muscle.

captains chair leg raise muscles

Leg raises, in general, are excellent in engaging the abdominal muscles. In a 2014 study, it was shown that leg raises produced  >130% maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) in the rectus abdominis, and 88% MVC in the external oblique.

In the chair, to be able to support the body weight, the muscles in the upper limbs are engaged as well. These muscles that work to stabilize the movement include the trapezius, latissimus dorsi, muscles of the shoulder girdle, and chest.

Benefits of Captain’s Chair Leg Raise

The captain's chair leg raise is primarily a core-focused exercise; hence, it helps develop the abdominal muscles, including the rectus abdominis and external obliques. Because of this, the exercise has the benefit of creating abs muscle definition.

Apart from creating definition, the captain's chair leg raise is also able to strengthen the core and hip flexors. Strengthening of the core leads to an improvement in balance and stability because this portion of the body links the upper and lower parts.

Strong hip flexors, on the other hand, also contribute to balance because these muscles are responsible for stabilizing the hip and promoting proper pelvic alignment. A properly aligned hip allows for proper foot placement during activities such as running, thus decreasing the risk of injury.

The captain's chair leg raise, however, is beneficial not only for athletic performance but also for activities of daily life. Since the core and hip flexors are strengthened by this exercise, everyday actions such as walking, climbing the stairs, and standing may be made easier.

Variations of Captain’s Chair Leg Raises

1. Leg Raise

Leg raises are a workout that targets the core muscles as well as the hips and lower back muscles. It is a great movement to incorporate into an individual’s workout routine to improve overall strength. The leg raise is also able to recruit other stabilizing muscles apart from the core muscles, unlike the traditional crunches and sit-ups.

supine leg raises

To perform this, place the hands underneath the bottom and lie down in a supine or a belly-up position with the legs extended and stuck close together. Begin hovering the legs above the floor until the legs are straight above the hips or at a 90-degree angle against the upper body. 

Slowly lower the legs down in a controlled fashion and repeat this motion for the desired number of reps to complete a single set. 

2. Hanging Knee Raise

Hanging knee raises are a bodyweight exercise that works on the core and hip flexor muscles. It is one of the best exercises to perform to target the lower abs while still working the entire core muscles. Due to the fact that the individual is hanging while performing this exercise, it also builds forearm and grip strength.

captains chair knee raise

To perform, start by hanging on a pull-up bar with an overhand grip and the body straight. Before raising the knees, make sure to engage the core muscles, then raise the knees by bending at the hips toward the chest until the thighs become parallel to the floor. 

In a controlled manner, slowly lower the legs and repeat this motion for the desired number of reps to complete a single set. 

3. Weighted Leg Raise

The weighted leg raise is a progression of the leg raise in which the use of weights, such as dumbbells and ankle weights, is incorporated. This is done to further increase the resistance and level of the exercise and thus gain better results. 

To perform this, like the leg raise, place the arms beneath the bottom and lie down in a belly-up position with the legs extended. Place a dumbbell between both feet and lock it in by squeezing both feet together. 

Begin hovering the legs above the floor until they are directly above the hips, then slowly lower the legs in a controlled manner. This completes a single rep. 

Mistakes to Avoid During the Captain's Chair Leg Raise

Arching the Back

The captain’s chair hanging leg raise puts a significant amount of stress on the spine, thus causing it to compress. This pressure placed on the spine may lead to an arching of the back, which compromises the proper technique of the workout. This, in turn, may hinder the individual from gaining the intended benefits or may eventually lead to a risk of injury.

Holding the Breath

Like any other workout, holding one’s breath is a fatal mistake that leads to the premature termination of an exercise. Mastering proper breathing techniques while working out helps in providing the muscles with the adequate oxygen that they need. Note that muscles require oxygen for them to perform optimally; hence, it is important to practice timing the lifts with breathing to avoid holding the breath while doing the exercise. 

Lack of Core Activation

For most core or abdominal exercises, one of the most crucial steps that may be often forgotten is engaging the core muscles before executing the movement. In a captain’s chair hanging leg raise, a key factor in executing the exercise is activating the core first in order to achieve good form and not miss out on the strengthening benefits that the workout provides. Also, the lack of core activation may eventually lead to a risk of injury. 

Final Thoughts

The upper body and core must work incredibly hard to do an exercise like the captain's chair leg raises. Everyday activities, such as stair climbing and grocery shopping, require the usage of a wide variety of muscle groups, including the ones used in performing leg raises. The captain's chair leg raise trains these muscles to function in unison and in coordination with one another, which is essential for activities of daily living.


1. McGill S, Andersen J, Cannon J. Muscle activity and spine load during anterior chain whole body linkage exercises: the body saw, hanging leg raise and walkout from a push-up. J Sports Sci. 2014;33(4):419-26. doi:10.1080/02640414.2014.946437

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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