Hanging Leg Raise Alternatives: How to Target the Same Muscles

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
June 2, 2022

The hanging leg raise is a more advanced form of the standard leg raise movement, wherein the exerciser suspends themselves from a pull up bar or similar platform in order to increase the static contraction of the core muscle groups.

However, many exercisers find themselves in need of a suitable alternative to this particular core isolation exercise due to a variety of issues that make it either uncomfortable or ineffective to perform within a given training routine.

The exerciser need not worry, however, as the rather simplistic muscle group activation of the hanging leg raise allows for quite a few alternatives to be used without the need for extra workout programming or any significant shift in exercise mechanics.

Why Should the Hanging Leg Raise be Alternated Out?

Though the hanging leg raise is considered a solid exercise on its own, several drawbacks and mistakes common to its performance make the usage of alternative exercises a justifiable choice - especially if they present a risk of injury or hindrance to the exerciser reaching their training goals.

The most frequently encountered among these is the usage of momentum or “swinging” during the movement, reducing the total training stimulus accrued and potentially placing the exerciser at risk of injury if their momentum is too great.

hanging leg raise movement

In connection to swinging, the exerciser may also find that their grip strength gives out before their core muscles have been properly stimulated, limiting the time under tension and total volume the exerciser may perform per set as they are unable to suspend themselves for a long enough length of time.

Another matter wherein a potential alternative exercise may be required is in the distribution of training stimulus involved in the hanging leg raise, wherein the lower portion of the abdominal muscles are stimulated to a somewhat greater degree than the upper portion - providing a training stimulus that may be undesired by the exerciser.

Regardless of the particular reasoning behind the hanging leg raise needing to be substitituted with an alternative, the exerciser will find that they are spoiled for choice, and as such it is more a matter of simple preference when choosing to do so.

What Muscles Need to be Worked by a Hanging Leg Raise Alternative?

For the most part, any alternative exercise to the hanging leg raise simply needs to activate the abdominal muscles - though other muscle groups also activated by the hanging leg raise are the hip flexors and the obliques, requiring any alternative exercise also work these muscle groups if the training program calls for it specifically.

The capacity and manner of this muscular activation will depend on the needs of the exerciser as well - though it will generally be a combination of both isometric and dynamic muscle group contraction, making certain exercises such as the plank unsuitable due to its primarily single type training stimulus.

Other Factors to Look for in a Hanging Leg Raise Alternative

Apart from a similar capacity to train the abdominal muscles, any alternative to the hanging leg raise must also share a similar level of intensity and (if needed) lesser equipment requirements, depending on the exerciser’s reason for substituting the exercise.

Generally, most training programs keep the hanging leg raise in their list of exercises due to its ability to isolate the core muscles without indirectly training other muscle groups - something that may also be a factor in deciding on a suitable alternative, depending on the training program in use.

How to Program for a Hanging Leg Raise Alternative

Once the exerciser has chosen a suitable alternative to the hanging leg raise, they must ensure that the training program’s flow, their own fatigue levels, and the total training stimulus of the workout session is otherwise retained in its original form.

hanging leg raise

Generally, the hanging leg raise takes the place of an auxiliary core exercise meant to be performed around the end of the training session once more intense compound exercise have already been completed - save for the instance of athletic capacity focused training programs, wherein the hanging leg raise may be part of a circuit routine instead.

Any alternative to the hanging leg raise must be capable of fulfilling the original role of the hanging leg raise itself, with certain alternative exercises being more suitable for the purposes of circuit training or super-setting than they would be as simple auxiliary isolation exercises.

Can the Hanging Knee Raise be a Hanging Leg Raise Alternative?

Whether or not the hanging knee raise is capable of taking the place of the hanging leg raise will depend on the exerciser and their reasons behind the substitution of the hanging leg raise.

If the reasons are more to do with the fact that the hanging leg raise is too difficult, complex, or the exerciser does not possess the prerequisite core strength to complete a set of the exercise; then yes, the hanging knee raise is an excellent alternative exercise.

However, for individuals without access to a platform from which to hang, find the hanging leg raise to be insufficient in training intensity, or possess injuries aggravated by the form of the hanging leg raise - the hanging kneeraise is not a suitable alternative exercise.

For the most part, the hanging knee raise is simply seen as a progression one level beneath the hanging leg raise, meant to primarily be performed by novice exercisers without enough core strength to perform hanging leg raises instead. 

In other cases than this, the following alternative exercises may be used instead.

Hanging Mountain Climbers

Extremely similar but somewhat more intense than the hanging leg raise, the hanging mountain climber is a more difficult variation of the mountain climber core exercise that is suitable for individuals replacing the hanging leg raise for a more effective or complex exercise.

Functionally, hanging mountain climbers are nearly the same as hanging leg raises, save for the fact that it focuses more on the hip flexor muscles, and initiates a more dynamic form of contraction than the aforementioned hanging leg raises - requiring greater muscular endurance and mind-body control.

When choosing to substitute hanging leg raises with hanging mountain climbers, one must account for the higher level of exertion required in the latter exercise; of which will usually result in lesser repetitions per set.

When Hanging Mountain Climbers Should be Avoided

Hanging mountain climbers make an unsuitable alternative to the hanging leg raise for exercisers without the sufficient forearm endurance and strength to maintain proper form, or to even hold themself up for a long enough period to complete a set.

It is also considerably more difficult, and as such also unsuitable for exercisers seeking a less intense alternative to the hanging leg raise - or those who wish to avoid aggravating a previous injury.

Lying Leg Raise

For exercisers searching for a hanging leg raise alternative that is not limited by their forearm endurance or is otherwise less intense to perform, the lying leg raise presents a nearly identical muscle group activation pattern with a lower amount of exertion required per set.

lying leg raise

It is performed with much the same form cues and mechanics as the hanging leg raise, save for the fact that it is otherwise done while lying on the floor, somewhat limiting the eccentric range of motion and reducing any isometric muscle contraction as the torso requires less stabilization.

In terms of volume, the lying leg raise may be performed with far more repetitions than the hanging leg raise - both due to grip strength no longer being a limiting factor and the fact that the lying leg raise is comparably easier to perform, both in terms of muscular strength and in exercise complexity.

When the Lying Leg Raise Should be Avoided

Though considerably safer and more simple than the hanging leg raise, the lying leg raise should be avoided by athletes or exercisers seeking a similar pattern of muscle group activation, as well as those in need of one as intense (or more intense) than the hanging leg raise.

Reverse Crunches

Quite similar to the standard crunch, but with the exerciser arching their hips into the air instead of swinging from it - the reverse crunch is another suitable alternative to the hanging leg raise that utilizes more simplistic exercise mechanics and a more forgiving form in order to act as a novice-friendly substitute.

reverse crunch

The reverse crunch is especially an excellent alternative for individuals without the requisite core strength to perform a full set of hanging leg raises, as its muscular activation pattern (that is to say, the lower abdominals in particular) can aid greatly in developing the sort of core strength needed for the hanging leg raise.

Otherwise, exercisers wishing to retain the hip flexor stimulus of the hanging leg raise while reducing the activation of other core muscle groups may substitute the hanging leg raise with reverse crunches as well.

When the Reverse Crunch Should be Avoided

The reverse crunch is best avoided as a hanging leg raise alternative for exercisers seeking a more intense alternative to the latter exercise, or for individuals substituting out the hanging leg raise due to hip or lower back injuries that are aggravated by its performance.

Bicycle Kicks

Another alternative to the hanging leg raise that may be performed with the exerciser lying on the floor, bicycle kicks impart a similar level of intensity and muscle group activation as the hanging leg raise with less of the drawbacks normally associated therein.

This makes it a suitable option for exercisers that do not wish to hang during their core workout, or wish to utilize a more dynamic and semi-unilateral training stimulus that is not present with the hanging leg raise exercise alone.

When Bicycle Kicks Should be Avoided

For the most part, bicycle kicks should be avoided by individuals with poor knee, lower back and hip mobility, as this particular hanging leg raise exercise requires far more flexibility than the hanging leg raise itself.

Bicycle kicks are also unsuitable for individuals wishing to induce more isometric muscle group contraction in their core musculature, as the highly dynamic movement of the bicycle kick lean more towards dynamic muscular contraction instead.

Which Alternative to the Hanging Leg Raise is Best?

Many of the drawbacks and issues involved in the performance of the hanging leg raise is addressed by the previously mentioned alternative exercises - and as such, there is no one single alternative exercise that is best in a general context.

For the most part, however, the hanging knee raise is considered to be the most similar and therefore also the most suitable alternative to the hanging leg raise, with the lying leg raise coming in as another alternative for individuals unable to perform the hanging knee raise as well.

References

1. Kim K, Lee T. Comparison of muscular activities in the abdomen and lower limbs while performing sit-up and leg-raise. J Phys Ther Sci. 2016 Jan;28(2):491-4. doi: 10.1589/jpts.28.491. Epub 2016 Feb 29. PMID: 27065536; PMCID: PMC4792997.

2. Yoo WG. Effect of modified leg-raising exercise on the pain and pelvic angle of a patient with back pain and excessive lordosis. J Phys Ther Sci. 2017 Jul;29(7):1281-1282. doi: 10.1589/jpts.29.1281. Epub 2017 Jul 15. PMID: 28744065; PMCID: PMC5509609.

3. Oliva-Lozano, José M., and José M. Muyor. 2020. "Core Muscle Activity during Physical Fitness Exercises: A Systematic Review" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17, no. 12: 4306. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17124306

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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