Love leg lifts? What's not to love? This effective core exercise can totally be the cornerstone of your ab workouts.
"They're great for working your anterior core muscles, a.k.a. the front of your midsection, specifically your rectus abdominis muscles (also known as your six-pack muscles)," Grayson Wickham PT, DPT, CSCS, founder of Movement Vault, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Plus, leg raises have secondary benefits for your hip flexors. "A lot of people think that they just have tight hip flexors, but, in reality, they also have weak hip flexors," Wickham says. Leg lifts strengthen, stretch and activate your psoas (one of your hip flexor muscles).
While leg raises are seemingly simple, they're also easy to mess up. And if you're not performing this core move correctly, you probably won't see any ab progress, and worse, you could hurt yourself. Avoid these four common mistakes and lock down the correct leg raise form.
How to Do Leg Raises Properly
- Lie on the ground with your legs out straight, arms at your sides.
- Brace your core and root your lower back into the ground.
- Keeping your legs together and inner thighs engaged, raise your legs straight up toward the ceiling so that they're perpendicular to the floor.
- Lower your legs back toward the ground, keeping your lower back in contact with the floor (stop once you feel your lower back lifting off the floor).
- Hover your feet just above the ground before going into the next rep.
1. You Arch Your Back
This is by far the most common mistake among exercisers doing leg lifts. But when your lower back comes off the ground, the focus shifts from your abs to your hip flexors, Wickham says. And since your abs aren't lifting the load at that point, they won't get much benefit.
What's more, this arching increases the strain on your lower back's joints, bones and ligaments, and over time, that can contribute to pain or injury, he says.
“The first key to performing leg raises correctly is to push your low back into the ground,” Wickham says. “This will cause your core abdominal muscles to engage and activate.”
To practice pressing your back firmly into the floor, you can do exercises like hollow body holds or dead bugs, which will also help build core strength. Once you’ve mastered these moves without arching your back, you can work up to leg lifts.
2. You Put Your Hands Underneath Your Hips
You've probably heard it's okay to place your hands under your tailbone for more support when doing leg lifts. While this adjustment makes the exercise feel easier for some people, it often leads to an overarched lower back, Wickham says.
"When you lose your abdominal engagement and your low back starts to arch up off the ground, you decrease the effectiveness of the exercise for your abdominal muscles and increase the risk for pain and an overuse injury," he says.
“Instead of placing your hands underneath your hips, which can lead to poor form, you should decrease the demands of the exercise by performing an easier variation,” Wickham says.
To make leg raises less challenging, Wickham recommends performing them with bent knees bent or simply decreasing your range of motion (i.e., not fully lowering your legs to the ground).
3. You Flex Your Neck
"Another common mistake that I see is people flexing their neck up off the ground as hard as they can," Wickham says. But lifting your neck is a major no-no, since it could potentially cause undue strain on your neck muscles and lead to soreness or pain.
The solution is simple, Wickham says: “Leave your head on the ground the entire movement.” This way you target your abdominal and hip flexor muscles, not your neck.
4. You Move Too Quickly
Spoiler alert: If you're cranking out leg lifts at lightning speed, you're not doing them right. Odds are you're using momentum rather than muscle to complete the movement. In other words, your abs aren't doing any of the work.
Plus, when you race through leg raises, it's tough to maintain good form, Wickham says. And when your form fails, you're more likely to hurt yourself.
Don’t speedily swing your legs up and down. “Leg raises should almost always be performed at a slower tempo to ensure you are getting maximal core and hip flexor muscle activation,” says Wickham.
“The slower you go, the more challenging you make the exercise.” How slow? Aim for at least a 5-second lower, Wickham says.