What Do Leg Lifts Work?

Exercises consist of a joint movement against resistance in the form of weight, body weight or gravity. Isolation movements target one muscle group while compound movements work more than one. While the target muscle group contracts, opposing muscle groups stretch and relax. There are several variations of the leg lift exercise that work different muscle groups.

Woman doing leg lifts. (Image: kicsiicsi/iStock/Getty Images)

Hanging Leg Lifts

Hanging leg lifts target the entire abdominal area, including the lower abs. The exercise is performed by hanging from a high bar contracting your latissimus dorsi, or back muscles. Begin by flexing your hips, contracting your hip flexors. Your abdominal muscles contract while lifting your legs up toward your chest with your knees bent, which contracts your hamstrings on the back of your thighs. Lift your legs as high as possible, hold, and then slowly lower your legs back to the starting position. The resistance of your body weight and gravity is directed toward your abdominal muscles. This is an advanced exercise and is not recommended for beginners, or those with back problems.

Abdominal Chair Leg Lifts

Leg lifts on an abdominal chair are performed while holding your body up with your arms bent and resting on elbow pads. Your shoulders and arms contract to hold your body in an upright position. Your hip flexors work to bend your hips. The resistance of your body weight and gravity are placed directly on your abdominal muscles as you lift your legs up toward your chest. While bending your knees, your hamstrings contract. Hold your legs up at the highest point, then slowly lower back to the starting position. This exercise is advanced and not recommended for beginners or those with back problems.

Lying Leg Lifts

Lying leg lifts are performed while lying on a flat bench. For flat bench lifts, your hands can be placed under your buttocks to elevate your hips to avoid arching your back. Lifts performed on a flat bench target only your abdominal muscles as they contract to lift your legs without holding your upper body up. The hips are flexed while the legs are lifted until your legs are vertical. Hold, and then slowly lower your legs back to the starting position. This exercise is a beginner to intermediate exercise and is recommended for beginners.

Side-Lying Leg Lifts

Leg lifts performed while lying on your side target our legs instead of your abdomen. While lying on your side with your hips stacked, the top leg or the top and bottom leg are lifted from the floor. Exercises lifting only the top leg target your hips, buttocks and outer thigh muscles. Lifting the top and bottom leg also work the inner leg muscle of the bottom leg. This exercise is a beginner to intermediate exercise and recommended for beginners.

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