5 Leg Lift Variations to Target Your Lower Abs

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Leg lift crunches strengthen the lower abdomen.
Image Credit: SrdjanPav/iStock/GettyImages

Everyone has a specific part of their body they'd like to tone. But unfortunately, even the most determined researchers haven't been able to show that it's possible to target a body part for spot reduction.

That means tons of crunches won't eliminate belly fat. But you can strengthen the muscles in your core to give your stomach a more sculpted look and feel, especially if you clean up your diet and add in other cardio and strength training workouts.

They're far from easy, but leg lifts (also called abdominal leg raises) are a great way to strengthen your midsection, hip flexors and obliques. Burn out your core and give these leg lift exercises a try during your next workout.

How to Do a Leg Lift — the Right Way

Skill Level Intermediate
Type Strength
Region Core
  1. Lie on the ground with your legs out straight, arms at your sides. You can place your hands under your tailbone for more support.
  2. Brace your core and root your lower back into the ground.
  3. Raise your legs straight up toward the ceiling.
  4. Lower your legs back toward the ground, keeping your lower back in contact with the floor.
  5. Hover your feet just above the ground before rising for the next rep.

Tip

While you perform this exercise, there are a few safety tips to keep in mind, says K. Aleisha Fetters, certified strength and conditioning specialist and author of Fitness Hacks for Over 50.

  • Keep your lower back on the ground at all times.
  • Only lower and raise your legs as far as you can keep the back on the ground.
  • Brace your core throughout the entire exercise.
  • Perform as many reps as you can with good form and build from there.

Leg Raises Benefits

It's a common belief that leg lifts strengthen the lower abdominal muscles (which are not actually a separate muscle, by the way, just a part of your rectus abdominis — the "six pack" muscles). It might very well feel that way, as the exercise does make the lower part of your abs burn after just a few reps, but your abs aren't the only body part putting in work.

A lot of the work in your leg lifts actually comes from the hip flexors, Fetters says_._ Your iliopsoas and rectus femoris are two hip-flexing muscles that lie deep in your lower abs, and they get plenty of attention with this exercise, according to ExRx.net.

Leg lifts can help you stabilize your lower back, boost your core strength and improve your posture and alignment, according to a February 2016 study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science. Even more importantly, the exercise can help make you more injury-resistant.

Try These 5 Leg Lift Variations

After you've mastered the standard leg raise, you can try some new variations to keep developing your ab and hip strength.

1. Top ROM Leg Lift

1. Top ROM Leg Lift
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/K. Aleisha Fetters
Skill Level Intermediate
Type Strength
Region Core
  1. Lie on the ground, lower back rooted and arms at your sides.
  2. Raise your legs straight up toward the ceiling.
  3. Lower your legs a few inches toward the floor, keeping your back on the ground.
  4. Then, raise back up toward the ceiling.
  5. With each rep, lower your legs an inch or two more, keeping the lumbar spine rooted.

2. Eccentric Leg Lift

2. Eccentric Leg Lift
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/K. Aleisha Fetters
Skill Level Intermediate
Type Strength
Region Core
  1. Lie on the ground, lower back rooted and arms at your sides.
  2. Raise your legs up toward the ceiling.
  3. Lower your legs back to the ground slowly for about 4 seconds.
  4. Bring your legs back up to the sky for a 1-second count.

3. Single-Leg Leg Lift

3. Single-Leg Leg Lift
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/K. Aleisha Fetters
Skill Level Intermediate
Type Strength
Region Core
  1. Lie on the ground, lower back rooted into the floor.
  2. Tuck your left leg into your chest, keeping your right leg parallel to the ground, hovering just above the floor.
  3. Raise your right leg up toward the ceiling.
  4. Lower the right leg back to the starting position.
  5. Complete all your reps with the right leg, then switch sides.

4. Scissor Leg Lift

4. Scissor Leg Lift
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/K. Aleisha Fetters
Skill Level Advanced
Type Strength
Region Core
  1. Lie on the ground with your arms at your sides, lower back planted on the ground.
  2. Hold both legs a few inches above the floor.
  3. Bring your legs toward your midline, crossing your right ankle over left.
  4. Uncross your legs and separate them a few feet, then quickly re-cross your legs with the left ankle over right.

5. Hollow-Body Hold

5. Hollow-Body Hold
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/K. Aleisha Fetters
Skill Level Advanced
Type Strength
Region Core
  1. Start lying on your back, lower back rooted into the ground.
  2. Raise your arms straight above your head, elbows by your ears.
  3. Hollow out your belly and raise your legs a few inches off the ground.
  4. Hold this position as long as possible.
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