4 Captain's Chair Exercises for Rock-Solid Abs

While the name may be unfamiliar, you've probably seen a captain's chair at your gym. A tall, seatless chair with arms and a back rest, you climb into it via pegs or small steps to do exercises to target your abs. The chair uses some of the same muscles you use in hanging leg raises, but supports your back, making it a little more user-friendly for most people.

Exercising on the captain's chair helps build your core. (Image: dobrovizcki/iStock/Getty Images)

The American Council on Exercise named the standard captain's chair crunch one of the most effective ab exercises for stimulating the rectus abdominis (those "six-pack abs" muscles) and obliques (at the sides of your torso) after performing a small study that pitted the move against 12 other popular ab moves.

Not sure where to start? Incorporate these different variations of the captain's chair crunch into your ab workouts in addition to other exercises like the bicycle crunch, stability ball crunch and reverse crunch.

1. Standard Captain's Chair Crunch

As you perform this exercise, make sure you lift your knees above your hips or you'll de-emphasize your abs and work mostly the hip flexors. Brace yourself through your shoulders and back — you don't want to relax the shoulders or you'll end up sagging uncomfortably.

  1. Mount the captain's chair and press your back into the back rest and grip the hand holds, elbows and forearms on the arm rests.
  2. Allow your legs to hang straight down.
  3. Pull your knees up toward your chest in a controlled manner.
  4. Engage your abs as you lift the knees by pulling the belly button toward your spine.
  5. Slowly lower your legs to the start.

Reps: three sets of 10

2. Straight Leg Lift

Ready to take it to the next level? Straight leg lifts are definitely an advanced move, so make sure you can do the standard crunch first. If you feel pain in your back, stop immediately as you may be causing injury to your spine.

  1. Assume your position in the captain's chair with your lower back in the back rest and your hands on the grips. Extend your legs toward the floor.
  2. Keep your legs together and bend at the hips to raise your legs parallel to the floor.
  3. Move slowly and deliberately — avoid swinging so that momentum takes over.
  4. Return them to the starting position, again using control to avoid swinging.

Reps: 8

3. Oblique-Focused Crunch

  1. Get into the captain's chair and press your back into the back rest and hold yourself up on the arm rests.
  2. Pull your knees up, but angle them toward the right side of your chest.
  3. Lower the legs back down.
  4. Pull your knees up, angling to the left side of your chest.
  5. Lower to start.

Reps: three sets of 10 on each side

4. Single-Leg Lefts

  1. Place yourself in the captain's chair, legs hanging toward the floor.
  2. Keep your shoulders relaxed.
  3. Tighten your abs and pull the right knee in toward your chest; leave the other leg hanging.
  4. Release and repeat with the left leg to complete one rep.

Reps: three sets of 10

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