Weight Loss Made Practical » Exercise

8 Captain’s Chair Exercises For Bigger Abs

You may realize that captain’s chair workouts can offer you impressive benefits but what are some captain’s chair exercises you can do?

The captain’s chair, also known as a “power tower” and “knee raise station”, is a type of fitness equipment you can describe as an elevated chair without a seat. Its armrest and backrest are usually padded to make it more comfortable since your arms and back will be the body parts that keep your feet off the ground.

This seemingly unusual setup allows you to have your legs free without having to exert too much effort with the rest of your body. Captain’s chair exercises work your abdominal muscles (abs), oblique muscles, and hip flexors.

You can expect a wide variety of benefits from stronger ab muscles ranging from better exercise performance to a more aesthetically pleasing upper body.

Tips for getting more results with the captain’s chair

Besides the more specific guidelines in the captain’s chair exercises below, there are some general tips to keep in mind that get more results from the captain’s chair (and other strength training exercises).

A mistake many people make is doing these exercises as fast as possible. This generally leads to overusing momentum and gravity instead of letting your ab muscles do the work.

Try to use slow and controlled movements when doing these exercises. Instead of letting your legs fall down try slowly lowering them. You will notice that every repetition becomes a lot harder.

The whole goal of resistance training is making specific muscles work hard so your body starts processes to make them stronger. More repetitions do not necessarily mean more muscle gain.

Secondly, you want to keep your form good. In the case of captain’s chair exercises that means keeping your upper body more or less straight. During movements, this may be challenging but a good posture is helpful for avoiding injuries.

Lastly, you want to breathe during the exercises. People tend to hold their breath when exerting a lot of effort but this is generally not helpful for your performance and in turn muscle building.

Person doing captain's chair exercise

1. Knee raise

To get into starting position for captain’s chair exercises you grip the handles and rest your forearms on the padding. Your back should be against the back padding and your legs hanging, not resisting gravity yet. In the rest of the captain’s chair exercises, this position will be referred to as the starting position.

For the knee raise you then take the following steps:

  1. Raise your knees held together upwards. Let gravity do its work on your lower legs throughout the exercise.
  2. Raise your knees to at least hip height. Once you are at the highest you can hold for a second or less.
  3. Start lowering your knees until your legs are back into starting position.

This knee raise is one of the most beginner-friendly captain’s chair exercises. If you are new to ab exercises you should likely start with this one.

2. Leg raise

The leg raise is very similar to the knee raise but more intense due to a small difference. For the leg raise you start in the basic captain’s chair starting position and then take the following steps:

  1. Raise your legs held together upwards. Your legs should be more or less stretched throughout the exercise.
  2. Raise your legs to at least hip height. Once you are at the highest you can hold for a second or less.
  3. Start lowering your legs until they are back into starting position.

Due to the laws of physics doing this exercise with stretched legs will put more pressure on your abs compared to folded legs. This can be useful for engaging your abs more in a shorter amount of time.

3. Weighted raises

As you train your muscles more and more, the weights you usually use start feeling less heavy. You will also build less muscle if you keep using the same weights. To keep seeing a lot of muscle growth you want to increase the force these muscles have to exert.

The same goes for the captain’s chair exercises. Initially, the weight of your legs alone may be enough to see a lot of progress. However, sooner or later you may need to do these exercises with added external weights. To do weighted raises, both leg and knee raises, you take the following steps:

  1. Choose which weight you will use. Your main options will be ankle weights or a dumbbell.
  2. Strap on your ankle weights or place the dumbbell upright below the captain’s chair.
  3. Get in the captain’s chair starting position.
  4. If you chose the dumbbell option, pick it up with your feet.
  5. Do the exercise of your choice. With a loose weight like a dumbbell, it is especially important to do the movements slow and controlled.
  6. If you chose the dumbbell option, put it down

Finding the ideal weight for your current skill level may initially be some trial and error.

4. Sideways knee raise

The previous captain’s chair exercises focus mainly on your ab muscles. If you also want to engage your oblique muscles more this sideways raise may be the right choice. For the sideways raise you start in the basic captain’s chair starting position and then take the following steps:

  1. Start raising your knees held together upwards. Slightly tilt your hips to the left or the right so that the knee of that side is in a higher position than the other knee. Let gravity do its work on your lower legs throughout the exercise.
  2. Raise your knees to at least hip height. Once you are at the highest you can hold for a second or less.
  3. Start lowering your knees until your legs are back into starting position.
  4. Repeat but with the other knee in the higher position.

Once your skill level is up for it you can consider doing the sideways knee raise with extra weights like ankle weights or a dumbbell.

5. Air cycling

Due to personal preference or wanting some variation or other reasons you can also consider air cycling in the captain’s chair. For this exercise you start in the basic captain’s chair starting position and then take the following steps:

  1. Raise one knee upwards. Let gravity do its work on your lower legs throughout the exercise.
  2. Raise the knees to at least hip height.
  3. Start lowering this knee while at the same time raising the other knee the same way.
  4. Repeat for a number of repetitions or a certain amount of time.

This exercise resembles doing high knees in the captain’s chair. If you want to do this exercise with external weights you will have to use ankle weights instead of a dumbbell.

6. Crisscross

This next captain’s chair exercise requires some extra coordination. For the crisscross you start in the basic captain’s chair starting position and then take the following steps:

  1. Raise your legs held together upwards to about hip height. Your legs should be more or less stretched throughout the exercise.
  2. Move both of your legs to the opposite side, one will have to be slightly higher and go over the other.
  3. Return to the neutral position where they are pointing forward.
  4. Move both of your legs to the opposite side again, this time make the leg that previously went over the other one go under the other one.
  5. Repeat for a number of repetitions or a certain amount of time.

7. Flutter kicks

Flutter kicks in the captain’s chair are another exercise that requires slightly more coordination. For flutter kicks you start in the basic captain’s chair starting position and then take the following steps:

  1. Raise your legs held together upwards to about hip height. Your legs should be more or less stretched throughout the exercise.
  2. Raise one leg upwards a small amount.
  3. Start lowering this leg while at the same time raising the other leg the same way.
  4. Repeat for a number of repetitions or a certain amount of time.

Flutter kicks are similar to the movement you make with your legs while swimming crawl.

8. Leg hold

The leg hold is a simple concept, you start in the basic captain’s chair starting position and then take the following steps:

  1. Raise your legs held together upwards to about hip height. Your legs should be more or less stretched throughout the exercise.
  2. Hold this position for an extended amount of time.

You can also do this hold in a knee raise position, which means letting your lower legs hang. You can also add weights to this exercise.

Keep in mind that this leg hold is a type of isometric exercise. In simpler words, this means that you engage your muscles in a more static way, without moving a lot. On the other hand, you have isotonic exercises where you engage your muscles in a dynamic way, by moving.

Isotonic exercises are generally more useful for building muscle. That means that the other captain’s chair exercises on this list are generally more useful for building bigger ab muscles.

Captain’s chair sets and repetitions

The way you build muscle in places like your abs is by engaging these muscles so that they get damaged enough. This may sound counterintuitive but this damaging makes it so your body repairs these muscles, and adds a bit more to be better prepared to exert similar efforts in the future.

One study suggests not doing repetitions until failure with heavier weights for the best muscle gain, so related to when you first start with captain’s chair exercises. And then once your body weight starts being a relatively “low weight”, continuing until failure looks the best for muscle gain (1).

In more specific numbers, the number of repetitions in one set of captain’s chair exercises like the leg raise for ab muscle gains should be until you personally are 2-3 repetitions away from not being able to continue. At a certain point, for an exercise like the captain’s chair leg raises when you can do more than something like 20 repetitions you want to do reps until you can’t continue.

Up until the next point, about 38 captain’s chair leg raises, any more than that and your extra gains will be relatively low (2). As you can see the number of captain’s chair repetitions you should do in a session for gaining ab muscle is not a one size fits all.

With these numbers of repetitions in mind you want to do 1-6 sets, more being better, with a 2-3 minute break in between (3, 4).

Will the captain’s chair give you visible abs?

Many people start and stick to using ab muscle machines like the captain’s chair to get visible abs. These can definitely help you get visible abs but for that, you have to follow 2 main steps. Before completing the first step it does not make a lot of sense to start doing ab exercises.

The first step to getting visible abs that stand out is losing the belly fat that is on top of it. Some people get the impression that to burn fat you have to stay at a certain heart rate, eat certain foods, or do specific workouts.

Unfortunately, targetting fat loss in a specific area like your belly is generally not possible. To burn fat, or more specifically belly fat, you have to lose weight overall. Ab exercises are generally not helpful for this first step.

That being said, once you are at a low body fat percentage you can do ab exercises to make your abs stand out more.

You build muscle by engaging these muscles so that they get damaged enough. Initially, even ab exercises without equipment may be enough to see ab building progress. But after a while, you may need to do ab exercises with equipment like the captain’s chair and external weights to keep seeing progress.

In short, to get visible abs the first step is to get to a low body fat percentage. After that, it is time to make your abs stand out more with these captain’s chair exercises and other ab exercises. So the captain’s chair can help you get visible abs but only after you are at a low enough body fat percentage.