Leg raises can be useful but they are not for everyone. Find out what leg raise alternatives can offer similar positive results.
You mainly do leg raises, both lying and hanging, to train your ab muscles. In turn, this exercise can help you build bigger abs, potentially prevent back pain, and offer a few more general exercise benefits to a tiny extent.
Whether you don’t enjoy leg raises, you want something with fewer equipment requirements, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these alternatives to leg raises can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
1. Reverse crunches
Reverse crunches are a great alternative to leg raises both in the sense that they are better to get used to how engaging your abs feels and in that reverse crunches are a less challenging build-up exercise.
On top of that, this leg raise alternative can be done without equipment although a yoga mat can make reverse crunches more comfortable.
Take the following steps to do a reverse crunch:
- Lie down on your back with a 90-degree angle in both your hips and knees. Your arms start resting on the ground at 90 degrees out from your shoulders or just next to you for stability.
- Slowly move your knees towards your chest while keeping your hips and knees at a 90-degree angle. To do this your hips and lower back will come off the ground. Stop right before the middle of your back would come off the ground too.
- Lower your lower back, hips, and legs back into starting position in a controlled motion.
If you want extra oblique training, you can do a sideways reverse crunch. In this variation, you bring one knee to the chest of the opposite side.
After that, you repeat the same but with the other knee to avoid muscle imbalances.
At some point, bodyweight reverse crunches may become too easy. If this is the case you can wear a pair of ankle weights or clamp some type of weight between your legs or switch to lying leg raises.
2. Pulse ups
For pulse ups you preferably want a yoga mat or other soft surface to lie on. That aside, take the following steps to do this exercise:
- Lie down on your back with your hands on the ground beside you for balance.
- Move up your legs upward until they are about vertical to the ground. Keep them as stretched as possible.
- Slowly raise your hips and legs by tightening your ab muscles. Avoid using other muscles like your legs or hip flexors.
- Lower your hips and legs back to the position in step 2 in a controlled motion.
Keep your movements slow and controlled to make your abs really work hard and to avoid using your legs for momentum.
If you feel other muscles than your core fatiguing your technique can likely use some improvement. Similar to leg raises, pulse ups are supposed to focus on the lower and middle part of your abs.
At the same time, it is worth noting that it can be challenging to not use your legs for momentum. This could make pulse ups more of a hip flexor exercise.
3. Bicycle crunches
Take the following steps to do a bicycle crunch:
- Lie down on your back with a 90-degree angle in both your hips and knees. Hold your hands against the side of your head with your elbows pointing sideways.
- Raise your shoulders and push your lower back against the ground with the help of your ab muscles.
- Slightly turn your upper body to one side and reach with your elbow to the knee of the opposite side (for example your left elbow to your right knee) while stretching the leg of the side of the elbow you use while still keeping it off the ground (continuing the example stretching your left leg).
- Bring the stretched leg back into the starting position and repeat with the other side. Keep your shoulders off the ground during the exercise.
Bicycle crunches are a more all-around core exercise compared to leg raises. This exercise will help you train both obliques and abs.
When it comes to the abs muscles specifically, the focus will be more on the upper muscle fibers too.
Whether this different muscle engagement from bicycle crunches is an advantage or not depends on why you are looking for something different from leg raises.
4. Knee raises
For knee raises you preferably have a captain’s chair or a pull-up bar. The ground version is basically a reverse crunch.
Take the following steps o do a knee or leg raise on the captain’s chair:
- Take place on the captain’s chair by putting your arms on the supports, and back against the back support. Let your legs hang down for now.
- Raise your knees held together upward as far as comfortable. Let gravity do its work on your lower legs throughout the exercise.
- Lower your legs back into the position in step 2 in a controlled manner.
If you are more of a workout beginner you can start with knee raises instead of hanging leg raises.
These are generally less challenging than leg raises. If that is still too hard you can start by raising your knees only a small amount.
On the other hand, if bodyweight leg raises are not challenging enough you can use something like ankle weights to make knee raises weighted and in turn more difficult.
5. Ab wheel knee roll-outs
An ab wheel is basically a small wheel with a handle sticking out on each side. This may seem like a weird piece of equipment for a gym but it can offer good core workouts.
As an example, take the following steps to do an ab wheel knee roll-out:
- Start with your face facing the floor on your knees and with your hands on the ab wheel.
- Stretch your hips so that your body is in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Roll forward in a controlled motion, preferably until your stomach is right above the ground.
- Slowly roll back into the position of step 2.
Ab wheel rollouts can be relatively challenging for core training beginners. If this applies to you, you can start by rolling smaller distances.
More experienced lifters can roll all the way until their stomachs are right above the ground.
Ab wheel rollouts give your abs an isometric (static) workout. Keep in mind that this tends to be less effective than more dynamic exercises like leg raises and some of the other alternatives.
6. Suitcase crunches
Take the following steps to do a suitcase crunch:
- Lie down on your back with your legs stretched and right next to each other on the ground. Hold your arms against your chest or next to you for balance.
- Slowly move your hips towards your chest as far as comfortable while keeping your legs stretched and in more or less the same position relative to your hips. At the same crunch up your upper body starting with your shoulders as far as comfortable.
- Return to starting position in a controlled motion.
Suitcase crunches are basically lying leg raises combined with the regular crunch. Combing the two exercises this alternative can help you train both your lower and upper abs.
You can make suitcase crunches harder for your lower abs by wearing/holding a weight with your legs.
To make this leg raise alternative harder for your upper abs you can hold weight in your hands or against your chest.
7. Pike crunches
For the next leg raise alternative you will need an exercise ball. This is a soft elastic ball that can be used in a variety of exercises.
Once you have that, take the following steps to do a pike crunch:
- Put your hands in front of the exercise ball and your chins on the ball.
- Stretch your body and arms. In starting position you want your shoulder to be above your elbows.
- Slowly lift your hips as far as comfortable and safe. At the same time roll the ball forward by moving your legs more to the front of the ball.
- Lower your hips back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
Try to avoid lowering your hips too much. You generally don’t want to go farther than a straight line from your heels to your head.
The movement of pike crunches is similar to leg raises but you don’t have to lie down on the floor or hang down from a captain’s chair or pull-up bar.
Some people will find this a more comfortable way to work their ab muscles.
One potential downside is that pike crunches can be challenging in terms of balance and coordination. This can reduce the effectiveness of your ab workout.
8. Lying toe touches
Take the following steps to do a lying toe touch:
- Lie down on your back with your legs stretched and right next to each other on the ground.
- Move up your legs to ideally a vertical line. If your hamstrings are tight it will be more of a steep angle. Go as far as you comfortably can while keeping your lower back on the ground. Point your arms vertically upward too.
- Slowly lift your upper body to reach with your hands toward your toes as far as comfortable. Make sure you use your abs and not the momentum of your arms to do this movement.
- Return to the position in step 2 in a controlled motion.
The name may imply differently, but you can get in a good workout with lying toe touches even if you do not actually touch your toes during the exercise.
Lying toe touches are more of a leg raise alternative for focusing more on the upper part of your abs. This option will still engage your lower abs but more isometrically.
9. Exercise ball knee tucks
This next exercise is another example where you need an exercise ball. Take the following steps to do an exercise ball knee tuck:
- Start on your hand and knees in front of the exercise ball with your feet towards the ball. Keep your arms stretched.
- Put one foot on the exercise ball.
- Put your second foot on the exercise ball and roll the ball away from you until your legs are stretched and your upper arms are at about 90-degree angles to the ground. Keep your hands right below your shoulders.
- Roll the ball toward you by moving your knees toward your chest as far as you comfortably can.
- Roll the ball back into the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
Some other attention points when doing exercise ball knee tucks include not sagging your shoulders and keeping your neck straight.
The farther you keep the exercise ball away from your body, the harder the exercise will be for your core muscles.
Exercise ball knee tucks are basically an easier version of pike crunches. Both can engage your core muscles similar to leg raises.
Take the following steps to do a V-up:
- Lie down on your back with your legs stretched and right next to each other on the ground. You can hold your arms against your chest if you are relatively new to ab training, stretched above your head if you are more experienced.
- Keep your legs slightly less than stretched while you move them up slowly. At the same time curl up your upper body starting with your shoulders and continuing with the rest of your back until your upper body makes a V-shape with your legs. Make sure you use your abs and not the momentum of your arms to power the movement.
- Slowly lower your legs and upper body again. If you will do more repetitions you can keep your feet hovering just above the ground and your lower back pressed against the ground with the help of your abs. If you are done you can lower your legs to the ground.
Most versions of the V-up want you to stretch your arms above your head but this does make the exercise more challenging.
If you are more of a core resistance training beginner you can start with your arms against your chest and build up from there.
Once you do start implementing stretched arms in V-ups, make sure you use your abs and not the momentum of your arms to power the movement during this leg raise alternative.
V-ups focus on your lower, middle, and upper abs. Similar to many other options on this list you can use weights to make the exercise more challenging.