Upgrade Your Leg Raises

Kelsey Lensman ATC


You walk into the gym and see a bunch of people laying down doing leg raises. You ask them why and they say “I want abs!” Yes, I too thought the leg raises, scissor kicks, and all the other dreaded ab exercises would also get me abs because that’s just what people do. Want abs? Lay on the floor and do little ab routines for 20 seconds and wah-la – ABS!

Buttttttt – boy did I waste so much dang time doing those leg raises and scissor kicks for nothing.

Let’s take a look at the anatomy here real quick. Your “abs” consist of a few different layers. You have your deep core, which is the foundation of your entire house. It’s your diaphragm, pelvic floor, and transverse abdominis. This facilitates breathing, keep your insides from falling out, and helps with keeping your spine stable. Then you have the middle layer. That consists of your internal and external obliques. Finally, we have the “pretty layer.” The layer that everyone looks and says “damn – I want that.” Your rectus abdominis. The “6-pack” layer. Yeah it may look good, but if you have poor foundation with your deep core, you’re setting yourself up for failure (to be touched on in another article). 

So let’s take a look at the middle and superficial (pretty) layer that everyone desires to have visible so bad (can’t blame ya – I’m the same way!). Your obliques are used for rotational movements.  Yes – Russian twists… good. However, your rectus abdominis’ main action is flexion of your entire torso! It’s not just raising your leg up. It’s actually curling your entire torso from the ribs down into a ball (like you’re sticking your head between your legs).  So instead of mainly hitting hip flexors with all of these leg raises and elevated feet movements, let’s focus on curing our entire torso. Let’s focus on SLOWLY flexing each vertebrae at a time. Here are some key tips below for it.


  1. BREATH – when you are initiating any type of core stability or ab movement (which should be always), YOU NEED TO BREATH. When exerting force you need to breath out hard. Breathing out contracts your diaphragm (bracing your deep core), allows for greater oblique activation, and is a HUGE stabilization factor. Want to keep your spine safe and core activated? Focus on breathing.
    1. Breath in when doing lengthening the muscle or returning to the start position (or at the very beginning of the set up)
    2. Breath out when contracting everything and needing to move the weight or going through the motion
  2. Tilt your hips forward – By tilting your hips forward (posteriorly rotating your pelvis), you are flexing your torso and pre-engaging your entire core to begin the movement. This will also prevent you from having a low back that arches like crazy which disengages your core entirely. If you low back is hurting during core movements – stop and rethink. Am I tilting my hips forward before I begin the movement?
  3. Curl your TORSO, don’t just raise your legs or bend at the hips – Think about flexing your spine at each segment. Slow and controlled go all the way through until you are curled into an entire ball! Head between your legs and curled up! If your hip flexors are on FIRE afterward, rethink. Am I curling my torso or just bending at the hips? Try slow and controlled, keep core engaged, and go get you some abs!


FOCUS on what you are doing. Where are you feeling it? What is burning? Is your low back hurting? If you FEEL something working, it’s working. If you don’t FEEL something working, it’s probably not working. Yes, abs are cool – but we need to learn how to train them, not just cope ab circuit videos on Instagram and then be upset that we don’t have them! Think about what you’re doing, feel what you’re doing, and as always train hard, but train smart!

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