The hanging leg raise, an advanced variation of the crunch exercise, is a more intense and difficult abdominal movement than the standard crunch. Often included in ab routines to shock and challenge the stomach muscles, the hanging leg raise is an effective abdominal-strengthening exercise, but it can place undue stress on the lower back. Other advanced abdominal exercises, such as the ball crunch and reverse crunch, offer the same core-strengthening benefits as the hanging leg raise without putting excessive pressure on your lower back.
The bicycle crunch involves spinal flexion and rotation, working both the main ab muscles and the side abs. The exercise is named after the movement of the legs, which resembles a pedaling motion. Alternate pulling one knee and the opposite shoulder together, while extending the other leg. Pull your right shoulder toward your left knee, while extending your right leg. Switch and extend your left leg while pulling your right knee and left shoulder together. When performed in a smooth, alternating fashion, your legs will mimic a pedaling motion.
Captain's Chair Leg Raise
Unless you have access to ab straps, you'll have to hold onto a bar to do the hanging leg raise exercise. This can exhaust your forearms and hand grip before your abdominal muscles. It can also be a challenge to prevent your body from swinging during the movement. The captain's chair eliminates these problems. Place your forearms on the arm pads to suspend your body and press your back into the support pad. Pull your knees upward and in toward your chest.
Although a study by the American Council on Exercise found that the bicycle crunch and captain's chair leg raise activated the abdominal muscles more than the ball crunch, it was found to be a better overall abdominal exercise because the quadriceps muscles were not as involved as in the other two exercises. Lie with your lower back and shoulders on the ball and your feet on the floor. Perform crunches from this position, pulling your shoulders off the ball but keeping your lower back in contact with the ball throughout the movement.
The reverse crunch mimics the hanging leg raise -- the movement occurs in the legs while the upper body remains stationary -- but you have the benefit of a stable surface under your torso. Lie on your back on the floor and set your knees and hips at 90-degree angles. Rest your arms along your sides. Keeping your head and shoulders against the floor, pull your knees toward your chest, lifting your hips off the floor.
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