You should start performing this exercise only when you master previous two kinds of abs workout (sitting leg raises and alternate leg raises) with correct technique. As you can see from the title, all today’s variations of leg raises are performed in laying position. This gives an ability to unload the spine, but with one requirement: your lower back should not tear from the floor on bend too much up. Always control the fold by trying to put a hand under your lower back in top tension phase: if you can do this – the fold is too big. We will regulate the muscle load with leg straightening rate. Let’s start from the easy variation.
Leg raises with knees bent
What muscles work: rectus and oblique abdominals, psoas muscle, hip muscles.
Performing the exercise: lay on the floor, bend your knees at right angle. Put your hands by your body with palms down. Rise your feet above the floor and hold this position for one second (photo 1). On exhale, leaning on floor, slowly rise your bent legs, until they are parallel to the floor (photo 2). After one second pause, on inhale, slowly go back to the starting position (do not put your heel on the floor). Repeat 20 times.
Notice: at the top position your body should make two right angles – in knee and hip joints. During the exercise only the angle between hips and core should change. Keep your abdominals always tensed, like you are pushing your lower back towards the floor – this will help to avoid excessive fold. Do not spread your legs, knees and feet should be together. Completely control the movement, move slowly (minimum 3 seconds to go down and 2 to go up), breathe rhythmically and synchronized to movement. If it is difficult for you to do all 20 reps with required technique – you can periodically touch the floor with your heels (for example every fifth tome you go down), but with time aim on rejecting that support. If the movement is easy for you – move on to the next level.
Half-bent leg raises
Performing the exercise: lay on the floor, straighten your hands by your body, palms down (knee angle should be one third bigger than in previous exercise). Before you start, tear your heels from the floor (photo 3). Keeping legs together and leaning your hands on the floor, slowly rise your legs (do not change knee angle). At the top position heel will be on your wrists level, and the lower back will start to tear from the floor (photo 4). Make one second pause and stabilize the body, then go back to the stating position (but don’t put your heels on the floor, hold your legs always in the air.
Notice: muscle load depends mainly on leg straightening rate, so at first stages you may bend them more. When doing the exercise (especially when legs go down), tense your arm muscles – this will help to keep your body straight and prevent swinging. Do not forget to tighten your lower back to the floor, using abdominals and lower back muscles. Synchronize breathing with movement: raise legs – exhale, at the top point hold your breath and tense your abdominals, doing down – inhale. Pay the main attention to slowly bring your legs down (you can reach 7 seconds at it) – in this movement phase all the purpose muscles get the required load. Try not to touch the floor with your heels during all the rep series, regulate the load with knee angle.
Having mastered the technique on proper level (at least 20 reps per set), try to complicate the exercise: at the top point straighten your legs (photo 5) and bring them down straight (photo 6). Watch your knees position, they should not bend to the moment when your legs are fully down (better decrease the depth at the beginning, but knees should stay straight).
If you can do 20 reps with good technique (spending at least 5 seconds for each lower and making 2-3 seconds pause at bottom position) – you’ve opened your way to the most effective variation: straight legs. This technique makes higher requirements to all the involved muscles, but also works on them fullest. As it seen from the name, your legs should stay straight during all the exercise. Do not forget to tense all muscles to keep your body from swinging and not let your lower back bend. Perform the exercise slowly (spend at least 5 seconds to go down, to go up – 3 seconds), keep full control on your body. When you reach 20 reps with perfect technique – strong and resilient abdominals as the result won’t make you wait. Have a good training!
Good books to read:
Bret Contreras. Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy – Human Kinetics, 2013 – 224 p.
Kavadlo Al. Pushing the Limits: Total Body Strenght with No Equipment – Dragon Door Publications, 2013 – 224 p.
BJ Gaddour. Your Body Is Your Barbell: No Gym. Just Gravity. Build a Leaner, Stronger, More Muscular You in 28 Days – Rodale, 2014 – 288 p.