I first learned how to do leg raises way back in middle school when I was running on the cross-country team.
I always loved the leg raises exercise, and now that I work as a Certified Personal Trainer, I frequently program leg raises into ab workouts for runners, cyclists, weightlifters, and everyday athletes in addition to sprinkling them into my own core workouts.
Leg raises, also called leg lifts, are a great bodyweight exercise to target your lower abs and hip flexors.
But, when programming your training sessions, you may wonder, how many leg raises should I do in my ab workouts?
In this guide, we will discuss how to perform leg raises, how to modify leg lifts to add variety to your ab workout routine, and ultimately answer your question, how many leg raises should I do based on my fitness level?
Let’s jump in!
How Do You Do Leg Raises?
Before we look at how many leg lifts you should do to strengthen your abs, let’s look at how to perform the leg lift exercise in your core workouts.
There are several variations of leg lifts that you can do in ab workouts, but the basic leg lifts exercise involves lying on your back with your legs out straight in front of you and then lifting your legs up towards the ceiling and then back towards the floor as a unit.
Here are the steps for how to do leg raises:
How To Perform Leg Raises
- Lie on your back with your hands tucked under the very top of your butt or the space in your lower back to make sure that it stays pressed into the ground. Keep your upper body, neck, and head neutral and resting on the ground.
- Lift your legs off the ground as a unit until they are straight up in the air perpendicular to the floor. Make sure to keep your knees straight and use your abs and deep core muscles to ensure that your pelvis and lower back remain on the floor. This will involve engaging your transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, obliques, and pelvic floor muscles to ground your pelvis and perform a posterior pelvic tilt so that your lower back isn’t arching off of the ground.
- Slowly lower1Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D. I., Vigotsky, A. D., Franchi, M. V., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Hypertrophic Effects of Concentric vs. Eccentric Muscle Actions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(9), 2599–2608. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001983 your legs back down without fully touching back down to the ground. Just hover your heels about 3 inches from the floor but do not allow your feet to touch down until your set is over. Keep your knees straight the whole time.
- Pause for 2-3 seconds, making sure that you are not arching your lower back off of the floor and that you are using your abs to hold your legs in place.
- Engage your abs and hip flexors to lift your legs back up towards the ceiling for the next rep.
Remember to breathe steadily and stop the leg raises exercise if you are unable to maintain proper form with your spine and find that you are arching your lower back.
Variations of Leg Raises
There are a few different ways that you can modify leg lifts for beginners or progress leg raises for advanced athletes.
Leg Raises for Beginners
If you are struggling to keep your back flat on the floor, start with your legs in the vertical position so that they are perpendicular to the floor and only lower them partway down.
For example, a good beginner leg raise modification would involve starting from the perpendicular position and then slowly lowering your legs until they are at a 45° angle relative to the floor.This would be your end position.
Then, you can pause and hold for 2 to 3 seconds and then lift your legs straight back up to the ceiling.
The lower you drop your legs before lifting them back up, the harder the exercise will be. This is because there is more gravity on the long lever arm of your straightened legs the closer they are to the floor.
The other way that you can make leg raises more beginner-friendly is by allowing a very slight bend in your knees.
In this way, the leg lifts become sort of a hybrid between reverse crunches (where your knees are bent 90° throughout the duration of the exercise) and straight leg raises where your knees are totally straight (180 degrees).
Flutter kicks are a good variation of leg raises for beginners, as this exercise also works your lower abs and hip flexors.
However, because you are lifting each leg individually in a reciprocal pattern, it is not as challenging for your abs. Therefore, beginners can start with flutter kicks and progress to leg lifts as they get stronger.
Here are the steps for how to do flutter kicks:
How To Perform Flutter Kicks
- Lie on your back with your hands tucked under your butt as you did with leg lifts.
- Lift your heels about 3 to 4 inches off the floor and then flutter them up and down, alternating one leg with the other. Make sure to keep your knees straight and use your abs and deep core muscles to ensure that your pelvis and lower back remain on the floor.
- Only lift your legs about 6 inches with each flutter kick. The closer your feet remain to the floor, the harder the exercise will be. Do not allow your feet to touch down until your set is over. Keep your knees straight the whole time.
Advanced Leg Raises
The simplest way to progress leg raises for core workouts is to wear ankle weights.
With even just a relatively light ankle weight, you can greatly increase the intensity of the exercise due to the fact that the weight is positioned at the far end of the long lever of your legs.
This increases the torque and subsequent required workload for the muscles worked by leg raises.
If you don’t have access to ankle weights, you can squeeze a dumbbell lengthwise between your two feet so that the bulbous parts of the weight are above and below your legs and the dumbbell handle is sandwiched between your feet.
Start with very light weights, such as 2 to 3-pound ankle weights or a 5-pound dumbbell.
Give your body time to adapt to the added resistance, particularly if you have tight or weak hip flexors. As long as you can continue to perform leg raises with proper form and keep your spine neutral, you can increase the weights.
The other way to make leg raises more difficult is to go as slowly as possible as you lower your legs, dragging out the time that it takes to drop your heels toward the floor as much as you can.
Then, you can lift them up more vigorously.
Remember not to bend your knees or allow your heels to touch down on the ground if you want to make leg lifts more challenging.
Scissor kicks are a good variation of leg raises to work your inner and outer thighs as well as your obliques.
Here are the steps:
How To Perform Scissor Kicks
- Keep the same exact position that you use for flutter kicks and perform essentially the same exercise but instead of fluttering your legs up and down, scissor them in and out by crossing them over one another and out to the opposite sides.
- Again, you don’t need to have a wide range of motion and try to keep your legs as low to the ground as possible while still keeping your low back pressed into the floor.
- If your lower back is arching up and your lower abs are not strong enough to perform a posterior pelvic tilt,2TAKAKI, S., KANEOKA, K., OKUBO, Y., OTSUKA, S., TATSUMURA, M., SHIINA, I., & MIYAKAWA, S. (2016). Analysis of muscle activity during active pelvic tilting in sagittal plane. Physical Therapy Research, 19(1), 50–57. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5342962/ lift your legs higher to make this abs circuit workout exercise easier.
How Many Leg Raises Should I Do?
As with any strength training exercise, the number of leg raises you should do depends on your fitness level, training goals, and the other exercises you are performing for the muscles worked by leg raises.
Here are a couple of guidelines for how many leg raises you should do:
How Many Leg Raises Should I Do If I’m A Beginner?
Start with 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps of leg raises. Build up to three sets of 10 to 20 reps. Or, try 2-3 sets of 20-30 seconds of leg lifts.
Take at least 60 seconds of rest in between each set.
How Many Leg Raises Should I Do To Build Strength?
For advanced athletes looking to build ab strength, wear ankle weights for leg raises.
Perform 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps.
It’s better to add more weight and perform fewer reps per set to increase ab strength and build muscle.
However, make sure you can safely handle the weight and you’re not straining your hip flexors, lower back, and obliques.
How Many Leg Raises Should I Do to Build Muscle Endurance?
To build muscle endurance, you need to do longer sets of leg raises. Try going for time instead of reps, beginning with three sets of 30 seconds and building up to 60 seconds per set.
Decrease the rest to 30 seconds in between sets.
Note that with any of these recommendations, you should stop if you feel that you are using momentum rather than your abs.
For more great ab workout ideas, check out some stability ball exercises here.
- 1Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D. I., Vigotsky, A. D., Franchi, M. V., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Hypertrophic Effects of Concentric vs. Eccentric Muscle Actions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(9), 2599–2608. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001983
- 2TAKAKI, S., KANEOKA, K., OKUBO, Y., OTSUKA, S., TATSUMURA, M., SHIINA, I., & MIYAKAWA, S. (2016). Analysis of muscle activity during active pelvic tilting in sagittal plane. Physical Therapy Research, 19(1), 50–57. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5342962/