Fitness Tips

Hanging Leg Raises vs Captain’s Chair: Which Exercise Is Better for You?

Any ab routine worth its salt includes exercises that target the rectus abdominis, which is the large, washboard muscle that covers the stomach area. And two of the best moves for working this muscle are hanging leg raises and captain's chair leg raises.

Both these exercises are very similar in their mechanics, but there are a few key differences.

Hanging leg raises involve hanging from a bar with your feet together and then raising your legs up towards your chest. Captain's chair leg raises, on the other hand, involve sitting in a captain's chair with your hands on the armrests and then raising your legs up towards your chest

But which one is better? That's what we are going to find out today.


What are hanging leg raises?

The leg raise is a bodyweight resistance that actually works the rectus abdominus muscle

Hanging Leg Raises are a bodyweight exercise that primarily targets the rectus abdominis.

It is performed by hanging from a chin-up bar (pretty much like you would with the neutral grip pull up) with your feet together and then raising your legs up towards your chest. You can also perform this exercise with your knees bent, which will place more emphasis on the hip flexors. 

The idea is to hinge at the hips and keep your back straight while you raise your legs up as high as possible. If you are a rookie, you might find yourself struggling to maintain the right form and not create too much momentum or swing. Luckily, there's a reddit thread where folks share some handy tips on how you can progress through  hanging leg raises smoothly, safely, and effectively.


How to do hanging leg raises

So, how can I do the hanging leg raise safely

Hanging leg raises (just like other calisthenic workouts) are deceptively-tough. When you see someone doing them, it looks like it would be a breeze. I had the same impression when I saw guys doing the 500 crunches a day, the 500 push ups a day, and the one punch man workout challenges.

But when you try them yourself, you quickly realize that they are no joke. 

Here's how to do them:

1. Hang from a chin-up bar with your feet together

2. Raise your legs up towards your chest, hingeing at the hips and keeping your back straight

3. Pause for a second at the top of the movement and then lower your legs back down to the starting position

4. Repeat for as many reps as you can manage. 


What are captain's chair leg raises?

The captain's chair leg raises are workouts that work the abdominal and hip sections

Captain's chair leg raises are a type of exercise that targets the muscles in your abdominal and hip region. They are similar to hanging leg raises, except you perform them while sitting in a captain's chair.

This type of chair has two armrests and a curved back, which provides support for your back and helps keep you stable as you lift your legs.


How to perform the Captain's Chair Leg Raises

How does one perform the captain's chair leg raises

The Captain's Chair Leg Raise is a great way to work your abdominal muscles. It is more beginner-friendly (and ideal if you are coming back after having stopped working out for 6 months or so) because you have the back support of the chair rather than hanging off a bar.

1. Start by sitting in the captain's chair with your back pressed firmly against the backrest and your feet flat on the floor.

2. Place your hands on the armrests or sides of the chair for stability.

3. Slowly lift your legs up until they are parallel to the floor.

4. Hold this position for a few seconds and then slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position.

5. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions.


Hanging leg raises vs Captain’s chair: What are the Differences?

Hanging leg raises vs captain's chair, what is the difference

Both these exercises work the larges abdominal muscle, but what are some key differences in the two, and which is better for what?


Captain's Chair Leg Raises for beginners 

How to do the captain's chair leg raises if you are a beginner

The Captain’s Chair Leg Raise is a great beginner-friendly exercise because it provides back support. Hanging leg raises are more advanced because you have to use your core muscles to stabilize your body as you lift your legs. Many athletes struggle with mobility as they get older, so the Captain's Chair Leg Raise is a great option for those who want to get in a full body workout every other day. or just stay active


Hanging leg raises build more muscle

If you are looking to build more muscles, then you should focus on doing the hanging leg raises

If your goal is to build muscle, then hanging leg raises are the better option because they work more muscles groups. They might not propel you to having a great muscle growth story to tell, but they do work darn better if you have skinny arms that you want to grow. Right from your grip strength to the forearms and arm muscles as well as stabilizers, almost every muscle in your body is working hard when you do hanging leg raises.


Captain’s chair is easier on your lower back

The captain's chair is easier on your back than the hanging leg raise workout

If you have a history of back pain, the captain's chair is a better option because it is easier on your lower back. Hanging leg raises put a lot of stress on the spine. So, if you have any back issues, it's best to stick with the captain's chair.


Tons of variants for hanging leg raises

The good thing about the hanging leg raise is that there are many variants that you can explore

Hanging leg raises have many variants that you can do to make them more challenging or interesting. There are endless possibilities when it comes to this exercise, which can keep your workouts fresh and exciting.

The captain's chair doesn't have as many variants. But there are a few beginner-friendly modifications that you can try. For example, you can lift one leg at a time or do a pulsing motion instead of lifting your legs all the way up.


Muscle Worked By both exercises

What muscles to both the captain's chair and the hanging leg raises work

Both these exercises even target similar muscle groups. Hanging raises recruit slightly more muscles as compared to Captain's Chair raises. Here's an overview of the muscle groups worked by both exercises:


Hanging Leg Raises muscles worked

The hanging leg raise is great for working your internal obliques, forearms, external obliques, iliopsoas and rectus abdominis muscles

Iliopsoas - The psoas or iliopsoas is a long muscle that runs from the lower back down to the thigh. It is responsible for hip flexion, which is the movement that enables you to raise your legs. It makes up the hip flexor, which is a group of muscles that also includes the rectus femoris, pectineus, and sartorius.

Rectus abdominis - This is the "six-pack" (although some folks have 10 pack abs) muscle that runs down the front of your stomach. It is responsible for flexing the spine, which is what you do when you sit up from lying down or when you do a crunch.

External obliques - These are the muscles on the sides of your stomach that help you twist your trunk. They also work with the rectus abdominis to flex the spine.

Internal obliques - These are the muscles underneath the external obliques. They also help you twist your trunk and flex your spine.

Forearms - As you grip the bar, your forearm muscles as well as muscles in your hands and fingers will be engaged.


Captain's Chair Leg Raise muscles worked

The captain's chair leg raises works adductor muscles, rectus abdominis, erector spinae and tensor fascia lata

Captain's Chair Leg Raise is more of an isolation exercise for the abdominal muscles. Since there are padded arms on the captain's chair, it takes some of the work out of the exercise and puts it all on your abs.

Rectus abdominis - The rectus abdominis is a long flat muscle that runs down the center of your stomach. It is commonly referred to as the "six-pack" muscle because of the six lines that run down its length. This muscle is responsible for flexing the spine.

Tensor Fascia Lata - The tensor fascia lata is a muscle located on the outside of the thigh. It helps to stabilize the knee and hip joint as well as abduct the thigh.

Adductor Muscles - The adductor muscles are a group of muscles on the inside of the thigh. They bring the thigh closer to the body. Apart from being an important functional muscle group, they also help to stabilize the hip joint.

Erector Spinae - The erector spinae is a group of muscles that runs along the length of the spine. These muscles are responsible for extending and rotating the spine.


No of Sets and Reps: Hanging leg raises vs Captain’s chair exercise?

What is the recommended number of sets and reps for hanging leg raises and captain's chair

Both of these are bodyweight exercises. The number of sets and reps that you are able to perform with these depends largely on your level of fitness and strength.


No of sets and reps on Captain's Chair

For the captain's chair workout, you should target about 3-4 sets of 20 reps each

As a beginner, you may be able to do 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps with the captain's chair. And as your strength and endurance improve, you can increase the number of sets and reps that you do. 


No of sets and reps on the bar for hanging leg raises

For the hanging leg raises, you should do 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps

With hanging leg raises, you can start with 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps. As you get stronger, you can gradually increase the number of reps and sets. Also, most people struggle to maintain a straight leg position when they first start doing hanging leg raises. If this is the case with you, then you can try bending your knees slightly to make the exercise easier.


Benefits: Hanging Leg Raises vs Captain’s Chair exercise?

What are the benefits of the leg raises or the captain's chair exercise

Any exercise that requires you to balance your own bodyweight offers a slew of benefits. Primarily, it is going to be a good exercise for your core. If you are looking for home exercises to reduce belly fat for female, then this is it . Both the hanging leg raise and captain's chair leg raise work the rectus abdominis, hip flexors and core.

Here's a look at some of the individual benefits of each exercise.


Hanging Leg Raise

Hanging leg raises have several benefits like developing stability, building grip strength, and isolating the rectus abdominis muscle

Helps develop stability - When you are hanging from a bar (be it with these exercises or others like the australian pull-up, or the upside down pull ups), you have to use your core muscles to maintain a stable body position. We are not talking about swinging around like you are on a monkey bar, mind you. Leg raises requires strict control and stability. As you engage your core muscles to keep your body stable, you are actually training these muscles for stability and strength.

Builds grip strength - Just hanging from a bar can be tough on your grip, especially if you have small hands. Not to worry though, you can still get bigger hands if you work for it. When you add leg raises into the mix, it becomes even more challenging. This is a good thing because it helps to build grip strength.

Helps isolate the rectus abdominis - The rectus abdominis is the muscle that gives you that coveted six-pack look. When doing leg raises, you can dial down on this muscle by keeping your legs straight and avoiding the temptation to swing your legs.


Captain's Chair Leg Raise

The captain's chair workout has several benefits like working the obliques, hip flexors and are beginner friendly

Beginner friendly - This exercise is a great option for beginners because it is relatively easy to do. The padded arms on the chair take some of the stability demands out of the exercise. At the same time, you are still isolating the core muscles.

Hip Flexors - The hip flexors are a group of muscles located at the front of the thigh. They are responsible for bringing the thigh up towards the torso. The captain's chair leg raise is a good exercise for targeting these muscles.

Works the obliques - The obliques are the muscles that run down the sides of your torso. They are responsible for rotating the torso. Most traditional crunches are weak when it comes to targeting the obliques. However, the captain's chair leg raise is a good exercise for hitting these muscles.


Can both hanging leg raises and captain’s chair be part of a workout?

Can you include both hanging leg raises and captain's chair into your workout

A natural progression would be to start with the Captain's Chair and then once you are able to crank out 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps, move on to the hanging leg raise.

Just about any type of pull ups work the abs, and so both exercises are excellent for targeting the primary six pack muscle group. That said, it would be counterproductive to include both exercises in the same workout. You would be better off alternating between the two exercises. This will allow you to give each one the attention that it deserves.

Moreover, the idea should be to include a whole variety of ab exercises. Not just leg raises.


Alternatives to Both Exercises

What are some of the alternative exercises to both the captain's chair and the hanging leg raise workouts

One of the challenges with both of these exercises is that it's equipment specfic. You cannot perform leg raises without a pull-up bar or a Captain's Chair. Let's face it. Not everybody has access to this type of equipment.

Here are some alternative exercises that you can do at home with no equipment:


Alternatives to Hanging Leg Raises

Some of the hanging leg raises alternatives include the jack knife sit-ups and the reverse crunch

Jack Knife Sit-up - This is a great exercise for targeting the abs. It needs no special equipment and you can do variations like the roman chair sit-ups or weighted variations - as well as long as you figure out just how many sit ups you should do in a day.

  1. Lie flat on your back with your legs extended straight out in front of you.
  2. Now, pull your knees in towards your chest.
  3. Use your abs to sit all the way up, bringing your knees in towards your chest.
  4. Hold for a second and then slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position.

Reverse Crunch - The reverse crunch is another great exercise for targeting the rectus abdominus.

  1. To do the exercise, lie flat on your back on the floor.
  2. Put your hands on the floor beside you for support.
  3. Bring your knees in towards your chest with your feet together.
  4. Use your abs to curl your hips off the floor and towards your chest.
  5. At the same time, use your legs to bring your knees in even closer towards your chest.
  6. Reverse the motion and return to the starting position.

Alternatives to Captain's Chair Leg Raises

The Captain's chair workout has some alternatives like the lying leg raises and the swiss ball reverse crunch

Lying Leg Raises - Lying Leg Raises are the on-ground alternative to the Captain's Chair Leg Raise.

  1. Lie flat on your back on the floor and place your hands on the floor by your sides for support.
  2. Raise your legs towards the ceiling, keeping them as straight as possible and hinging from your hips.
  3. Pause for a second and then slowly lower them back down to the starting position.
  4. Don't let your feet touch the ground in between reps.

Swiss Ball Reverse Crunch - Let's shift focus to the oblique muscles for a second. The Swiss Ball Reverse Crunch is an excellent exercise for targeting these muscles.

  1. Start by lying face up on a Swiss ball with your feet flat on the floor and your hands behind your head.
  2. Bring your knees in towards your chest, then use your abs to curl your hips off the ball and towards your chest.
  3. At the same time, use your hands to pull your head and shoulders off the ball.
  4. Hold for a second and then slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position.

FAQs about hanging leg raises vs captain’s chair

Here are some more answers to your questions about the hanging leg raises and the captain's chair exercise

Here are several more answers to your questions on the leg raises vs captain's chair.


Q. Are hanging leg raises effective?

A. You bet, they are. Hanging leg raises is practically a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups including your upper body, core, and lower body. It is possibly the most effective way to build stability, hip flexor strength while targeting your abs.


Q. What are the benefits of captain’s chair leg raises for abs? 

A. The main benefit of captain’s chair leg raises is that it helps target your rectus abdominis muscle group easily than hanging leg raises. You are still performing the same isolation exercise, but with less resistance. This can be great for beginners or those struggling to do hanging leg raises.


Q. Hanging leg raises vs Captain’s chair: Which is better for abs?

A. Both of these are exercises are effective for targeting your abs, but hanging leg raises is a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups. For us, it holds the edge over the Captain's chair. But if you are not an athlete with 8-10 years of exercising under your belt, either one of these will be a good option for you.


Ben Mayz

Hi there! I'm Ben, main author and chief editor at Fitlifefanatics.com. I have been obsessed with Strength Training and Fitness for 16 years now. My passion for living a happy fit lifestyle is what made me realize that fitness is what I wanted for my future. I went on to earn my Masters in Sports Training & Biomechanics. My passion for Strength training & fitness and my love of helping others is what made me start Fitlifefanatics. Here, myself, and a team of specialist aim to provide the most accurate, and actionable information possible in hopes to help foster the fitness community forward. You can learn more about Fitlifefanatics on our About Page