Hanging Knee Raises vs Leg Raises

In this article we will compare and contrast the hanging knee raise vs the leg raise. Both of the movements offer core development and foundational skill sets for more advanced gymnastics and bodyweight centric movements.

Hanging Knee Raise

The hanging knee raise is a beginner level bodyweight core exercise that can be performed using a pull up bar, wood rings, parallette, or a Roman chair. This movement is done by simply lifting one’s knees to hip level, pulling them firmly into chest (with the abs). Be sure to not leave your legs too far forward in the raise to ensure proper hip flexor and lower abdomen recruitment.

Exercise Demo

In the below video the hanging knee raise is demonstrated. Note how the lifter remains in control and has constant tension and focus on the abdominals and body awareness.

Leg Raise

The leg raise is a more advanced progression from knee raises since the lifter must raise the entire weight of the leg (instead of the upper thigh only), making this movement more demanding on the abdominal muscles and lifter’s ability to control their core and movement. This exercise can be done lying on the floor/bench, or like the hanging knee raise, from a pull up bar, rings, parallettes, and Romain chair.

Exercise Demo

In the below video the leg raise is demonstrated from the hanging position. Note, that this can be done from any of the above positions, as long as the individual lifts the legs at least 90 degrees, if not more.

Hanging Knee Raises vs Leg Raise

Below are four distinguishing factors when determining which movement (hanging knee raise vs leg raise) is best for your fitness level, goals, and special considerations.

Level of Difficulty

Both the hanging knee raise and the leg raise are bodyweight movements that can be both challenging for beginner level lifters and fitness goers. The former however (lying leg raise) is typically accepted as the harder of the two movements since the individual must lift more of the leg weight (greater load) with the abdominals. For beginners, a combination of lying knee pull ins, lying leg lifts, and hanging knee raises can all be helpful in gaining core strength so that progression can be made toward exercise like hanging leg raises, strict toes to bar, and more.

Application to Gymnastic Movements

Both movements are foundational exercises for gymnastic progressions, core strength, and midline stability training. The hanging knee raise can be integrated within training programs prior to leg raises (either lying or hanging) to ensure proper body awareness and control. Once the individual can perform hanging knee raises, he/she can start integrating leg raises into a core/gymnastic training routine.

Lower Back Considerations

Excessive lumbar extension, regardless of the exercise, can be a risk to lumbar health, strain, and injury.When performing the hanging knee raise and the leg raise, coaches and trainers must be cognitive of an individual’s lumbar spine during such movements ensuring that excessive lumbar compensation does not occur when lowering the legs or at the end ranges (to assist in lifting the legs due to weak core stabilizers). In the event a lifter exhibits poor awareness or control of the lumbar spine, lying down versions may be best to start with, such as lying knee raises/tucks. Leg raises, even lying down, can be too difficult for some beginners, however can also be a smooth transition from lying knee raise movements.

Abdominal Development

Both of these exercises are movements that fall within core exercises, whether for bodyweight athletes, gymnastics, or anyone concerned with developing a stronger core. The hanging knee raise can help to develop stamina and strength in the rectus abdominis muscles, very similar to the leg raise.

More Hanging Knee Raise Articles

Check out the below exercise guides and articles covering the hanging knee raise and other abdominal exercises!

Featured Image: @tienchen_xoxo on Instagram

Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.

In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.

Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.

Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.

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