How To Do Weighted Leg Raises Properly

Weighted leg raises are a progression of the standard leg raise that use weights to add resistance to the exercise and tension to your muscles.

If you are interested in building a rock-hard core, you probably already know that crunches and sit ups aren’t the only way to go about it.

In fact, they may not even be the best way to build your core considering how much they limit lower ab involvement.

Fortunately, exercises like weighted leg raises do a much better job engaging your entire core so you end up with a full six-pack rather than a four-pack.

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If you already know how to do the basic leg raise, the only thing you’ll need to add to it is a dumbbell between your feet.

But if you have absolutely no idea, the steps below will teach you the correct form from scratch.

How To Do Weighted Leg Raises

  • Start by lying down on the floor, face up. You can also use a mat for extra comfort if you think you’ll need it.
  • Place a dumbbell between your feet and stretch them out.
  • Straighten your arms at your sides, palms facing down.
  • Keep your shoulders pressed to the ground and don’t let them come off throughout the exercise.
  • Make your feet hold the dumbbell between them securely.
  • Tighten your core and, keeping them as straight as you can, lift your legs until they are pointing upwards at the ceiling. The toes should be pointed.
  • Then, lower the legs back down at the same pace as the one you used while raising them.
  • Don’t let them touch the ground; they should only hover above it.
  • Launch into another rep immediately, repeating the above steps slowly and steadily.

WHAT MUSCLES DO WEIGHTED LEG RAISES WORK?

CORE

In your core, this exercise works all the muscles with special emphasis on the rectus abdominis (aka the six-pack muscle).

The rectus abdominis is the most superficial core muscle whose function is to rotate and flex your lower back, and stabilize the pelvis during your movements.

Weighted leg raises activate both the upper and lower areas of this muscle.

HIP FLEXORS

The iliacus and psoas major muscles are the hip flexors engaged during this exercise.

These two muscles (also known as the iliopsoas) work together to flex your thighs as you lift your legs.

They are assisted by the tensor fascia latae of the thigh which is also activated during the lift.

BENEFITS OF WEIGHTED LEG RAISES

STRENGTHENS CORE

The primary business of this movement is to strengthen the muscles in your core.

This is does very effectively with the help of extra tension from having the weight lodged between your feet.

A stronger core stabilizes your spine and lower back to give you an upright posture.

ALLEVIATES LOWER BACK PAIN

Weighted leg raises are one of the easiest ways to achieve spinal decompression.

Pressing your lower back to the ground while your core is activated and your legs raised  allows the muscles, ligaments, discs and tendons in your spine relax and lengthen.

This could help relieve pain in your lower back especially if the cause is spinal compression.

INCREASES HIP FLEXOR STRENGTH

The hip flexors involved in weighted leg raises assist with flexing your hips as you lift your legs with a dumbbell between your feet.

Unlike crunches, this exercise help strengthen these hip flexors with very minimal spinal flexion.

ALTERNATIVES TO WEIGHTED LEG RAISES

HANGING LEG RAISE

The hanging leg raise is a leg raise done on a pull-up bar.

Instead of keeping your torso pressed to the ground like you do in weighted leg raises, you hang your body from a pull-up bar and lift your legs using your core.

Steps:

  • Grab a pull-up bar with your hands either shoulder-width apart or just a bit wider.
  • Hang on the bar with both arms completely extended. If you are a beginner and you find the dead hang position too challenging, you can stand on a raised platform instead.
  • Tighten your core and lift your legs up until your torso and lower body form a 90-degree angle.
  • Return the legs slowly to the dead hang position. This is a complete rep.

Another way to make it easier apart from using the platform is bending your knees during the raise phase.

DRAGON FLAG

This is a full core workout that also involves your glutes, shoulders, hip flexors and lower back.

It is an advanced exercise, so if you are a beginner you may want to keep off it until you gain the amount of core strength it requires.

Steps:

  • Lie down on a workout bench with a horizontal bar above it.
  • Grab the bar and raise your legs off the ground without bending the knees.
  • Keep lifting until your legs come as close to your chest as you can bring them.
  • When you get to that position, hold it for two seconds.
  • Get back to the starting position and begin the next rep immediately. Don’t let your feet touch the ground.

WEIGHTED LEG RAISES MISTAKES TO AVOID

USING A HEAVY WEIGHT

A heavy weight will not only make it easy to lose your form but also put you at risk of getting injured should it slip from between your feet to your torso.

And even if it doesn’t fall, it could place so much strain on your back that you may end up with lower back or spinal injury.

Keep the weight light to reduce the risk of such injuries.

NOT TIGHTENING YOUR CORE

You are going to need a whole lot of stability to keep your upper body pressed to the floor throughout the lift.

That much stability can only be achieved if you tighten your core during the lift.

Also, this is a core exercise; of what good would it be if you don’t do it with a braced core?

PEELING YOUR SHOULDERS OFF THE GROUND

Your upper body should not get engaged during this exercise at all.

Letting your shoulders come off the ground will likely reduce core engagement, making the exercise much less effective.

SUMMING UP

Weighted leg raises effectively progress the standard lying leg raise by channelling more tension into your core muscles to work them better.

Add them to your core routine for a well-rounded workout that works your entire core in addition to your hip flexors.