The Hanging Leg Lift is an awesome ab exercise that has a very wide scope to be modified so it can be done by athletes of any skill or strength level. On top of just being a generally good ab exercise, when done properly it is another exercise that can be used to improve compression, which is helpful for skills such as the L-sit. (TUTORIAL HERE)
The Leg Lift, in whatever variation/modification you are performing, has 3 progressions. These progressions, from easiest to hardest are Tucked, Bent Leg, and Straight Leg
Before you start doing leg lifts on the floor, ensure you can do a full hollow hold (TUTORIAL HERE)
Before you start doing leg lifts on the bar, ensure you can painlessly hang in both a passive and active hang (TUTORIAL HERE)
How to perform the Hanging Leg Lift:
Start in a passive hang on the bar with your body fully extended, legs locked and toes pointed.
In the final progression of the hanging leg lift, full range of motion involves your toes touching the bar. Other progressions have different stopping points mentioned below, and the average athlete will most likely not have the mobility to do the full hanging leg lift, but that is okay! To improve your mobility, make sure you are regularly stretching your hamstrings, (TUTORIAL HERE)
When lifting, consciously try to lift your legs with your hip flexors and minimise the amount you engage your lats. For those who do not know how to consciously contract/not contract these things, don’t worry. What this means in simple terms is that your torso should stay more or less in the same position while your legs are moving, mobility allowing. You should not go into an active hang or arched active hang in order to get your legs up.
Take note of the following example of a hanging leg lift with (right) and without (left) lat involvement and notice that while the legs are higher, the angle between the legs and the torso (compression) is the same as without lat involvement.
Do not pump your legs to get to the top. Do not drop your legs once you are at the top. Don’t swing. This is the key that makes hanging leg lifts hard. Raise your legs at a steady tempo, stop for 1 second at the top, and then come down at that same tempo. Your body should not sway, or swing, to the best of your ability. For beginners, you may begin to swing when you first try it. Do not worry, as you get better at them your ability to not swing will increase but do not touch the floor to stop swinging, just use your core in between to stop the swing before your next rep.
If you are strong enough to complete a half hanging leg lift, but not mobile enough to do the toes-to-bar hanging leg lift, just go to 135 degrees, or however highly you can do it without lat involvement. (See: V-sit Leg Lifts, below)
These form tips are applicable to all progressions of the Hanging Leg Lift. Now, we will cover all of the possible progressions from the ground up, to help you achieve the full toes-to-bar Hanging Leg Lift, or as close as your mobility allows.
Floor Leg Lifts:
If you find hanging leg lifts too hard to do, the best way to modify the exercise to make it easier without equipment is to do them on the floor. Here’s how: lie on the floor on your back, place your palms flat on the floor on either side of you, push gently down into the floor, and pull your legs up in whatever position you have chosen (tucked, bent leg or straight leg), maintaining a hollow position (lower back glued to the floor) and keeping your butt on the floor. For tucked, it will look mostly like your knees are tucked to your chest. For bent or straight leg your legs will be more or less perpendicular to the floor.
Keep hollow, knees perpendicular to the floor. Bottom of each rep legs straight and hovering over the floor
Keep hollow, top ROM, imagine an invisible line between your heels and hips; this should be perpendicular to the floor. Hover the feet over the ground at bottom ROM like before
Keep Hollow, same as before, but locked knees and pointed toes.
Half Hanging Leg Lift (HHLL)
The Half Hanging Leg Lift is a great exercise for developing L-sit strength as it is in the same range of compression. It is also the most accessible for people with average/good mobility in their hamstrings. The full range of motion for the full HHLL is from a passive deadhang, to legs parallel to the floor or slightly above. This is now coming into the scenarios where you need to be aware not to swing and not to use your lats to pull your hips up to the bar
In the tuck, you bring your thighs just above parallel.
In the bent leg, you bring the invisible line between your heels and your hips parallel to the floor.
In the straight leg variation, your bring your legs slightly above parallel.
V-sit Leg Lifts
For people who have mobility limitations, this is an intermediary progression between the HHLL and the full HLL that can be done to continue to isolate abdominal compression while they work on the mobility for the full HLL. It is done the same as a HHLL but you bring your legs as high as you can without involving your lats. This could be anywhere between 90-170 degrees from the floor. Maybe even touching the bar!
Full Hanging Leg Lift
The full Hanging Leg Lift is a very hard skill to achieve with perfect form. It is very rarely achieved outside of people with ridiculous mobility and compression, e.g. gymnasts. Much like a perfectly straight handstand, few people have it. Yet, still, in doing handstands it is constantly the standard to which we aim to reach eventually.
If you have the active mobility and compression to do the full hanging leg lift, congrats! You are pretty darn strong and mobile.
However, if you are not, do not let your ego overpower your desire to do things properly. Don’t start to engage your lats to get your feet to the bar, because that is just fooling yourself. Instead, make a positive change and start stretching more! (TUTORIAL HERE). Engaging your lats only closes the angle between your arms and torso. You are training compression with this movement, which is closing the angle between your legs and torso. Thus, for the last time, engaging your lats is completely counter productive for abdominal compression training in this exercise.