Leg lifts are an important and basic fitness exercise that works your abs, back and a whole lot of muscles. But why do they have to be so hard? This is because it’s an exercise that targets muscle groups that tend to be underdeveloped.
Whether you cannot get your legs off the ground or are left struggling after a few repetitions, the difficulties that you experience with leg lifts are very common.
So, how can you make a leg lifts easier, and are there any alternatives?
Keep on reading to discover the fascinating science behind leg lifts, and what makes them one of the hardest exercises you can learn to perform.
In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know about leg lifts and even a couple of tips on how you can master them faster!
Why are Leg Lifts so Hard?
This is why leg lifts are so hard: they are an exercise that targets some little-used muscle groups. In particular, they target your core and lower abdominal muscles, a region of your body, which is tragically underdeveloped in the majority of people.
This is in large part because these muscles are difficult to work, and that exercises targeting them are less popular. Whereas you’ll often find exercises like crunches (which target your upper abs) included in any fitness class, reverse crunches (which target your lower abs) are less popular.
It’s a vicious circle: the less of these exercises you perform, the more underdeveloped your muscles get, and the more you want to avoid them. So with leg lifts, the key is to start and keep at it. Over time, your muscles will develop, and the exercise won’t be nearly as painful or difficult.
Are Leg Lifts Difficult for Everyone?
Unless you are already practicing an activity that engages your core, abdominal and back muscles like pilates, swimming or rowing, you are likely to struggle with your leg lifts. So yes, it is very common to find leg lifts difficult, and almost everyone has difficulties with them when first starting. If you don’t, you can count yourself lucky!
Understanding the Different Types of Leg Lifts
There are two main types of leg lifts: a lying leg lift, and a hanging leg lift. The two also come with a few variations that athletes like to use to raise the challenge once they get strong enough to do them (almost) effortlessly.
With a lying leg lift, you will be lying on the floor, with your arms at your side and your legs on the ground. Your back should be in a natural position, neither touching the floor nor arching. You will slowly lift your legs while your arms and upper body stay stable. Then, slowly putting them back down. This is a simple motion that is easy to understand, but a lot trickier to master!
A harder alternative to the lying leg lift is the hanging leg lift. This is only possible to achieve if you have the upper-body strength to do a pull-up. For that exercise, you will be hanging from a pull-up bar, with your whole body straight.
Then, you will slowly lift your legs until they are parallel to the ground while clenching your core and abdominal muscles tightly. This is a more advanced move but will work the same muscles as a lying leg lift does.
To make either of these two exercises more difficult, experienced athletes like to use weights. With either a lying or hanging leg lift, you can hold a barbell in between your feet, which will increase the pressure on your core and abdominals when lifting your legs. Be careful, though: this is not something to try out until you have fully mastered proper form on a bodyweight leg lift!
How to Do a Leg Lift Properly?
Alright, we know, leg lifts are hard. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try your best with them. In fact, by learning to do leg lifts properly, you can improve your muscles more rapidly, and end up doing less for the same results! So, what exactly makes a good leg lift?
Well, leg lifts are all about form. Since they are an exercise that engages the core, you will need a strong, stead, contracted core throughout. You should be feeling your core burning when performing this exercise, which is what lets you know if you are doing it right. Once you manage to feel your core and engage it, another thing to keep in mind is your back.
When doing a lying leg lift with your back to an exercise mat on the floor, it shouldn’t be arching up as you bring your legs down. Letting your ribs go up and your back become hollow lowers the tension in your abdominal muscles. Not only does it mean that you are working them less, but it can also be dangerous for your back over time.
Our best advice when it comes to leg lifts is to do yourself a favor and learn to perform them correctly. After all, why go through all the trouble of performing this difficult exercise if you execute them with improper form and reap none of the benefits?
How to Make Leg Lifts Easier?
One of the easiest ways to make a leg lift a bit easier on your body if you are struggling is to perform a single leg lift. Keep one leg completely static on the floor while you slowly lift the other one up and down. Do a few repetitions, then switch to the other leg.
Not only will this make leg lifts a lot easier, but it’ll also make it more likely that you execute the exercise with proper form, which is how you can reap all its benefits. So, even if you can do a few leg lifts with both legs, it may be worth trying out this technique to learn to improve your form.
Another way to make leg lifts easier is to have your knees bent during the process. Bend your knees and put your feet on the ground with your back to the floor. Lift your legs slowly with your knees still bent, while turning on your abs and core muscles. As with any leg lifts, you should make sure that your back is not arching.
Bring your legs slowly back down until your feet touch the floor. You could either do slow, leg lifts with your knees bent or gently tapped your toes on the ground at a faster frequency for a bit of a different workout.
Understanding Proper Breathing Technique when Doing Leg Lifts
With leg lifts as with any other exercise, understanding the proper breathing techniques can make your life a lot easier. As a general rule, you want to exhale on the hardest part of the movement. In our case, it means inhaling as you are bringing your legs down and exhaling sharply through the mouth as you bring them back up.
This simple trick can help you gain more power and traction. And as a bonus, focusing on the breath can help to keep you present and be more mindful about keeping proper form.
How Long Will it Take for Me to Improve my Leg Lifts?
Yes, leg lifts are difficult, but you can hope to improve them quickly by practicing regularly. If you practice leg lifts every day, they should start getting a lot easier after about a month. This is when your core and abdominal muscles get stronger, helping to support you in the lifting motion. Be patient and give it time.
You don’t have to do a lot of leg lifts at once, but the more often you do them, the more your body will adapt, and the easier they will become for you to perform.
What are the Alternatives to Doing Leg Lifts?
Although leg lifts are a great exercise to do, if you find that you cannot do them with proper form, or if you struggle too much, there are a couple of alternatives that may be better suited for you. Here are just a couple of them:
With a reverse crunch, you will be lying on the ground and lifting your knees-up into a tabletop position. Then, bring your knees further up, crunching up your abdominal muscles until your back lifts from the floor. Gently, bring your whole body back down, and your feet back up on the floor. Do this one between 8 and 12 times per set.
With mountain climbers, you are starting in a plank position. You are then bringing each knee up to your chest quickly, alternating between the two in a rapid motion. The crunching movement that is required for you to bring your knee up to your chest is the same that is used in a crunch, or reversed crunch. And as with leg lifts, you are targeting those lower abdominals and those core muscles.
To do a jackknife, start-up lying on the floor with your legs straight and your arms extended behind your head. Then, bring your legs into your chest in a crunch motion at the same time as you bring your arms forward.
With that motion, your arms give you the momentum to bring your legs forward, which makes it easier on your abdominal muscles. This exercise can be quite fun to do, but believe me, you will be feeling the burn after only a few reps!
This is Why Leg Lifts are Great for You
As difficult as they may be, leg lifts are a great exercise to do for a variety of reasons. First, they target your lower abs, which are an often forgotten muscle group. Without strong lower abs, you won’t be able to get a six-pack or anything near it! So if you’re looking to improve the way you look, leg lifts are a simple way for you to get closer to that six-pack goal.
And even if getting beautiful abs is not in your list of priorities, leg lifts are a very multi-purpose exercise that will do your body a lot of good. They improve the strength and flexibility of your core, lower back, and hips, which are very important areas to target in order to improve your posture.
This is why leg lifts are one of the best exercises you can do to prevent a sore back, especially if you’re having some posture issues, or are spending a lot of time sitting down.
Finally, leg lifts are beneficial because the areas that they target can improve your performance in other exercises. For example, they give you a stronger core and back, which can help you to perform better in a huge variety of exercises, from lifting weights to doing yoga or running.
They are a great, holistic core exercise that, when practiced regularly, can make you a stronger athlete, no matter what sport you are practicing.
Leg lifts are hard for many people. This is because they target muscle groups that tend not to be used as often, and probably will be weaker. However, leg lifts are so beneficial on so many levels that you can’t afford to skip them in your exercise routine.
They help strengthen your lower abdominals, your back, and your core, all while helping you improve flexibility and range of motion. So, why not try a few leg lift modifiers until they get easier, or try some leg lift alternatives? One thing is for sure, the more you practice your leg lifts, the easier they will get.
So don’t despair, get back on your exercise mat, and keep practicing. Before you know it, leg lifts won’t be nearly as much effort as when you started, and you will be proud of the strength you’ve gained in training!
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