This is leg-raise style of exercise that hits the lower abs HARD.
Working the lower abs will help you tighten up any lower-belly protrusions you might have AND, if you've got fairly low bodyfat already, get those diagonal lines down your side/lower abs (technically known as the inguinal ligaments) that really catch the eye.
Here's the best part...not only does this exercise hit the lower abs HARD, it takes practically ALL the stress off the lower back while doing it (a common problem with lying leg raises). The secret lies in the special way in which it's set up and performed.
What you're basically going to be doing is holding the bar (or dumbbells) in the top position of a bench press while performing leg raises! It sounds simple and, honestly, it really is!
We're going to be using that weight that you're holding in the bench press top position to counterbalance the weight of your legs while you're doing the leg raise.
I've found this to make the leg raise exercise even MORE effective for the lower abs by anchoring your upper body, letting the abs really focus on doing the leg raise exercise without the torque on the lower back.
How To Do the Bench Press Leg Raise
The set up is simple...all you need is a barbell or dumbbells. If you're using a barbell, I recommend doing the exercise in the power rack or on a flat barbell bench press station. If you're using dumbbells, you can do this exercise just lying flat on the floor (you can just set the dumbbells on the floor when you're done).
If you're using the barbell and rack setup, set the safety rails in the rack to a couple of feet off the ground. Lie down on the floor and grip the bar with a medium to close grip - no need to use a wide grip. The closer grip will be easier to maintain while doing the exercise.
As for the amount of weight to use, you don't need a tremendous amount for the exercise and counterbalancing to be effective. For myself, I just use 135 lbs on the bar and that works just fine. If you're using dumbbells, it will also depend on how much you can hold up in that position when you're doing the exercise. Just experiment with what feels comfortable to you and take it from there!
Hold the weight at the top of the bench press with your arms locked out. Your legs will start out straight (or knees slightly bent) and horizontal, just off the ground.
In traditional lower ab leg raises, this places tremendous pressure on the lower back. Not here! The weight of the barbell counterbalances the legs and takes the stress off the lower back. The position of your arms (90 degrees to the body) also helps keep torque off the lower back.
Now do regular leg raises from there, keeping the legs stiff and slightly bent.
Bring your legs all the way up to vertical, raising your hips off the ground so your body is balancing only on your upper back.
Squeeze hard at the top then lower down slowly, bringing the legs down to a point a few inches from the floor. Keeping the legs off the floor keeps the tension on the abs strongly.
In the traditional leg raise, this is where you would have the most torque and pain in the lower back. When the legs are counterbalanced with the barbell, this position doesn't put NEARLY the same torque on the lower back.
This exercise hits the extreme lower abs like you just can't do with regular leg raises because of the counterbalancing force of the barbell held above you.
It can be done with barbells or dumbbells so all you need are some free weights. Here are some pics using dumbbells instead of a barbell.
1. Letting the feet touch
Normally, not letting the feet touch the ground in between reps is what sends all the torque onto the lower back. With the counterbalance of the weight, you don't have that problem and can really attack the lower abs. Keep your feet 6 inches off the ground as you come down.
2. Not using enough weight
Be sure you have enough weight on the bar/dumbbells that you effectively counterbalance your legs. If the weight isn't enough, you won't get the full benefits of the exercise. It's something you can experiment with. Remembers, you're NOT pressing the weight, you're just holding it in a lockout position so don't be shy to use a moderately heavy weight.
1. Add a crunch to meet in the middle
To really fire the total abdominal area, you can also do a crunch (against the resistance of the barbell/dumbbells) at the same time as you do the leg raise. This double contraction against resistance will really fire up the abs!
Try this movement with your feet on the floor first (knees bent 90 degrees) so you get an idea of how it's done. Basically, it's just a simple crunch movement but done while holding the barbell in the lockout position!
When you include it in the with the leg raise (done simultaneously, coming up into the crunch as you are raising your legs), it makes for TREMENDOUS tension in the entire abdominal area.
This is an excellent exercise variation to use if you're interested in working the lower abs HARD. It takes the vast majority of the stress off the lower back and allows you to really dig in and work those lower abs into the ground.
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