Leg raises, hip flexors, hard ab training, lower back pain

Posted on October 15, 2018

(Last Updated On: October 15, 2018)

Omar writes,

“Hi Brian,

What is your opinion of hanging leg raises for abs? I need to train abs for bodybuilding purposes (hypertrophy), but also spare my lower back. Some people say that it’s not back-friendly since it overworks the hip flexors, but then why are exercises such as supine leg raises/lowers prescribed for people with back pain? Both of them train the external obliques. Also, would hanging leg raises help with [anterior pelvic tilt] since it trains [posterior pelvic tilt]?

If they are not good for back health, what alternatives would you recommend that are advanced enough for hypertrophy (provided I’m lean enough)?

Thanks for your blog.”


Hey Omar,

In general, I don’t have any problems with leg raises, of any kind. I pretty much always insure the person does them with their lower back snug to the surface though.


But not this,

I do prefer supine over hanging. Supine you can get a nice arm stretch and not have to lean on the elbows. I’m not against hanging, I just find more bang for the buck in supine.

If the person’s lower back is not feeling great, then they might not feel good regardless of how solid technique is. Reason being when the abdominals are working that hard, it tends to not feel great on a sensitive lower back.

Why squeezing the stomach can make lower back pain worse

(You can regress the movement then e.g. one leg at a time, not reach as low, bent leg vs straight leg.)

When it comes to anterior pelvic tilt (APT), I tend to worry more about lower back positioning than whether the hip flexors are stiff, or how much they’re working. In other words, I worry more about, when moving, not allowing APT to occur opposed to focusing on “work this muscle, stretch that muscle.”

8 Weeks Towards Correcting Your Anterior Pelvic Tilt

Plank variations are some of my favorite ways to work the abs.


“Thanks for the response.

I’ve seen people like Dr. Stuart McGill not recommend this exercise since it involves spinal flexion. That’s why I was asking.

Hanging leg raises used to make my lower abs very sore (btw, I was talking about the one where you hang off a bar, not leaning on the elbows), but I stopped doing them after reading McGill’s work.

Is there any way to make them more spine conserving? Plank variations are too easy for ab hypertrophy. I can do a one arm long lever plank (the end position of a hand walkout) for quite some time.”


It depends how you want to view the flexion.

For the supine version, by keeping the spine flat on the ground, that involves holding the spine in a little bit of static flexion. Because a flat spine is, for most, not a spine completely in neutral. (Neutral is a little lordosis.) It is very, very rare a person’s spine is so sensitive to flexion, the position of static flexion will bother them. However, doing it while also tensing the abs a great deal can be more of an issue.

With the hanging version, the more the person brings their knees into their chest, the more likely they perform dynamic flexion.

In most active, younger males -the population flexion is most often a concern- there’s not any advantage in doing that. It’s not necessarily harmful, particularly because the spine is unloaded, but it’s hard to make an argument that extra ROM is worth it.

For planks, if you have someone around, you can put 45lbs on your back. I’ve done this with plenty of clients. Straight arm version:


(Would go bent arm if you’re focused on the abs more.)

If you put 45 or 90 pounds close to your waist, that’s usually a good challenge.

This was a CFL player client I had:

Lot of ways you can play with them. That dude could squat close to 600 if I remember right. Not sure I’ve ever trained someone who was so strong I couldn’t give them a challenge.

Since you mentioned the long lever aspect, this is a good one too:

Not exactly a plank, but it’s a similar flavor

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Posted in: Lower Back Pain