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Leg lifts target your core muscles.
Legs lifts, also called leg raises, cover a lot of ground, including exercises you can do from a bar or a bench, and with or without weights. The muscles you'll target when you perform leg lifts vary, depending on the form you use and on your starting position. In general, leg lifts target your core, focusing mainly on your abs and hips.
Importance of Core Strength
In day-to-day activities such as walking, climbing stairs or performing housework, your core helps keep you balanced and stable. When you're exercising and playing a sport, these benefits are frequently magnified. A strong core is the foundation for many athletic movements, from swinging a golf club or tennis racket, to swimming or kicking a soccer ball.
Target the Rectus Abdominis
Leg-hip raises -- exercises in which you raise both your hips and legs -- target the rectus abdominis muscle on the front of your abdomen. You can hang from a high horizontal bar and flex both your hips and knees as you raise your knees to your shoulders, or keep your knees fairly straight as you lift your feet up to the bar. Performing similar moves while grasping parallel bars, or lying on a bench, will yield the same results. Lying leg-hip raises are also known as reverse crunches. Your obliques, hip flexors and adductors assist in all of these exercises, along with your quadriceps, when you don't bend your knees.
Work the Obliques
Several machines can help you lift your knees up to your chest to target your obliques more directly than other leg raises. For example, you can sit in a twisting leg raise crunch machine in which your knees rise and move to one side while your torso descends in the opposite direction. You'll also work your rectus abdominis. Depending on the machine you use, your hip flexors may assist as well.
Emphasize the Hip Flexors
To shift the leg lift's focus to the hip flexors, use the same motions you employed for leg-hip raises, but don't raise your hips. In a hanging straight leg-hip raise, for example, you bend your hips to lift your legs into a horizontal position, but you also raise your hips, which pushes your feet up and leaves your legs in a vertical position. To focus on the hip flexors, hang from the bar and raise your legs straight in front of you, so they're roughly parallel with the floor. The latter exercise targets the iliopsoas muscles around your hips and lower back, but also works the other hip flexors and some hip adductors. As with other body-weight leg lifts, you can increase the intensity of most leg raises by holding a dumbbell between your feet or by wearing ankle weights. Don't use a dumbbell for exercises in which your feet rise directly above your body.