Whenever I do exercises like hanging leg raises or cable crunches, or just generally any crunch or ab exercise, I don't really feel like I'm getting any good abdominal/core activation and so after I've done 3 sets I just feel like I wasted energy since I don't really feel anything in my abs.

I get different activation in my core when I'm doing the compound lifts like deadlift, squat, bench, and ohp. I take a moderate breath of air in, not too much, and can feel my core braced and tight to keep everything stable, but this is about all I really feel.

I feel like my sitting and standard posture is excellent already and I mention that because I've read that if you force yourself to have good posture then your core will support it. Well my posture is fine I just can't really seem to activate or contract my abs that well during normal exercises.

Any tips or advice?

  • When you do hanging leg raises, does your torso curl at all? Or is the majority of the bending being done at the hips?
    – JohnP
    Apr 16, 2014 at 14:48
  • My upper body from hips up stays pretty motionless. A majority of the extension is done at my hips to bring my legs up but I'm not swinging or using momentum. On the way down I try to extend in the back a little to get that stretch in my abs but it doesn't help much. Apr 16, 2014 at 14:54
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    Then you aren't really using much of your abdominals, other than the lowest part. The function of the abdominals is to curl the torso. When you raise your legs with a motionless upper body you are mainly working hip flexors.
    – JohnP
    Apr 16, 2014 at 15:41
  • Can you, at will, flex your lower back? (Tilt the top of the hips backwards.) This is with no weights of course. Try it either in an upright, lying, or kneeling position. (Make sure you bend your knees if you're upright or lying on the floor.) If you cannot, then it might be an awareness problem.
    – BKE
    Apr 17, 2014 at 7:45
  • If you want to turn those hanging leg raises into a KILLER ab workout, instead of bringing your legs out straight, bring them up with bent knees (Think diving board cannonball type position), then try and curl your body up and touch your knees to the pads over your shoulders.
    – JohnP
    Apr 17, 2014 at 20:43

2 Answers 2


Disclaimer: This answer is based on my experience with the exercises. Verify that it works for you (and adapt as necessary).

I haven't done the cable crunches before; as a result, I'm not certain how effective it is. But based on the videos, the range of motion indicate (to me) that the effects will be felt most on the arms and not the abs (I'd like someone experienced to validate or nullify this theory).

I used to perform the hanging leg raises daily until I realized that it wasn't really effective for the abs; it's more effective for the lower hips and thighs. So, I switched it to a different type of hanging leg raises. The posture is still the same as the regular leg raises, but instead of lifting your knees, you lift your legs together into a L-sit position. The slower I go, the more intense I feel my core tighten. You can start with 5 reps and increase it if you still have the energy to continue. I've been doing that daily ever since (I still perform the regular hanging leg raises if I have time for them).

In addition to the above, I perform reverse crunches. Make sure your butts are lifted off the floor and your hands are clasped behind your head (this ensures that only the abs are involved in the activities). Start with 20 reps and you should feel the effects on every part of your abs.

Also, I perform standing crunches (the one in which your right elbow touches your left knee and vice versa). Try to keep your torso as straight as possible (without bending). Starting with 30 reps should make an impact on the abs.

I also perform leg raises. It's similar to the hanging leg raise described above but your back is on the floor. Lift both legs together and lower them together. Also, ensure that the only time your legs touch the ground is after you've completed the set. Some people put their legs down after every rep, but I don't encourage that as it reduces the effect.. Start with 10-15 reps and work your way up.

I don't know what this exercise is called, but I recently added it to my list. Adjusting a regular bench press such that the torso region is lower than the sitting region and starting from a lying position, I perform regular crunches by lifting the whole torso from the depressed region to a full sitting position. Then, I gently go back down to the starting position. 15-20 reps of this can be tried. This certainly gives me the same effect as the reverse crunches.

I finish with the easiest crunches of all, the regular crunches. I noticed that this mainly works my upper abs only. So, I don't usually feel the effect all over the abs.

If you try these exercises and see the effects you want, ensure that you increase the reps periodically. Mix and match them as you desire (I still do them daily)

The Result

Although I do regular weightlifting, I haven't lifted enough weights (Deadlift PR is currently 270lbs - 1 X 5, Squat is 220lbs - 5 X 5, Bench Press is 160 - 5 X 5) to claim that my abs came from weightlifting. I only do them 3 days a week vs my daily crunch-aton.

Using the pictures on this link, my current abs is closer to the guy in the 11-12% body fat than the one on his right.

So, I can testify that it works for me.

Thank you.

  • Cable crunches, like any abdominal exercise can work, but you need strict attention to form and an awareness of what the abdominals are and their function. They are a sheet of muscle that goes basically from the ribcage down through the pelvic area. ANY exercise that takes the torso from straight to curled (Think of bringing your ribcage to your hips) will work the abdominals.
    – JohnP
    Apr 17, 2014 at 14:30
  • @JohnP Okay. Good to know. But does it work the arms too, especially the arms do the pulling and maintaining the tension? Apr 17, 2014 at 14:46
  • Mmmm...not really. You'll get some forearm work from maintaining grip, but if your arms are moving then you're compounding the exercise, not doing a strict ab movement.
    – JohnP
    Apr 17, 2014 at 15:21

To activate your abdominals you need to make sure your torso is bending. As other people have said, with hanging leg lifts its likely that you are working your hip flexors.

Also, from what you say, it sounds as if you have fairly strong abs anyway. So it may be time to move to more advanced moves. Have you tried crunches on a Swiss ball? Adding in the stabalising factor will make the same exercises harder. Here is a website with sample exercises you can try http://www.ball-exercises.com/exercises/abs/. There are many others.

Hope that helps

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