The hip raise (bent knee) is a commonly performed exercise used to target the abdominals and strengthen the hip muscles. It’s a good movement for beginners and advanced exercisers as it’s relatively simple to do. Make no mistake though, it’s not easy but that’s why it’s effective.
Why this movement is great is because you use the weight of the legs to provide resistance and there are many great variations to help improve your core development.
In This Exercise:
- Target Muscle Group: Iliopsoas, rectus abdominis
- Type: Hypertrophy, strength
- Mechanics: Compound
- Equipment: Exercise mat/bench
- Difficulty: Beginner
The hip raise works several muscle groups although the core and hips are the main focus.
The adductor brevis is one of the adductor muscles that helps to pull the thigh medially (inward). It also helps to stabilize the trunk during certain movements, maintaining balance, and flexion of the thigh.
The adductor longus is another hip adductor muscle of the inner thigh. Therefore, it also pulls the thigh inward. Along with the adductor brevis and magnus it’s one of the strongest muscles of the thigh.
The iliopsoas is the primary hip flexor; made up of the major and minor psoas muscles and the iliacus muscle. It can function as a unit or separately to stabilize and facilitate movement. These muscles are important for proper standing and posture, the coxofemoral joint, and walking and running.
The iliopsoas is very much involved in every part of the hanging straight leg raise, especially when lifting the legs upward.
Strong hip flexors are crucial for just about any total body activity.
The rectus abdominis is fancy for abdominals, also known as the six-pack” muscles. These core muscles are responsible for trunk flexion (e.g., curl up during a crunch), and they assist during lateral trunk flexion (bending to the side).
When done properly, this exercise really activates the main abdominal muscles and is one of the best movements for building an impressive core.
The obliques (external and internal) are core muscles located on either side of the rectus abdominis or “six-pack” muscles. They facilitate trunk rotation and contralateral rotation, and with the erector spinae and rectus abdominis, the obliques help with lateral flexion of the trunk.
While there’s not much rotation during hip raise, make no mistake, the obliques still get an awesome workout.
The sartorius muscle is actually the longest muscle in the body, that is located across both the knee and hip joint. Consequently, it can also function to flex both joints. It also externally rotates the hips.
Tensor Fasciae Latae
The tensor fascia latae (TFL) is a thigh muscle that works with several muscles to assist in the movement and stabilization of the hip and the knee. Along with the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, the TFL internally rotates and abducts the hip. It also works with the gluteus maximus to abduct the hip via the iliotibial (IT) band.
The TFL also assists the rectus femoris in the flexion of the hip, and assists in pelvis stability while standing and walking.
How To Do The Hip Raise (Bent Knee)
As simple as the hip raise (bent knee) is to do, those with less training experience may benefit from step-by-step instructions to ensure safe and proper form. Although, anyone may find this section useful.
- Lie on your back with your knee bent and feet flat on the floor, and place your hands down by your sides. Ideally, you’ll have a soft surface for comfort.
- While tensing your core muscles, bring your knees toward your chest and lift your hips just off the floor by rolling your pelvis back. Keep your legs bent and over your torso.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
Here’s a video example…
Hip raise (bent knee) tips
- Do NOT use momentum to rock your body back and forth. The goal is to use your core and pelvis to contract your abdominal muscles.
- Use a comfortable surface to avoid experiencing pain or discomfort as this will affect your performance and make the experience not enjoyable.
- You want to squeeze your core muscles during the movement and rolling your pelvis back enhances the muscular contraction and exercise experience.
Here are the main benefits of this exercise.
Improves core development
The main goal for most exercisers when doing similar exercises is to build the core muscles. A well-developed midsection has many benefits but aesthetics are a big one!
A strong midsection is crucial for heavy lifting, athletic performance, and longevity. The core muscles keep the midsection and spine stable which maximizes strength performance and prevents injuries.
A lot of lower back pain is caused by a weak core. Giving attention to these muscles can make a big difference in your daily life.
The hip flexors play a big role in lower body movement and function and this exercise involves hip flexion which keeps things mobile and functional.
Variations / Alternatives
While the hip raise (bent knee) is an excellent exercise that a lot of people can do, we also like the following variations/alternatives.
Straight leg and hip raise
If you want to step it up and have the flexibility to do so, try out the lying straight leg and hip raise. It’s actually more challenging not just because you have to keep the legs straight, but the weight of extended legs increases the difficulty of the exercise.
Hanging leg and hip raise
The hanging leg and hip raise is a more advanced variation. That’s because gravity has more of an effect, causing the weight of your legs to create a very challenging experience.
You can do it with knees bent or legs straight which is even harder to do.
You can also do the Captain’s chair variation which doesn’t require grip strength, and you can also more easily add weight if you reach that level of fitness.
Cocoons resemble exactly what the name implies because when performed, your body looks like a cocoon that encases insects.
It’s sort of a crunch and knee/hip raise combo so it really maximizes core contraction.
Weighted hip raise (bent knee)
For more advanced exercisers, it’s not a bad idea to strap on some ankle weights for more resistance. Anytime you add more resistance to an exercise, you’re going to make more progress.
How To Incorporate The Hip Raise (bent knee) Into Your Training Routine
It’s certainly not our business to tell you how to train. But we always try and recommend a sensible approach to exercise as we believe strategy helps to maximize results.
We always suggest doing the harder exercises first when you’re strongest, especially if doing bodyweight workouts. Although, typically, movements that involve raising the legs are usually the most difficult due to the heavy weight of the legs.
So hanging leg raise variations would be the most challenging followed by lying or seated leg raise exercises.
Of course, any weighted movement can offer the same effect but are hardly as functional as moving around your own bodyweight.
You could then do crunches, and other similar exercises and finally move into standing core exercises.
Sets and reps
The goal with bodyweight exercises should be to do as many as you can with good form. This will vary as not everyone is at the same level of fitness.
For people who cannot do many, for example, more than 4, then keep at it until you can do upwards of 20.
But if you can do endless reps, well, you should probably add weight or do another exercise that’s more challenging and that will cause your body to get stronger.
As for sets, anywhere from 2-4 is common depending on your level of training experience and goals.
If you need a good core-building exercise to add to your routine that requires nothing but you and a comfortable surface, the hip raise (bent knee) is a great option.
It’s no doubt challenging and when done right, will have your midsection screaming!
Plus, there are other great variations that you can do for a complete core training routine.