The hanging knee raises is a high-level isolation exercise in a calisthenics program that utilizes your body weight to engage your muscles throughout your entire body, including the arm, back, and abdominal muscles. It’s a popular core movement that can help you define the abs that you’ve always wanted! So, if you’re going to master this exercise and reap all its benefits, this guide will help you out.

Even if we set the aesthetic apart, ripped abs is one of the most sought-after gains for enhanced athleticism that takes a while to achieve. And while there are other popular approaches like the classic crunches, the hanging knee raise is a more advanced exercise that works the abdominal muscles on another level.

As you continue to do hanging knee raises, you’ll notice an increase in your core strength, more defined abs, and development in your overhead skills. Also, it’s an excellent workout to learn isolation techniques and challenge your forearms and grip!

We’ll Guide You On:

  • How To Do Hanging Knee Raises
  • Hanging Knee Raises Benefits
  • Common Knee Raises Mistakes To Avoid
  • Hanging Knee Raises Muscles Worked
  • Hanging Knee Raises vs Leg Raises
  • Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs
  • Hanging Knee Raises Variations
  • Hanging Knee Raises Alternative Exercises
  • FAQs About Hanging Knee Raises 

How To Do Hanging Knee Raises

What You’ll Need:

Alternative Equipment:

  • Ankle Weights – Once you get accustomed to the right form and you get stronger, you can challenge your raises by adding some weights
  • Dip Raise Machine/Power Tower – If you don’t have an access to a pull-up bar
  • Captain’s Chair

Step 1: Secure Your Grip

Stand directly underneath the bar and lift your hands overhead comfortably. This puts your grip around shoulder-width apart or a bit wider most of the time.

Step 2: Position and Hang

Let a few moments pass once you get your grip while you are in a dead hang to reduce any swaying from the initial momentum when you grab the bar. From here, set your shoulder blades back and down, squeeze your legs together, and execute a body hollow. Tighten your core the same way your would when getting ready for a barbell exercise.

Step 3: Flex Your Abs

In each repetition of the hanging knee raise, you should perform it in such a way that the last squeeze of your abs is beyond 90 degrees of hip flexion. For you to target your abdominals, you need to flex your spine. Think of it as engaging your abdominals to pull your knees towards your chest, experiencing a similar sensation as you execute a sit-up. 

Step 4: Return and Rest

Let your legs go back to the starting position under control, keeping tension activated throughout your body the entire time. The less core tension you let go of, the less loss of position or swaying you will experience between each repetition.

3 Hanging Knee Raises Benefits

1. Enhanced Core Strenght

Performing the hanging knee raise can improve your entire body’s core strength because of the tendency for your body to sway after each rep. 

When you’re able to neutralize any body sway and enable your abdominal muscles to flex your spine means that you’re developing your core strength. To freeze your body in a consistent position, you’ll have to engage your hip, shoulder, and spine, which is not an easy task to do!

2. Develop and Tone Abs

While a sustainable and healthy long-term lifestyle, with emphasis on lessening excess body fat, is the key to achieving defined and visible abs, you still want to give your rectus abdominis some direct training to make them more pumped. As you perform the hanging knee raise, you can flex your abdominis recuts, giving you that necessary engagement. 

3. Improve Overhead Capabilities

You will need stability and mobility to complete a hanging knee raise in proper form. That stability and mobility that you develop complements and maintains your shoulder’s overhead capabilities. As gravity continues to pull your shoulders into a full overhead position, it reinforces your overhead shoulder mobility.

Common Hanging Knee Raise Mistakes to Avoid

Lowering your legs too fast

During the lowering phase of this exercise, you engage your core muscles deeply. If you rush it and lower your legs too fast, you will lessen the engagement and miss this benefit. Keep your leg’s descent controlled and slow, avoiding any swaying or swinging while keeping a good form.

Swinging your body

Never swing in an attempt to lift your legs with momentum. Instead, focus the effort on your hip flexors and abs to activate your core and help manage the movement.

Shoulders hunched during the movement

To avoid injuring your shoulders and to protect them as you perform the full range of motion, keep them down. Shift your shoulders as far away from your ears to get them into the correct position while you’re hanging. 

Hanging Knee Raises Muscles Worked

The hanging knee raise is primarily an exclusive core workout, focusing on strengthening and challenging the following muscle groups:

  • External and internal obliques
  • Rectus Abdominis
  • Hip Flexors
  • Grip and Forearms

When doing the hanging knee raise exercise, you mainly target your rectus abdominis. It’s the muscles that facilitate twisting, flexion, and the general function of your torso. Also, in the hanging knee raise, it’s the muscle group that’s working hard to pull your pelvis to elevate your legs.

Other muscles that the hanging knee raises work are the hip flexors (supports the rectus abdominis), internal and external obliques (supports the movement and stabilizes the hip and spine), and forearms and grip (stabilizes the body to prevent it from swinging).

Hanging Knee Raises vs Hanging Leg Raises

Both exercises are excellent in developing your core and foundational skill set so you can perform more bodyweight centric and advanced gymnastics movements. However, the main difference between the two is their difficulty level.

If you’re just starting out to cook your six-pack, it’s better for you to do the hanging knee raises. Here, your simply lifting your knees to your hip level. On the other hand, hanging leg raises are more difficult to perform since instead of lifting your upper thighs only, you need to raise the entire weight of your legs. This exercise is more demanding on your abs!

So, in the early days of your fitness program, better start with lying leg lifts, lying knee pull-ins, and hanging leg raise. Then, when you have enough core strength, you can progress to hanging leg raises and other challenging core workouts.

Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs

For Beginners

Muscle endurance, skills, and strength may limit you from performing a proper hanging knee raise if you’re a beginner. So, it’s better if you prioritize it and move this exercise towards the beginning of your workout or have a particular day just for it. 

Start with two to three sets of six to eight reps, concentrating on perfect technique during each workout until you can add more volume.

For Muscle Building (Intermediate)

If you already have the base level of strength and skillset to routinely perform hanging knee raises, tackling a muscle-building set and rep scheme will be your best course. Do three to four sets of ten to fifteen reps several times per week.

For Strenght Training (Advanced)

It can be challenging to increase the resistance of hanging knee raises without forcing excessive momentum or engagement of the hip flexor muscles. So, it would be better to do higher repetition sets. 

Execute three to four sets of fifteen to twenty repetitions several times per week. If you want, you can also attempt strict reps with a light dumbbell secured between your ankles.

Hanging Knee Raises Variations

You can do these variations to either be a part of your cluster or circuit set or help train to improve your hanging knee raise grip strength, endurance, and skills.

Captain’s Chair Knee Raise

If you find it challenging to hold your body while your arms are above your head, utilize a captain’s chair. Just place your elbows against the armrests next to your body and lift your knees toward your chest.

Hanging Straight Leg Raise

This variation can increase the challenge you experience from hanging knee raises by stretching the lever acting against your abdominals. The further the distance of your feet from your core muscles, the harder it needs to work to be able to flex the spine on each repetition.

Hanging Knee Raise with a Twist

The hanging knee raises oblique crunch or, in simpler terms, hanging knee raise to the side, puts extra emphasis on your obliques during the workout. There are scientific studies that prove that this variation has more muscle fiber recruitment than a standard hanging knee raise.

Weighted Knee Raise

If you’re looking for a more demanding variation to add to your workout routine, attach ankle weights or place a dumbbell between your knees as you go through the range of motion of a hanging knee raise.

Lying Knee Raise

Not up for the challenge and looking for an easier variation? If you are, then do lying knee raises instead. Just lie on your back and slowly raise your knees up until your chest. This exercise can help you practice a portion of the movement while you build the necessary core strength to execute a hanging knee raise.

Hanging Knee Raise Alternatives

Hanging knee raises are not the only core-burning exercise that can shape your abs. So, if you want to mix up your workout, try these alternatives!


This alternative activates the same muscle group as the hanging knee raises. Doing CrossFit exercises like this can help you enhance your endurance, flexibility and strength. When performing toes-to-bar, grab the pull-up bar using an overhand grip while keeping your core engaged and back straight. Then, lift your legs until it touches the bar.

Bicycle Kicks

If you do bicycle kicks or bicycle crunches, you are in it for a lot of benefits! This exercise can improve your coordination and build your hip flexor and abdominal strength. You can easily do it at home since you don’t need anything else except a fitness mat. 

Double Crunch

The double crunch is an excellent workout that can help build your core. When you have a stronger core, you’ll see improvements in your posture and increase your balance. It’s another exercise that you can conveniently do at home with just a fitness mat!

Frequently Asked Questions

Technically, hanging knee raises are a variation of crunches. Also, you need them both, including their other varieties, to diversify your abdominal contraction for continued progress. If you don’t change up your routine, then there’s a high chance that you may not see the results that you’re after.

Hanging knee raises targets mainly your rectus abdominis but also activates your hip flexors and obliques. 

Although you can add weights to hanging knee raises, it’s not the ideal route to take. It will be more difficult to properly flex your abdominals without engaging your hip flexors when you add weight. Instead of your core, you’re activating a different muscle group. 

So, rather than adding weights, it’s better to just increase your repetition volume or do hanging leg raises.

Hanging knee raises are safe to perform as long as you’re within its safety parameter. If you follow this, you’ll be able to enjoy its benefits to the fullest and avoid any unwanted injuries. Try hanging with your arms over your head. If you don’t feel any pain, you’re good to perform a hanging knee raise.

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