Leg Lifts: Standing Leg Lifts and Variations (with Video)

Leg lifts improve your strength, balance and flexibility.

Don't ignore simple standing leg lifts or leg raises on your quest for sculpted thighs, calves and a sculpted gluteus maximus. This classic exercise sits on the Mount Rushmore of leg exercises along with lunges and squats. Not only is it strength training for your legs and core, it helps in improving balance and flexibility. Change the direction, height and intensity of your standing leg lifts to target different muscle groups and build a stronger, leaner lower body.

How to do leg lifts?

Leg lifts are one of the easiest bodyweight exercises to do and offer many health benefits. The proper form for the starting position is simply lying down on your back, with your legs together and with straight legs. Keep your legs straight and move them in a straight line up along your midline, keeping both the left and right side of your body on the ground. Do that until your gluteus medius comes off the ground and then slowly move your legs back to the ground.

How do leg lifts help Leg Strength?

Lifting your legs from a standing position engages the muscles in your hamstrings, quadriceps and hips. The versatility of leg lifts allows you to vary the exercise to target specific muscles in your upper and lower leg. Externally rotating your legs as you lift them will give your hamstrings and abductors a more intense workout. Keep your toes pointing upward to target your quadriceps on every rep.

How do leg lifts help Core Strength

Standing leg lifts may be based in the lower body but they have upper body benefits as well. Leg lifts strengthen your abdominals, obliques, lower-back muscles and glutes -- known collectively as the "core"-- along with your legs. Keep your torso straight and still as you practice leg lifts to effectively exercise your core muscles. Deepen the workout on each repetition by drawing your navel to your spine and completely engaging your abs as you lift and lower your legs with control. Holding a medicine ball while you do leg lifts also adds a greater challenge for your core.

How do leg lifts help Flexibility

The leg raise exercises provide a dynamic stretch for your lower body, meaning they use motion to gently increase the range of motion in your left leg, right leg, hip abductor muscles and hip flexors. Unlike ballistic stretching, which involves forcing your muscles beyond their limits with bouncing motions, the dynamic stretch of a leg lift works within your body's limitations. With each leg lift, try to lift your leg a little higher so you feel the stretch in your calves and hamstrings. According to a report by the University of Virginia, leg lifts are an effective way to warm up before playing sports since the active motion helps your body adjust to athletic movements and oxygenates your muscles. It also can help relieve leg and back pain from sports.

How do leg lifts help Balance

Shifting your body weight onto one foot and lifting your other leg into the air requires strong balance. As you stand on one leg, the muscles in your legs and core work together to stabilize and balance your body. Good balance improves athletic performance and spatial awareness. Focusing on your balance is especially important for your wellness as you age as it decreases your risk of falling while exercising or performing daily activities. If you have trouble balancing as you do leg lifts, try holding onto a table, wall or the back of a chair until your balance improves.

Variations of Leg Lifts

There are many additions or variations to leg raises that can better suit different muscles. For starters, Holding a medicine ball while you do leg lifts also adds a greater challenge for your core. Other equipment like resistance bands or ankle weights can add a challenge to your leg muscles as well. Standing leg lifts, with a dumbbell at each side, helps to focus just your leg muscles and is a easy, great exercise.