Upgrade your Life and Looks with the Knee and Leg Raise Chain

by Adrienne Harvey on May 5, 2015

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Adrienne Harvey Hanging Knee Raise

The humble but powerful knee and leg raise progressions featured in the PCC Workshop and Convict Conditioning don’t always get as much attention as some of the more visually intense exercises. Even though these moves might not be tailor-made for showing off online, don’t underestimate their importance. These progressions are the sort of “strong silent type” movements which build the muscles and coordination necessary to attempt many more advanced moves. In the context of the Century Test, the 20 knee raises also (along with the bodyweight squats) have the same requirements in the men’s and women’s tests. These 20 knee raises have sometimes been or directly led up to the make-or-break moment in a Century Test.

Testing aside, the hanging knee raise and leg raise progressions are not only great for working on your midsection, they’re a great reason to spend more time hanging on the bar and strengthening your grip. In the video at the end of this blog post, you’ll see just one of the many possible grip variations you can use when practicing hanging knee raises. Almost by accident I started doing a challenging fingertip variation—just because the available overhead support happened to be an I-beam. It was a fun challenge that really raised the difficulty of a few sets of 25 knee raises in my workout that day. Hanging knee and leg raises are also a great way to determine what you need to work on most. What “gives out” first? Your abs? Grip? Shoulder engagement? Start in on a max or near-max set of hanging knee or leg raises and you’ll soon find out!

In a crowded gym with people fighting over the more “traditional” or ab-specific items, all you’ll need to do is find a good overhead bar and you’re set. Out in the “the wild”—on a municipal fit trail (like the one in my video) or even a playground, you can easily get in some ab work, without having to lay on the ground that might be muddy. The powerful knee and leg raise drills leading up to the hanging bar work in Convict Conditioning are extremely valuable, can be practiced anywhere at all, and start at a level where literally anyone can begin and benefit. If you’re still “on the ground” with your knee and leg raise progressions, you can always still work on your strength and strategy with timed hangs on the bar.

To meet PCC standards, you shouldn’t be swinging around with your hanging knee raises. A quick but not-so-easy way to make sure you don’t swing is to really control your grip on that bar. RKC kettlebell enthusiasts will recognize the idea of trying to “bend” or “break” the bar (or in their case the kettlebell handle). In the video below I break some sticks to give you the idea. Thinking of bending the bar in this way will stabilize your upper body and give you a solid foundation for hanging knee raises, hanging leg raises and any number of twisting variations that would otherwise have you looking like an out of control set of human wind chimes. Keeping yourself in control on the bar is a great habit to start developing and to have in your personal toolkit.

Adrienne Harvey Hanging Pike Raise

You can use the hanging knee and leg raises to a work on your grip, and to strengthen your other moves. Really, any time spent working on the bar will have positive effects on your training, strength, and physique. While many of us don’t publically talk about this last item—our physical appearance—let’s get honest about it for a minute. It’s simply human nature for us to want to look our best (at least to our own definitions). While the real benefits of these hanging knee and leg raise progressions are increased usable strength, a great side effect is some muscular development in the midsection. Provided your nutrition is in line, this can result in the coveted six pack, or the “flat tummy” touted in women’s fitness marketing. While I personally think performance and strength are better long-term motivators, having those positive visual side effects certainly doesn’t hurt! I will say that most people seem to have better long term training commitment if outward appearances are not their ONLY motivator.

Having a strong, trained midsection really sets you up for success (and safety, since a strong abdomen protects your back) with all kinds of lifting and other fun activities. I could even go so far as to say that having a strong midsection can generally improve your quality of life. (You can do everything from lift everyday heavy objects without injury to holding your own while trying a new activity like stand-up paddleboarding.)

Once you’re comfortable doing a few hanging pike raises (the PCC term for a leg raise taken up to shins to the bar) and have a reasonable grasp on pull ups, you can also try a fun and useful move called the “rollover”. While some people like to kip into this move, if you have the requisite strength, you don’t have to! Perform about ½ of a pull up, then pull your straight legs up and slightly past the bar, you’ll easily roll right over and be on top of the bar. This is a great way to practice bar dips or negative muscle-ups without burning yourself out trying to get on top of the bar. It’s also a lot of fun and looks cool! Towards the end of the video below, I demonstrate the rollover somewhat slowly so you can see what’s happening. While I had the necessary strength to do this move for a very long time, figuring out the timing of it was the crucial key.

This video is a medley of hanging knee and leg raise tips, variations, and training ideas I’ve put together just for you:

How are you using the hanging leg raise chain in your training?


Adrienne Harvey, Senior PCC Instructor, RKC-II, CK-FMS, originally RKC Certified in 2010, and RKC Level 2 certified in 2011, kettlebell and bodyweight training have been crucial in Adrienne’s personal quest for fitness. A core member of the PCC team, Adrienne loves sharing her knowledge with small groups and individuals. She also loves to develop recipes and workout programs to further support performance, body composition, and of course—FUN. Go to http://www.giryagirl.com for more information about Adrienne!

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  • Mohammed

    “…having a strong midsection can generally improve your quality of life.”

    I can verify this. Makes everyday lifting much safer. Makes you feel stronger overall. Increasing my mid-section strength has made other exercises easier and allows me to get more out of them. For example, just tensing my abs has allowed me to squeeze out one more pushup, pullup or squat, even.

    • Absolutely! It’s fantastic how what might be seen as something people train for aesthetics or vanity can actually have real world safety applications and increase your overall strength.

  • Mohammed

    Let’s not forget bridging when talking about the midsection! Muscle corsets and all…

    • Absolutely! In the long version of the video I mention that it can be great to pair the HLR with bridging too. Sounds like you’ve tried that combo – if not, definitely try supersetting them, it always makes me feel a little taller! Long version (cut a lot of the “talking” out for the blog post) https://youtu.be/4dqOn0MZW8M

      • Mohammed

        Ah, thanks for this. I’m always on the lookout for director’s cuts of films, haha.

  • Hey now! Great tutorial! I’m so glad you brought the leg raises to the limelight! Fantastic rollover, too!! I <3 that move! Still working on getting it from a dead-hang! Make me want to make my clients do some leg raises today! Thanks for the inspiration, Adrienne! 🙂

    • See the comment I left for Matt above, the dead hang rollover sometimes gets stalled out (and feels more like a strength move) if the timing of the pull vs the raise isn’t quite right. I used to do these as a little kid even – play with the timing you’ll probably get it pretty quick.

  • Matt Schifferle

    I never really considered the roll over as a basic move in the body weight world until I was at the PCC and getting even one was a serious struggle. This video reminded me that I’ve gotta get back at it to round out my pull up routine. Thanks Adrienne!

    • Matt you’re PLENTY strong, so you might be having a timing issue with it — which is what was happening to me. Do about 1/2 of a pull up and THEN bring your legs to the bar, it’s bizarre how different and freakishly easy it becomes if the timing is right.

  • Marcus

    Great article Adrienne, thanks for taking the time to put it and the video together. Really appreciate it =)

    • Thanks Marcus! There’s also a “director’s cut” version that’s a good bit longer but has a lot more talking — here’s the link if you’re interested: https://youtu.be/4dqOn0MZW8M

      • Marcus

        Thanks Adrienne, always up for the directors cut, time to dig deeper =)

  • Malin Strandli

    Great article! I laughed at “have you looking like an out of control set of human wind chimes”, that is so me at the bar… Thanks for the tip about breaking the bar, I’ll try it next time!

    • Glad you liked that, Malin! Let me know if the breaking the bar tip works for you! 🙂

  • geoffrey nelson

    This was all very difficult for me until I started working out my hip flexors with a lacrosse ball. Being able to release the trigger points in my TFL and psoas muscle has opened up a lot of motion range that just was not possible before.

    • VERY good point – thanks for sharing your solution as well, I’m sure that will help many people on here 🙂

  • Gerri Lee Schafer

    got to try the roll over once my shoulder is green lighted for activity again :)) I can do them gymnastic style from the ground, but never tried them from full hang

  • Great video–always amazing stuff from you, Adrienne. You just seem to keep getting better and better.

    • Thanks a ton, Coach! The aim is constant improvement 🙂 🙂 Great to hear from you!

  • Brad Sadl

    I just started doing windshield wipers! I have to see hanging leg stuff is fun. Also, recently I started doing flexed arm leg raises, that’s fun too. Lastly I can do a few one arm toes to bar as well

    • Aren’t they fun? 🙂 That’s cool about your flexed arm leg raises too — share a video if you have it! 🙂

  • Eric Buratty

    FINALLY–someone who is on the same page!
    I love pairing forward bends with back bends and inversions!!

    Well done on the grip explanation in the video, too–making everything look smooth as you’re talking through the actual movement(s)!!!

    Best Regards,

    EB m/

    • Thanks Eric! 🙂 glad you liked it — I like to demo with explanation real time whenever humanly possible, seems to help people put it all together.

  • Anthony

    i can’t wait to try the rollover to negative muscle-ups

  • einheit

    Great ideas. I’ll try them out at the park this afternoon

    • Glad you found the post useful! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Swiss_Olympic

    Great article and sweet video, Adrienne! I like how natural you are while speaking, very confident and relaxed. I’ll definitely have to try out that ‘snap the stick’ grip tomorrow (Thursday leg raise day, kids!)

    • Thanks! Let me know how that grip cue works for you – 🙂

      • Swiss_Olympic

        It worked quite well. I used to have problems with my keeping my shoulder packed while doing leg raises. and although the leg raises themselves till need some work until they get to parallel, the shoulder-packing issue is gone!

        Thanks a bunch for asking and the great cue!

  • Great article and video Adrienne.

  • Daniel Earl

    Thanks for the Vid! Any plans for PCC coming to Ohio? Cleveland would be great.

  • Benjamin Evans

    Great post! I like the grip training idea. Just today i did hanging leg raises while holding onto tea towels from a bar…. Was a great grip trainer. And then i read this! Love the double bang for my buck! Keep up the great work Adrienne 🙂

    • Great idea with the towels — that had to have been extremely challenging! Thanks for reading 🙂

      • Benjamin Evans

        It was a grueller! But it was also a joy to get my grip training done at the same time, just hanging around waiting for a timer to run out can be mentally torturous. But this way i had something to occupy the time

        • and the angle of the grip you’re using with the towels is especially difficult too…

  • isondart

    Thank you for sharing ! I’ll have to incorporate these ideas into my workouts.

    • You’re welcome 🙂 Please let us know how the ideas work for you! 🙂

  • pixelzombie

    Awesome article, luv doing leg raises, even when I do the karats style pullups. Do you by chance have a progression for the pike raises? I don’t recall seeing that, thanks.

    • Oddly enough, when hanging straight leg raises are solid for reps at waist/hip height, begin to bring them higher while keeping them straight — you may also (I did…) need to work on shoulder and hip mobility to make “room” for the full range of that movement. I swear part of it is mental too! 🙂 You’ll see!

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