Captains Chair Exercise: Top 3 Variations to Transform Your Abs

The Captains Chair exercise can build some serious core strength. If you can master these three exercise variations you're guaranteed to get a rock-solid core. 

We know what you’re thinking:

“The captain’s chair exercise can transform my abs, huh? That’s a pretty bold claim.”

While it might sound too good to be true, it’s not.

According to a recent study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the captain’s chair exercise is one of the most effective exercise for strengthening the obliques, and the second most effective exercise for strengthening the abs.

How’s that for proof?

Whether you’re running, jumping, climbing, or lifting, stable, sturdy abs help you maintain great form and prevent injuries across the board.

If you haven’t added this compound ab exercise into your arsenal, you’re missing out! Fortunately, it’s never too late to get started…

How to Do the Captains Chair Exercise

First, if you want to start practicing this essential exercise at home, you’ll have to invest in a knee raise station. If you’re satisfied with just practicing this at the gym, work on these variations.

The three most effective captain’s chair exercises are as follows:

  • Leg Raise
  • Knee Raise
  • Weighted Leg/Knee Raise

Here’s how to do each:

1. Captain's Chair Leg Raise

  1. Step into the captain’s chair and place your back against the support. Rest your forearms on the pads and grip the handles firmly.
  2. When you’re in position, let your legs hang toward the floor. Keep your back against the support and contract your core to keep your upper body straight.
  3. Raise your legs in front of you with your knees slightly bent. Raise your legs until they’re parallel with the floor (90-degree angle). Hold at the peak for 1 second.
  4. Lower your legs slowly in a controlled motion. Don’t let your legs drop! Engage your abs while you lower them back to the starting position.

2. Captains Chair Knee Raise

Steps 1-2 are the same as the leg raise.

  1. Raise your knees upward towards your chest. Once they pass your hips, hold for a full second.
  2. Slowly lower your knees back to the starting position.

3. Captains Chair Weighted Leg/Knee Raise

In the video, Scott is doing a hanging dumbbell raise. This engages the core more, and is a great option if that’s what you’re looking for. Follow Scott’s same tips for performing this exercise, just use the captains chair to support your upper body while your engage your core:

  1. Get into the leg/knee raise position.
  2. Wrap your feet around a dumbbell on the floor.
  3. Lift in the same slow and controlled manner.
  4. Lower in the same slow and controlled manner.

Captains Chair Exercise Tips

  • Keep your core engaged throughout the entire exercise. Don’t go limp or hold your breath.
  • No swinging! Don’t swing your legs to build momentum to perform the leg raise. This defeats the effectiveness of the exercise because it doesn’t engage your core muscles.
  • Lift slowly and deliberately. It’s better that you do 10 leg raises with perfect form than 50 with sloppy form.

Progressive Plan | Captains Chair Workout

This progressive captains chair workout plan will help you build muscle and form as efficiently as possible.

We recommend starting with the knee raise first. Once you can do this comfortably, you can move on to leg raises.

If you’ve been doing leg raises for awhile, you may need high reps to “Feel the burn.”

When you reach the point where you’re doing about 20-30 reps, it’s time to begin weighted leg raises.

Follow a progressive overload workout routine to continue building your abdominals.

Begin with a 10 lb. dumbbell. Once you can easily do 3 sets of 8 – 10 reps at this weight, increase the weight to 15 lbs.

When you can do 3 sets of 8 – 10 reps at 15 lbs., increase the weight to 20 lbs. Continue this progressive captains chair workout to transform your entire core.

What Muscles Are Used With the Captain's Chair Exercise?

The variations of the captains chair exercise can target the abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis), hip flexors, and external obliques.

If you don’t feel these muscles engaging, take a look at your form.

When you swing your legs instead of engaging your core, you’re just going through the motions without reaping the benefits. Take your time with each repetition and feel the contraction. It’s better that you do 5-10 high-quality reps than 25+ crappy reps!

Once you’ve mastered this exercise and have strengthened your core muscles, you can move on to hanging leg/knee raises. After that, you get to the granddaddy of them all—the hanging dumbbell knee raise (as demonstrated in the video above).

This exercise will strengthen your core rapidly, but it’s still essential to build up to it using the captain’s chair. If you want to avoid injury and overload, don’t rush into it!

TFT Team

Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. When you see “TFT Team” this is because the content was not written by a single author, but rather a team effort.

The Captains Chair exercise can build some serious core strength. If you can master these three exercise variations you're guaranteed to get a rock-solid core.