9 Best Captain’s Chair Exercises for a Strong Core

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The captain’s chair is an interesting piece of equipment. Besides its peculiar name, it’s a commonly used tool for building a strong and well-rounded core.

In essence, the captain’s chair is a chair without a seat – although you do feel very much in control with the handles at your side. You also have a nice padded surface to lean back on when you do your captain’s chair exercises.

Let’s take a look at the best captain’s chair exercises and what can this piece of equipment help you with.

What Muscles Does the Captain’s Chair Work?

The captain’s chair is effective for helping you improve your core, especially your abdominal muscles, hip flexors, and external obliques.

The most important mechanism when you do captain’s chair exercises is the need to activate your abs and your core in order to lift your legs. Because most of the work will be done when you lift your legs, you’ll need to engage your abs, hip flexors, and obliques in order to do so.

When you engage your core in order to move your legs, you mimic the natural movements you make when you run or do sports. Captain’s chair exercises can help you run faster, jump higher, rotate quicker, and develop a well-rounded six-pack!

Tips to Consider Before You Start with Captain’s Chair Exercises

The captain’s chair is a very specific piece of gym equipment, so it requires some time to get used to it. That’s why many beginners make several mistakes at the start – and we’ll show you which ones those are so that you can avoid them right away.

Don’t swing or sway too much when “on the chair”. You want to keep your upper body nice and stable so that you can actively engage your abs instead. So you’ll want to use your abs in order to lift legs rather than using the swinging movement of your entire body.
Keep your back straight. A common mistake is that people tend to arch their backs as they lean back into the chair. This can wreck your lower back.
Activate your abs as you lift your legs. Only this way you’ll get the most of these captain’s chair exercises. Make sure you squeeze the abs as you lift your legs.
Breathe! Don’t hold your breath in too long or you’ll blow up! 🙂

Best Captain’s Chair Exercises

We’ve ordered these exercises in terms of difficulty – so the first few exercises are great for beginners, and they get progressively hard as you go down the list. We’ve prepared a nice workout plan at the end in order to help you progress from beginner to pro, so stay tuned.

1. Captain’s Chair Knee Raise

This is the first and the most elementary exercise you can do for your abs with the captain’s chair. It involves lifting your knees up towards your chest, which means you’ll have to activate your abs in order to do that.

Now, this exercise is somewhat easy, but if you’re a beginner, it can be the gateway towards tougher movements. So if you have no experience with the captain’s chair, do this exercise first and then move on.

  1. Grab the handles on the chair firmly
  2. Bend your knees
  3. Keep your back straight, activate your core, and make sure your upper body remains in place
  4. Then, from that position, lift your knees and try to reach your chest

2. Straight Leg Raises

The natural progression from knee raises is straight leg raises. The exercise is largely the same, where the only difference is that you’ll have to keep your legs straight during the movement.

This can be a bit more challenging, but even if you’re a beginner, you can start with this exercise if you’re already comfortable with knee raises.

  1. Take up the starting position – your hands on the handles and your upper body straight, with your core activated
  2. Straighten your legs
  3. Start raising your legs upwards and raise them as much as you can
  4. Make sure you do the movement slowly and in a controlled manner

3. Oblique Raises

Now, this exercise is already a bit more challenging, but still easy enough for beginners to do. This one will put the focus on your obliques a bit more, so you can combine them with straight leg lifts in order to perform a well-rounded ab workout.

The most important thing to note here is that you should try and keep your upper body as straight as possible, and you should swing minimally. So you’ll want to make sure you keep your back straight but really tighten your obliques and your core as you lift your legs.

  1. Get into the starting position
  2. Bend your knees
  3. Start lifting your legs to one of your sides
  4. Repeat that on the other side and interchange sides

4. Single-Leg Raises

We’re taking the straight leg raises to a higher level here. Instead of lifting both of your legs, you’ll lift one of them at a time, which makes the exercise slightly more challenging. The focus is still on your abs and your hip flexors here.

  1. Get into the starting position (same as the straight leg raises)
  2. With your legs straight, raise one of your legs as high as you can
  3. Alternate your legs and repeat

5. Straight Leg Hold

The straight leg hold takes the straight leg raises to another level, again. This exercise is great if you’re already comfortable with straight leg raises and want to make it a bit more challenging.

You should challenge yourself to extend the hold every time you do this exercise, too. At first, it might seem an easy exercise, but when you hold for an extended period and the burn starts to kick in, it becomes harder and harder.

  1. Start with the starting position for straight leg raises
  2. Then, with your core strong and your back straight, raise your legs to a 90-degree level
  3. Hold the legs there for as long as you can

6. Oblique Twists

This exercise is oblique raises on steroids. The movements are quite similar, where the main difference is that you’ll add the twisting movement to this exercise.

Before you lift your legs, you’ll want to twist your body to one side and then lift your legs as high as you can to the other side. At the same time, you’ll want to keep your legs as straight as you can here to make it even more challenging.

  1. Start with the starting position, but twist your body to one side this time
  2. Then from that position, lift your legs and raise them to the other side
  3. Rep out until failure and switch side

Note: Skip this video to 2:20 to see the oblique twists in action.

7. Bicycle Crunches

Imagine you’re riding a bicycle but on the captain’s chair itself. This exercise will mimic the way you use your abs when you cycle and run, so it’s a great exercise if you want to enhance your running or cycling performance.

  1. Start with the starting position
  2. Bend your legs
  3. Start cycling with your legs

8. Torso Lifts

These torso lifts are hard. In addition to needing a strong core, you’ll need a decent amount of strength in your arms, too. So it will effectively work your hands as well as your abs.

The key here is to lift your butt as high as you can, but you’ll want to engage your core as much as possible to do the lift. It’s a tough movement, but it can have great results if you do it right and consistently.

  1. Lean onto your arms and lean forward slightly
  2. Engage your core and lift your pelvis as high as possible
  3. Repeat

Note: skip to 3:35 to see the torso lifts.

9. Scissor Kicks

This exercise is another step forward when compared to bicycle crunches. It’s even more challenging, and the key here is to hold in this movement as long as possible.

  1. Start in the starting position for leg raises
  2. With your legs straight, start doing the scissor kicks
  3. Make sure you lift your legs as high as possible and lower them as much as possible

Sample Captain’s Chair Ab Workouts

Here are the workouts for each strength level.

Beginner

Knee Raises – Until failure
Straight leg raises – until failure
Oblique raises – until failure

Intermediate

Straight leg raises – to failure
Single leg raises – to failure
Oblique twists – to failure
Straight leg hold – as long as possible

Advanced

Straight leg raises – failure
Bicycle crunches – failure
Scissor kicks – failure
Oblique twists – failure
Torso lifts – failure

You can repeat these movements for each strength level 2-3 times, and take only a few seconds of rest between each exercise, and up to 2 minutes of rest between sets.

Conclusion

With these captain’s chair exercises, you’ll be able to build a well-rounded core no matter your strength level.

This seemingly simple piece of equipment offers a lot of variation for working your core. Just follow the tips and the instructions for your exercises, but make sure you do them correctly first and then focus on increasing your rep range.

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