Captain’s Chair Exercise: Variations & Progressive Intensity Levels

Welcome aboard, fitness enthusiasts! If you’re tired of the same old workout routine and seeking a fresh challenge, you’re in for a treat. 

In this article, we’ll dive deep into the world of the “Captain’s Chair” exercise, exploring its variations and progressive intensity levels. Whether you’re a beginner looking to strengthen your core or a seasoned gym-goer aiming to take your fitness to the next level, we’ve got you covered. 

Join us as we unravel the secrets of this versatile exercise and guide you through a journey of increasing difficulty, helping you sculpt a stronger, more resilient body. Let’s set sail on this fitness adventure!

What Exactly Is The “Captain’s Chair” Exercise?

The captain’s chair exercise is a powerful and effective core-strengthening workout that exercises different core and upper body muscles. It involves the use of gym equipment called the captain’s chair, which resembles a tall chair with armrests and a backrest but no seat. To perform captain’s chair exercises, you place your arms on the armrests and support your body weight, keeping your core engaged.

If you are a beginner, you can start with simple exercise variations to get a hang of this gym equipment. As you progress, you can challenge your core muscles further by performing more exercise variations to increase the workout difficulty.

What Are The Different Muscles Targeted By The Captain’s Chair Exercise?

Captain’s chair exercises are exceptional for honing and strengthening various muscle groups, making them a staple in any ab workout routine. They primarily target the abdominal muscles, particularly the rectus abdominis, which runs down the front of your abdomen and is responsible for that coveted six-pack appearance.

Furthermore, these core exercises engage the external obliques situated on the sides of your abdomen. This engagement not only sculpts the front of your midsection but also helps define your waistline.

These exercises also heavily involve the abdominal hip flexors, which play a crucial role in stabilising and flexing the hip joint. By continually engaging your core throughout a captain’s chair workout, you enhance core strength, leading to improved posture and reduced risk of lower back pain.

Captain’s chair exercises are exemplary isolation exercises that zone in on all of these muscle groups. So, if you’re seeking to exercise harder and boost your core strength, the captain’s chair is your go-to fitness companion.

Captain’s Chair Exercise Progression

It is crucial to follow a steady workout progression with the captain’s chair. Thanks to the different variations of this exercise, you can initially begin with simple exercises. And once you master them, you can move on to intermediate and advanced-level workouts.

A. Beginner Captain’s Chair Exercises

For beginners, captain’s chair exercises offer a range of variations to kickstart their core workout.

1. Knee Raise

Begin in the starting position, hanging from the pull-up bar with your legs hanging freely. Engage your core ensuring that your abdominal hip flexors are actively involved. With a slight bend in your knees, raise them toward your chest. 

This controlled motion targets the rectus abdominis and the external obliques, initiating your core exercise journey. Slowly lower your legs back to the starting position to complete one repetition. The knee raise is a simple yet effective exercise that lays the foundation for more challenging captain’s chair variations.

2. Leg Raise 

Similar to knee raises, begin in the hanging leg position, keeping your core engaged. However, in this exercise, your legs remain straight without any bends. You have to slowly raise your legs toward the ceiling and hold it for a couple of seconds. After that, slowly lower your legs back down, under control, to maximise the benefits. 

Leg raises are an excellent progression to strengthen your core further and work on your core strength. This variation intensifies the engagement of the rectus abdominis while also involving the lower abdominal muscles. 

3. Leg Hold

To perform the leg hold, start by hanging from the pull-up bar with your legs straight, forming a 90-degree angle with your upper body. Engage your core and lower abdominal muscles to maintain this position for 5-13 seconds. This isolation exercise challenges your abdominal muscles and improves their endurance. 

As you hold your legs steady, remember to breathe steadily and maintain proper form. The leg hold may seem like a simple exercise, but it plays a crucial role in developing core stability and control.

B. Intermediate Captain’s Chair Exercises

Moving on to intermediate-level captain’s chair exercise variations, these will challenge your core and enhance your abdominal strength:

1. Alternating Side Leg Raise

Begin by hanging from the pull-up bar, ensuring your legs hang freely. This exercise targets the external obliques and the entire core. Lift your left leg, keeping it straight, as high as comfortably possible while maintaining control. Lower it slowly and repeat with your right leg. 

This dynamic movement engages the core’s side muscles and helps sculpt your obliques, providing a refreshing twist to your captain’s chair leg raise exercise routine.

2. Side Knee Raise

Hang with your legs freely suspended, and this time, bend your knees at a 90-degree angle. Engage your core as you raise your left knee towards your left elbow, then slowly lower it. Alternate sides and repeat the process to perform multiple reps. Side knee raises emphasise the oblique muscles and enhance core stability.

3. Bicycle Crunches

Combine the benefits of captain’s chair exercises with the classic bicycle crunch. Hang with your legs straight, then lift your knees towards your chest, engaging your core. 

At the same time, twist your torso, extend your right leg straight and bring your right elbow towards your left knee. Then, change sides in a fluid, bicycle-pedalling motion and perform more reps. This exercise provides an intense core workout, targeting both the rectus abdominis and oblique muscles.

C. Advanced Captain’s Chair Exercises

Venturing into the advanced realm of captain’s chair exercises, you’ll discover a new level of intensity and challenge to elevate your core workout:

1. Weighted Leg Raises

Once you have mastered the regular hanging leg raises, you can move on to weighted leg raises. It is a more challenging captain’s chair variation of the leg raise that adds extra weighted resistance to your workout. 

Secure ankle weights around your ankles and hang with your legs freely suspended. Engage your core, then lift your legs slowly, focusing on controlled movement. Lower them with precision. The added weight intensifies the workout, strengthening your abdominal muscles and enhancing core stability. Start with light weights and increase gradually for optimal results.

2. Single Leg Lifts

Suspended in the captain’s chair, keep one leg extended straight while the other leg hangs freely. Engage your core and lift your straight leg as high as possible while maintaining control. Slowly lower it and repeat for 6-10 reps per leg. This advanced variation isolates each side of your core, challenging balance and strength.

3. Criss-Cross

This advanced captain’s chair variation challenges your core and coordination. 

First, raise your legs until they reach about a 90-degree angle with a gap between them. Move both legs inward, allowing your right leg to pass over your left. Return both legs to their original positions and repeat the process. This time, let your left leg go above your right. Continue alternating at a steady pace, maintaining tension throughout. 

Criss Cross is one of the best exercises for engaging your core and oblique muscles intensely, making it a demanding addition to your workout routine.

4. Scissor Kicks

Scissor Kicks are a high-intensity version of leg raises. Start by raising your left leg to a 45-degree angle with your chest. Simultaneously, explosively push your right leg to the same position while lowering your left leg. Without pausing, maintain the pace and repeat for the desired effect. 

This exercise not only strengthens your core but also provides a rigorous cardio workout. That makes it an excellent choice for those seeking an intense challenge in their captain’s chair routine.

Captain’s Chair Exercise Tips

You should try following these tips to get the best results with the captain’s chair exercises:

1. Exercise Slowly And Maintain Proper Form

Perform each movement with deliberate and controlled motion to maximise the effectiveness of the exercise and reduce the risk of injury. Also, focus on keeping your back straight and shoulders relaxed to avoid straining your neck or back.

2. Breathe Consistently

Remember to breathe steadily and rhythmically throughout each repetition. Not breathing properly or holding your breath may have a negative impact on your body.

3. Watch For Common Errors

Be aware of a few common mistakes, such as using jerky movements, letting your legs drop too quickly, or using swinging momentum to lift your legs. Correcting these mistakes ensures you get the most out of your workout and reduces the risk of injury.


Captain’s chair exercises offer a versatile and effective way to strengthen your core and sculpt your abdominal muscles. 

Starting with beginner variations like knee raises and leg holds, you can gradually progress to intermediate exercises such as side knee raises and bicycle crunches. For daring fitness enthusiasts, advanced variations like weighted leg raises and scissor kicks provide the ultimate test of strength and endurance.

Remember, you need to maintain proper form and execute each movement slowly. That way, you’ll unlock the full potential of this remarkable exercise regimen. So, set sail on your fitness journey with captain’s chair exercises and witness the transformation of your core strength and abdominal definition.

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