The Top 3 Lower Ab Exercises
Written By: John Sifferman, NSCA-CPT
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What are the best lower ab exercises?
-Angie from Alexandria, VA
This is a very common question since the abs are one of the most frustrating sections of the body to develop. The truth is that good abdominal definition usually isn’t an issue of muscular development at all, it’s more of an issue of body fat levels. The lower abs seem to be a ‘holding cell’ for that last bit of stubborn body fat that just won’t come off easily. You see, if you have body fat covering your lower abs, it doesn’t matter how well defined they are from exercise – you just won’t see them underneath the layer of fat.
I like using a swimming pool analogy when explaining the process of getting your lower abs to show. No matter what you do, you can’t drain the deep end of the swimming pool before the shallow end. It’s the same with losing bodyfat. The lower abs are usually equated with the “deep end” of the swimming pool, meaning that it’s the last place the fat will be lost. You’ll need to get pretty lean for your lower ab definition to stand out, and it often means shedding fat in other areas first (the shallow end of the pool).
So, the first take home message is that you can’t use physical training as the only method for revealing a slim and trim waistline. It really comes down to losing body fat, which you do through strength training, cardiovascular training, and a lifestyle-based nutrition plan such as the one outlined in the Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle system.
With that said, there are many exercises that are most effective for developing a strong core and especially the lower abs. I prefer exercises that integrate the entire body since you’ll get a better total training effect. So, here are 3 of my favorite exercises that will help define your lower abs…
John’s Top 3 Lower Ab Exercises
Planks – This exercise is good for integrating the entire core, training all of the muscles of the abdominals, lower back, and more.
- Start on your hands and knees on the floor as if you were about to do a pushup. Lower yourself down to your elbows so that most of your weight is resting on the back side of your forearms (you should be able to give a “thumbs up” sign with your fists on the ground). Then, place your feet behind you as if in a pushup position, resting on the balls of your feet. Your body should form a straight line, with no sag or elevation of the hips. This is your starting position.
- The key points of this exercise are to activate your abdominal muscles to “get tight” and also pull your belly button towards your spine. Do not suck in your belly, but rather contract your abs to force it to tighten up. There are two counterpoints to focus on when doing this exercise. First, press your heels back behind you, which will lock your knees and straighten your legs. Second, you’ll want to “pack” your shoulders down onto your ribcage to prevent your shoulders from lifting up or rolling backwards. All of this is done to help you keep a “long and strong” spine position.
- Hold this position as long as you can while maintaining good form. Keep exhaling to help with the abdominal contraction.
- Perform 1-3 sets and try to hold the position for a longer duration each session.
- When you can perform this exercise for more than 1-2 minutes at a time, you can increase the difficulty by lifting one foot slightly off the ground. This will place a much stronger emphasis on your lower abs, along with the planted leg. Alternate planted legs between sets.
Reverse Crunches – Another great core exercise, this one focuses on integrating your exhalation with the contraction of your lower ab muscles. The more you can exhale, the more you’ll be able to tap into your lower ab strength. The most important tip to keep in mind is that as your lungs get compressed by the movement, allow the air to be squeezed out of your lungs.
- Start by laying flat on your back, with your legs straight and hands at your sides. Slightly tuck your tailbone underneath you to help you get a flat lower back. This is your starting position.
- Exhale your breath out of your lungs while simultaneously lifting your legs up towards the sky, bending your knees. Continue to lift until your glutes rise off of the ground and try to bring your thighs to your belly and your knees towards your head.
- If your strength and mobility allow, continue to exhale, and bring your knees to the sides of your head and press your legs backwards behind you as far as you can. This will require a full exhale.
- Once you’ve exhaled completely and cannot reach any further back with your legs, slowly allow them to track back to the original starting position, lowering one vertebrae of your spine down at a time. The key here is controlling the movement, and not allowing momentum to roll you forward.
- Perform 1-3 sets for 10-20 slow repetitions.
Hanging Knee/Leg Raises – This is an advanced lower abs exercise that requires something that you can hang from, such as a pullup bar.
- Begin by holding onto an overhead bar and hanging loosely in the air. Actively pack your shoulders down onto your ribcage so that your shoulders are not elevated up near your ears. It will feel like a strong muscular contraction to get your shoulders down, much like the start of a pullup. If you’re facing a mirror, you should see little “diamonds” of air between your arms and neck. This is your starting position.
- Exhale and slowly lift your legs up in the air in front of you, folding at the hips. Try to time the depth of your exhale with how high you lift your legs. The higher you lift, the more you exhale. If your strength levels allow, do these with straight legs. If not, simply bring your thighs up to your belly until you can practice with extended legs.
- Once your legs are as high as you can lift them, pause for a moment to regain control of the movement. You should have very little or no air in your lungs.
- Then, allow your legs to lower under control until you are hanging again. Do not swing up or down, as this will negate the effects on the lower abs.
- Perform 1-3 sets for 10-20 slow repetitions.
If you perform these lower ab exercises twice a week for 4-8 weeks, you will build a solid foundation of lower abdominal strength and functionality – along with overall core strength. Of course, these exercises will build the muscles and make them look better, but your other lifestyle habits will play a much bigger role in whether or not you can actually see that abdominal definition. Work on losing the bodyfat to reveal the hard work you’ve been doing!
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