When people say that word “abs,” they’re actually referring to four separate muscles: the transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, and external and internal oblique muscles. While all four definitely deserve an invite to the core-work party, the bottom part of the rectus abdominis (often referred to as the “lower abs”) can be the hardest to engage during your sweaty reps. That’s why you need to add some lower ab exercises to your repertoire.
The rectus abdominis—which stretches between the ribs and the pubic bone at the front of the pelvis—helps your torso move freely. That means you feel good when you have to swivel around to grab something behind you or reach up to grab your oatmeal out of the pantry. The lower abs are perhaps the most fickle of the bunch, so to find out the best exercises for my lower abs, I surveyed the most notable trainers in my rolodex for moves you don’t want to miss.
Before I dive into their go-to moves, Nicholas Poulin, celebrity trainer and online coach at Poulin Health & Wellness, offers a word of caution around the importance of engaging your transverse abdominals—the muscle layer of your abdominal wall—during these exercises. “Your TVA is a vital muscle that acts as a stabilizer for the entire low back and core muscles; a weak TVA is often one of the many reasons people may experience low back pain,” he says. “Think about pulling your belly button in toward your spine and not pushing your stomach out when doing any ab exercise,” he says.
These are the best trainer-approved lower ab exercises you can do
1. Reverse Crunch
This one’s a classic, and there’s a reason it’s in every ab class ever—it works. This is also why both Poulin and Joan MacDonald, a Women’s Best Athlete and The Vitamin Shoppe ambassador, revere the move. “[To perform a reverse crunch], lie on your back, arms by your side with palms facing down to help create balance needed for the lift,” says Poulin. “Bend your knees at 90 degrees and lift your feet up, so your thighs are perpendicular to the floor.” Then, press into your palms and engage your core as you lift your hips off the floor and crunch your knees towards your chest. “The key is to contract the abs to lift the hips up,” says MacDonald. As a potential modification, she advises holding a medicine ball above your head (as opposed to placing the palms flat) to anchor the upper body.
To supercharge the move, Poulin suggests shooting your feet up toward the curling. “Hold the crunch at the top of the movement, then begin to lower your hips, controlling the descent and not letting your back arch off the ground,” he says.
2. Hanging leg raises
For this one, another of Poulin’s favorites, which Bryant Johnson, personal trainer and The Vitamin Shoppe wellness council expert, also recommends, begin with bent/angled knees. “All you have to do is think about driving your hips in front of your body and curling your pelvis towards your chest,” says Poulin. “It’s almost a circular motion rather than an up-and-down motion.”
If you don’t have a chin-up bar, Johnson says you can use an incline sit-up bench instead. “Adjust the setting to the highest point hang on with your head at the high point and then repeat the above movement,” he says.
3. Pike Plank
“My go-to move is a pike plank, on elbows, hands apart, NOT with fingers interlaced, lifting into pike and lowering to plank,” says LEKfit founder Lauren Kleban. “This move forces you to pull in and up from the lower core specifically.”
4. Leg Lifts
Los Angeles-based celebrity trainer Chase Weber prefers horizontal leg lifts. To do his version, lean back just past 90 degrees but short of 45, plant your fingertips on the floor on either side of your thighs, and lift your legs together from a few inches off the ground to 45 degrees. Lift and lower quickly in this manner for four sets of 25.
5. Rocking abs
Weber is also partial to see-saw exercises for targeting the lower abs. To do it, lay back with your arms and legs outstretched, then slightly lift your head and shoulders off the ground. Rock back and forth so that your legs lift, then your arms and shoulders lift, making sure not to lay fully back on the ground at any point. Repeat for 4 sets of 25.
Note: Weber prefers outstretched arms for this move.
6. Bosu ball abs
Another of Weber’s go-to lower ab exercises requires a Bosu ball. To start, sit in the center—or for a challenge, slightly forward—on the ball. Lean back and place your hands on either side of your hips. Bend your knees and pull them into your chest. Then, slowly lower them down until your heels touch the ground. Repeat for 4 sets of 25.
Note: Weber’s move is the last one demonstrated in this video. He prefers to move legs up and down rather than in and out to better reach your lower abs in this move, however.
7. Dead Bug
Fitness trainer Corey Phelps is a fan of this adorable-sounding (but fierce) lower ab exercise. “Lie face-up with arms extended toward the ceiling and legs in a tabletop position (knees bent 90 degrees and stacked over your hips),” she says. “Slowly extend your right leg out straight, while simultaneously dropping your left arm overhead.” Keep both a few inches from the ground. “Squeeze your butt and keep your core engaged the entire time with your lower back pressed into the floor,” says Phelps. “Bring arm and leg back to the start position and repeat on the other side.”
8. Boat Pose
Another of Phelps’ favorite lower ab exercises is a classic boat pose. “Sit up straight with legs bent, feet flat on the floor. Keep the legs together and slowly lift them off the floor until they form a 45-degree angle to the torso. Engage the entire core, keep the back flat, and balance on the tailbone,” she says. Keep your knees bent or, for more of a challenge, extend your legs. “Reach the arms straight out in front, parallel to the floor. Place your hands on the floor underneath your hips if you need extra support. Hold for 60 seconds and repeat.”
For this move, another of Phelps’ favorite lower ab exercises, you’ll need a set of gliders, though towels can work, too. “Put your toes on a set of gliders or towels and then get into a forearm plank, forearms on the floor, elbows directly underneath your shoulders, hands facing forward so that your arms are parallel, and legs extended behind you,” she says. “Tuck your tailbone and engage your core, glutes, and quads. Slowly push with the forearms and elbows to slide the gliders or towels back toward the wall behind you.” The key is to move as far as you can without losing core engagement. “Don’t let your hips dip down creating an arch in the back,” she advises. Slowly pull with your arms and elbows to return to the starting position. That counts as one rep.
Short on time? Try Ash Wilking’s 6-minute punch to the gut:
This story was originally published on March 4, 2020; updated on October 8, 2020.
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