15 Lower Ab Exercises That Actually Work, According to Personal Trainers

Photo: Stocksy / Jacob Lund
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 most difficult to engage during your sweaty reps.

"Your lower ab muscles are for sure the hardest muscles to target in your core work," Javi Perez, a Miami and New York City-based fitness trainer, previously told Well+Good. Why so squirrelly? "They're the hardest to access because our hip flexors often take over." Essentially, we let our bigger, stronger hip flexors do the work when the muscles we really want for the job are the rectus abdominis muscles.

Experts In This Article

Which is why you need to add some easy lower ab exercises to your repertoire.

Why is it important to strengthen your lower abs?

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.

They help with overall stability and strength, too. "The core muscles are super important because they help stabilize our low back and pelvis, and they help us feel strong, stable, and supported," pilates instructor Chloe de Winter says in her lower ab workout video.

A bonus? Apparently, lower ab strength can even make sex better. Lower ab strength also fortifies your pelvic floor muscles, which are responsible for contracting during an orgasm. Strong abs and stronger orgasms? Now that's a win-win.

Tips for lower ab exercises

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. Essentially, you have to consciously activate your core in order to get the most out of lower ab exercises. "Think about pulling your belly button in toward your spine and not pushing your stomach out when doing any ab exercise," he says.

That’s just one of a few tips worth keeping in mind while working out your lower abs. You’ll also want to move cautiously with safety considerations in mind—particularly in terms of neck pain and how often you should actually perform lower ab exercises. 

What risks or safety considerations should you be aware of when doing lower ab exercises?

As Poulin touched on, proper form is key when performing and hoping to get the most out of lower ab exercises (and any exercise, for that matter).

It goes beyond simply engaging your core, though. “When executing lower abdominal exercises, our lower back (lumbar region) naturally wants to arch due to the contraction,” says Les Mills presenter Dan Maroun. “It’s imperative we fight this by bracing the belly tight, while actively imagining ourselves pushing the lower back towards the floor. This creates a counteractive force against the pull of the lower abdominals. It’s also a great way to add lower back muscular conditioning into your daily routine.”

In addition to being mindful of your lower back, certified personal trainer and the creator of Stronger in September, Bianca Vesco, says that you want to be aware of the other stronger muscles in your body that may try to take over lower ab movements. “Targeting the lower abs can be super challenging if you’re not being intentional with your movements,” she explains. “Your quads and hip flexors are typically much stronger than the lower abs and if you’re doing an exercise too fast with zero control, there’s a very high chance your hip flexors will take most of the work for you which doesn’t always feel so great over time.”

Because of this, Vesco says it’s important to ease into incorporating lower ab exercises into your routine. “Move slowly, make sure you’re not holding tension in your neck and jaw, and focus on the breath,” she says.

One more thing? Warm up your abs before actively working them out.

“When activating your abdominals, it's important to raise the temperature of the body and begin to ‘turn on’ the muscles you'll be using in these exercises,” says Erin DeGroot, CPT and Digital Fitness Development Manager at Orangetheory Fitness. “Start with the drawing-in maneuver, which will help develop core stabilization and support from the deep abdominal muscles.” To do so, she says to lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. “From a neutral spine, take a breath in and while breathing out, draw your navel toward your spine to ‘hollow out’ your lower abdominals.” After taking a few breaths in this posture, DeGroot recommends working through a series of cat/cows and bird dogs (more on those in a bit) to further ease your lower abs into a full workout.

How can I prevent neck strain while doing lower ab exercises?

The best way to prevent neck strain during lower ab exercises is to opt for movements where you can rest your head on the ground. “Most of us carry a lot of tension in our upper traps, neck, and shoulder areas and we certainly don’t want to do things that increase that tension,” Vesco says. “If you are doing something without your head supported, focus on keeping your shoulders away from your ears, breathing deep, and keeping your throat open.” Not sure you’re holding tension in your neck and jaw? “I have a little trick for myself and clients when I feel like I’m holding tension in my jaw and it's just to click your tongue on the roof of your mouth and open your jaw a bit,” Vesco shares. “It’s a nice reminder to relaaaaaax.”

Now, if you think keeping your head on the ground will impede your lower ab strength progress, think again. “Lower abdominal exercises need hip rotation, so movement from the thoracic region and up isn’t necessary when training this section,” Maroun assures us.

How often should I perform lower ab exercises?

As with any muscle group, it’s important to not overwork your lower abs—they need time to rest and repair. That said, don’t let days off distract you from the bigger picture. “You will see results even if you're performing these exercises a few times a week,” DeGroot says. “Remember, these variables will all depend on your specific training goals and current strength level. When starting out, aim to perform these exercises every other day, incorporated with your current exercise regimen. Since you can’t truly separate lower and upper abs when training, focus on exercises that target the entire core, so you reap the many benefits such as core strength, lower back health, and improvements to how you move overall.”

If you choose to incorporate lower ab exercises outside of your overall workout for a little added boost, Vesco says to be mindful of the minutes. “If you are setting aside lower ab workouts that are more than 10 minutes of isolated core work, remember that your abs will need time to recover like the rest of your muscles so try not to overdo it and always give yourself a rest day,” she reminds us. That said, she recommends adding a few core exercises programmed into what you’re already doing—as opposed to standalone mini sweat seshes.

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’s a crunch for lower abs that works. This is also why both Poulin and Joan MacDonald, a Women’s Best Athlete and The Vitamin Shoppe ambassador, revere the move.

How to Perform a Reverse Crunch

  1. Lie on your back with your arms by your side with palms facing down.
  2. Bend your knees at 90 degrees and lift your feet up, so your thighs are perpendicular to the floor.
  3. Press into your palms and engage your core as you lift your hips off the floor and crunch your knees towards your chest.
  4. Perform two to three sets of 10 to 12 reps.

"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. L Sit-Up

Rather than lifting your legs up (which is particularly popular for targeting the lower abs), Vesco suggests anchoring them to the ground while keeping them straight and lifting your torso.

How to Perform an L-Sit-Up

  1. Lie face up on your back with your legs straight on the floor.
  2. Slowly roll yourself up into a seated position with a neutral spine.
  3. Roll yourself back down, again maintaining a neutral spine.
  4. Repeat the movement for 10 to 12 reps or set a timer for one minute.

“The slower you move the more challenging it will be,” Vesco says.

3. Butterfly Sit-Up

Work on your lower abs along with your hips, hip flexors, and inner thighs with this easy lower ab exercise, recommended by Vesco.

How to Perform a Butterfly Sit-Up

  1. Lie face up on your back with your feet together and knees apart.
  2. Slowly roll yourself up into a seated position with a neutral spine.
  3. Roll yourself back down.
  4. Repeat the movement for 10 to 12 reps or set a timer for one minute.

4. Hanging leg raises

Here we have another of Poulin's favorites, not to mention one that Bryant Johnson, personal trainer and The Vitamin Shoppe wellness council expert, also recommends.

How to Perform Hanging Leg Raises

  1. Approach the pull-up/dip station equipment.
  2. With your back against the padded back rest and a steady grip on the dip handles, or hanging with straight arms, bend your knees up toward your chest.
  3. Slowly lift your knees toward your chest then lower them back down.
  4. Perform a few sets of 10 to 12 reps or one set of higher reps.

"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.

5. Pike Plank

Planks target your entire core, but adding in a pike helps to further home in on the lower abs. That’s why LEKfit founder Lauren Kleban considers it her go-to. "This move forces you to pull in and up from the lower core specifically,” she says.

How to Perform a Pike Plank

  1. Start on your toes and elbows with hands apart—not with fingers interlaced.
  2. Lift your hips into a pike position before lowering back down to a plank.
  3. Perform pike planks for one minute, rest, and repeat.

6. High Plank Pull-Through

Another way to make a plank more lower ab specific? Vesco and DeGroot recommend adding a pull-through into the mix.

How to Perform a High Plank Pull-Through

  1. Start in a plank position with a dumbbell to the lower exterior of one hand.
  2. Reach under your body with the opposite hand and pull the dumbbell to the other side. “The key is to engage your core and keep your hips steady, avoiding rocking them side to side,” DeGroot says. “This anti-rotation will help stabilize and strengthen your abdominals.”
  3. Perform two to four sets of eight to 12 reps.

If performing plank pull-throughs on your hands and toes feels too challenging (or you notice your hips rocking too much), DeGroot says to lower your knees to build strength before eventually returning to full form over time.

7. Bear Crawl

Bear crawls work every part of the abs, but especially the lower abs, since they strengthen stabilization, DeGroot says.

How to Perform a Bear Crawl

  1. Start on your hands and knees, with your back flat and navel drawn in toward your spine.
  2. Tuck your toes under and hover your knees a few inches above the ground.
  3. Inch your opposite hand and opposite foot forward four steps, then walk them back to your starting position. That’s one rep.
  4. Perform two to three sets of five to eight reps per side.

“You can always set your knees down in between reps for more support but the lower you hover your knees while engaging your core, the more challenging this move will be,” DeGroot adds.

8. Horizontal Leg Lifts

One of the most popular lower ab exercises is the leg lift. Los Angeles-based celebrity trainer Chase Weber prefers horizontal leg lifts. To do his version, follow the steps below.

How to Perform Horizontal Leg Lifts

  1. Lean back just past 90 degrees but short of 45.
  2. Plant your fingertips on the floor on either side of your thighs.
  3. Lift your legs together from a few inches off the ground to 45 degrees.
  4. Lift and lower quickly in this manner for four sets of 25 reps.

9. Bicycle Crunches

“The Bicycle is a classic exercise and works with the rotational strength of your abdominals and hits not only the RA and TVA, but the Oblique muscles as well,” DeGroot says. For best results, follow her steps, below.

How to Perform Bicycle Crunches

  1. Start by lying flat on your back with your feet flat and knees bent.
  2. Place your hands behind your head (try not to interlace your fingers as it will only encourage you to pull your neck) and lift your shoulders slightly.
  3. Extend one leg long and rotate through your core to bring your opposite elbow towards your opposite knee. They don’t need to touch but the idea is to use your core muscles to perform the rotation. (If you’re a beginner, she says to keep your feet flat on the ground and pull one knee in at a time, lifting your chest to meet your knee.)
  4. Perform two to four sets of 10 to 16 reps.

10. Rocking abs

Weber is also partial to see-saw exercises for targeting the lower abs. Follow his instructions, below.

How to Perform Rocking Abs

  1. Lie back with your arms and legs outstretched.
  2. Slightly lift your head and shoulders off the ground.
  3. 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.
  4. Repeat for four sets of 25 reps.

Note: Weber prefers outstretched arms for this move.

11. Bosu Ball Abs

Adding a bosu ball to your ab exercise will force your lower abs to stabilize, making the exercise more challenging. As another of Weber's go-to lower ab exercises, he shares how to perform the movement, below.

How to Perform Bosu Ball Abs

  1. Sit in the center—or for a challenge, slightly forward—on the ball (or dome).
  2. Lean back and place your hands on either side of your hips.
  3. Bend your knees and pull them into your chest.
  4. Slowly lower your knees down until your heels touch the ground.
  5. Repeat for four sets of 25 reps.

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.

12. Dead Bug

Although the dead bug exercise may not feel particularly challenging, DeGroot, Vesco, and fitness trainer Corey Phelps are all fans of the oddly-named (but absolutely fierce) lower ab exercise.

How to Perform a Dead Bug

  1. Lie face-up with arms extended toward the ceiling and legs in a tabletop position (with knees bent 90 degrees and stacked over your hips).
  2. Slowly extend your right leg out straight, while simultaneously extending your left arm straight overhead. Keep both a few inches from the ground.
  3. Squeeze your butt and keep your core engaged the entire time with your lower back pressed into the floor.
  4. Bring your arm and leg back to the start position and repeat on the other side.
  5. Repeat two to four sets of 10 to 16 reps.

13. Boat Pose

Another of DeGroot’s and Phelps' favorite lower ab exercises is a classic boat pose.

How to Perform a Boat Pose

  1. Sit up straight with legs bent, feet flat on the floor.
  2. Keep the legs together and slowly lift them off the floor until they form a 45-degree angle to the torso. (You can keep them bent or extend them out for more of a challenge.)
  3. Engage the entire core, keep the back flat, and balance on the tailbone.
  4. Reach your arms straight out in front of you so that they’re parallel to the floor. (Place your hands on the floor underneath your hips if you need extra support.)
  5. Hold the position for 60 seconds and repeat.

14. Saw

For this move, another of Phelps' favorite lower ab exercises, you'll need a set of gliders, though towels can work, too. Below, she shares how to perform the challenging lower ab exercise.

How to Perform a Saw

  1. Put your toes on a set of gliders or towels and then get into a forearm plank, with your forearms on the floor, elbows directly underneath your shoulders, hands facing forward so that your arms are parallel, and legs extended behind you.
  2. Tuck your tailbone and engage your core, glutes, and quads.
  3. 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," Phelps advises.
  4. Slowly pull with your arms and elbows to return to the starting position. That counts as one rep.
  5. Perform two to three sets of 10 to 12 reps.

15. Tap, Tap, Tap

Perez's go-to lower ab exercise to hit the area? "I call it out as a 'tap, tap, tap,' or 'three taps out, three taps in,'" he says. You can check out his full explanation here, but here are the highlights:

How to Perform a Tap, Tap, Tap

  1. Start in a regular crunch position with your back on your mat, feet flat on the floor, and knees bent.
  2. Crunch up with your hands behind your head and stay in that position as you jump your heels out away from your butt.
  3. Jump both feet out at the same time, tapping your heels on the ground—three hops out, then hop them three times back into the starting position. "It's important when you lift your legs to keep your knees in front of you, and just do a little lift off of the ground as you tap out and tap in," says Perez. (You can keep your hands behind your head and shoulders off of the ground, or you can modify it with either your head down or your arms down by your side for extra support.)
  4. Perform one to two sets of eight to 10 reps.

Keep in Mind

As helpful as it is to know specific lower ab exercises, Vesco reminds us that any exercise can be a core exercise when performed correctly. “Especially a heavy lift,” she says. “I am a big fan of working smarter not harder and would prefer to target the core in its entirety, rather than just focus on a small part of it.

“Your core wraps around your entire trunk and it’s very important to have a functional and strong core overall since that’s what protects us and helps carry us through life with balance and stability,” Vesco continues. “I use the term ‘show muscles vs go muscles’ often meaning you can do 100000 crunches a day and maybe get a 6-pack (show muscles) but not have much strength that translates to real life so it’s sort of pointless unless aesthetics are your only goal. ‘Go muscles’ come from lifting, planking, twisting, holding, etc.—and those are the muscles that help you lift your couch to clean under it and carry your kid safely up and down the stairs.”

Short on time? Try These Full Lower Ab Workouts:


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