Maybe it started with a sideways glimpse in the mirror one morning. Or maybe it was that extra buckle hole you were forced to use with your belt that got you thinking. “It’s time for some ab exercises, starting with my lower abs,” you told yourself. “It’s time to whip those puppies in shape.”
Here’s the thing: There is no such muscle group called “lower abdominals.” There are in fact a series of muscles that make up your core including the rectus abdominis, a pair of parallel muscles that attach at your lower ribs and pubic bone and lie vertically on either side of your midline, and your obliques, which sit just outside the rectus abdominis on either side of your body. It is the lower end of these two pairs of muscles that you are probably referring to when you say “lower abs,” says Darin Hulslander, a certified functional strength and performance coach at This Is Performance in Chicago. “Your lower abs aren’t muscles themselves, but part of the larger group of muscles that make up your core,” he explains. “So you can’t really train your ‘lower abs’ without engaging other abdominal muscles.”
Flip that equation around, and almost any abdominal exercise you do will impact the lower area of your abs at least a little since they’re part of the larger unit. That said, there are some moves that emphasize the lower part of your core more than the upper, says Hulslander.
What might those be? “Pretty much any activity that involves bending at the hips — running, climbing stairs — will emphasize the lower area of your abs,” he says. “So as opposed to a crunch, where you’re firing the top part of your ab muscles first, a straight leg raise activates the lower part of those muscles.” Looking for more guidance? Start with the six moves, here.
The Ultimate “Lower Abs” Workouts
This 15-minute routine will engage your core with an emphasis on that elusive lower abdominal area. There’s no hard and fast rule about how often to flex these muscles, but Hulslander says to aim for three to four times a week, with three to four sets of 15-20 reps. Don’t worry about adding weights—“using your own body weight is usually enough,” he says. “Once 15 to 20 reps starts to feel easy, then you can try variations like squeezing a ball between your knees or feet while you do the move.”
Lie on your back, legs straight out in front of you, arms by your sides. Contract your abs and lift both feet off the ground together, keeping your lower back in contact with the floor. With straight legs, raise your feet until they point toward the ceiling. Slowly release legs back to the floor, keeping them straight.
Hanging Leg Raise
Stand beneath a pull-up bar, facing outward. Adjust the bar so that when you reach up and grab it in an overhand grip, your feet barely touch the floor. Keeping your arms and legs straight, engage your abs and hinge at the hips, raising your feet off the floor. Aim to get your legs parallel to the floor; release.
Lie on your back, legs straight and arms by your sides. Engage your core and begin to do a tradition sit-up. As you raise your torso off the floor, bend your right knee toward your chest and press your left elbow behind you. (The position you assume will mimic a sprinter at the start of a race.) Release and roll back down to the floor. Repeat on opposite side, bringing your left knee to your chest and pressing your right elbow behind you.
Start by lying on your back, arms by your sides, legs straight up the air. Engage your abs and hike your hips off the floor, pressing your feet skyward. Roll back to the start in a controlled fashion to complete one rep.
To do this move you will need a smooth surface, like a linoleum or wood floor, plus slider pads or hand towels to stand on (if your floor is extra-slippery, a basic pair of socks may work fine). Start by placing each foot on a slider, hip-width apart. Keeping your legs straight, bend at the hips and lean forward until your hands touch the floor. Walk your hands forward until your body forms a wide V-shape. Engage your core and pull your feet closer to your hands, narrowing the V-shape. Stop when you feel the stretch on your hamstrings. Press down into the sliders and slide your feet back to the wide V-shape start.
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet raised off the floor at 90 degrees. Raise both arms directly over your shoulders. Press your lower back into the floor and lower your right foot until toes just touch the floor; at the same time, reach your left arm straight back behind your head until your left hand almost touches the floor. Exhale and bring both arm and leg back to the starting position. Switch sides and repeat for one rep.