While it is probably most effective to target the abs as a whole, it is possible to independently work the upper and lower abdominal muscles.1 And, for certain goals, it makes sense to fit in some exercises that only work your lower abdominals.
Lower abs strength may translate into more stability in forward-bending motion and more support. They assist in your breathing, posture, and balance too,2 which are all good reasons to make sure to give them some love.
Best Lower Abs Exercise #1: Hanging Abs Raises
While it is technically possible to target your lower abs as this research study shows, many exercisers may have trouble actually doing it, as this slightly more recent but still old research report suggests. With that said, I’m a fan of abs exercises that activate the entire abs complex. Hanging abs raises – either using straps, or hanging from a bar – are particularly effective, especially if you can get your legs high enough to pull your pelvis upward.
I also think structural exercises like front squats can help recruit the entire abs complex along with deep core musculature. In terms of abs definition, abs exercises in general will have little to no effect, the only option is losing more body fat with better nutrition so you can see your abs. It’s easy psychologically to believe that an abs exercise will increase definition, but it has little impact.
– Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT
Best Lower Abs Exercise #2: Overall Focus
While it might be possible to target your lower abs, you’re not going to see them if all the other aspects of your workout program aren’t dialed in. I think the ideal abdominal definition is a product of nutrition, a solid exercise program, and good posture.
If you’re determined to try out an exercise to target the lower abs, I would recommend either leg raises, which have multiple forms you can choose like declining or hanging, or the dead bug as core exercises to strengthen those muscles.
Best Lower Abs Exercises #3: Dead-Bugs
I still think that the best way to make your abs more defined is in the kitchen with the actual exercises coming in secondarily.
With that said, I think the ability to activate the lower abs depends on how active a person is and how familiar they are with activating their lower abs musculature. Something as simple as dead-bugs, where the person goes into posterior pelvic tilt, can help to activate lower musculature, while doing an isometric contraction with leg raises where the descent is controlled. The leg raises can be done on the ground, on a decline bench, roman chair or hanging leg raises, with that progression being the progression from easiest to hardest.
– John Levya, CSCS, CPT
Best Lower Abs Exercise #4: Reverse Crunches
The best exercise to make your lower abs defined is table push-aways. Seriously, if you want more definition you must train your diet!
All kidding aside, if you want to focus on strengthening your lower abs one of the best exercises are reverse crunches where you squeeze a foam roller between your heels and your butt. The foam roller serves to help you to maintain a neutral lumbar spine to protect your back and in turn will for you to use your lower abs more efficiently.
Start by lying on the ground with something to hold onto behind your head such as a heavy weight, pole, or object. Your elbows should be positioned right over your head. With the foam roller pinned between your heels and your butt, use your lower abs to bring your knees to your elbows and slowly back to start. Repeat for 10-12 reps.
– Stephen Bergeron, CSCS, CPT
Best Lower Abs Exercise #5: Improve Pelvic Alignment
As others in this column would agree, targeted fat loss through specific exercise doesn’t work, and a balanced diet is king of the abs. For those who are already balancing nutrition, training and sleep, or who already have a relatively low body fat percentage, but still don’t have lower ab definition, the limiting issue could be their lumbo-pelvic alignment, not their exercise selection.
Many of us get stuck in an anterior pelvic tilt (APT) and sway-back, which can often make even the thinnest person look like they have a protruding belly. In this alignment, the rectus abdominis (6 pack ab muscle) is not in a mechanically advantageous position to activate, even if you do 10,000 hanging leg raises (you might just be tightening up your hip flexors…). If you are stuck in an APT, work on improving your alignment first, and the exercises that target the lower rectus abdominis might actually start to hit it. My favourite exercise to get me out of my APT is the 90/90 hip lift with deep breathing, and focusing on using my lower abdominals to tuck my pelvis slightly under.
– Monika Volkmar, Owner/Founder of The Dance Training Project
- Sarti MA, Monfort M, Fuster MA, Villaplana LA. Muscle Activity In Upper and Lower Rectus Abdominus During Abdominal Exercises. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. Dec 1996. 77(12): 1293-7. ↩
- The Abs: More Important Than You Think. Boxing Scene. 2006. ↩