Lower Ab Workouts – A Waste of Time?

Lower ab workouts are often the subject of infomercials trying to sell you fat burning gizmos such as the Self Electrocution Belt ™ and the Low Back Killer Swing™. On a more serious note, what we often see on TV in those commercial breaks is a successful attempt to give people what they want.

We want to burn the fat around our bellies. We want it easy and we want it fast. So the marketing geniuses brainstorm and come up with an idea that *seems* to work the lower ab region. Then they get sweaty and fit fitness models to demonstrate the gadget and flex their six pack abs – and this is where the scam happens.

The Lower Six Pack Abs Myth

There are two people who ask for a lower ab workout. The first kind want to know how to burn off body fat specifically from the region below their belly button. If you’ve been reading fitness sites on the internet for any length of time, you already know that generally you burn off the excess energy from your whole body.

If you compare all your body fat storage areas to a fish tank, you’ll understand why you can’t just lose weight from one place (is it possible to empty just the bottom half of a fish tank?). The second question I get asked is by people who are sort of lean and want the bottom 2 or 4 parts of their six pack abs to ‘pop.’

There Are No Lower Abs!

So the general answer that most Joe Blow type of ‘gym instructor’ trainers give is that if you want the bottom ‘buttons’ of the six pack (or eight pack) to come out, you need to do some type of reverse crunch move. Lift your lower body towards the chest bone.

While the movement they prescribe is the right one, you can’t actually make the bottom half of a muscle grow, without it growing as a whole. The six pack abs are in actuality one muscle – the rectus abdominis.

There Are Lower Abs!

At this point the new wave, functional training coaches slam the old school gym instructor bodybuilders for thinking it was possible to train the ‘lower abs’. You just can’t isolate a muscle portion in this way. Right?

Turns out however, both groups were right and wrong at the same time. While you can’t train or isolate the bottom half of the six pack only, you can stimulate the v-shaped muscle that fitness models and life guards are famous for – the internal oblique muscle. If you insist on calling a muscle with the name ‘lower abs’, I suggest picking the internal obliques.

How To Train The “Lower Abs”

Any type of training that either stabilizes the abdominal wall or dynamically engages it, will train those muscles (as well as all the rest).

Stabilization Training

Here are a bunch of exercises that train your whole abdominal region, “lower abs” included, through stabilization. This means that the movement forces you to maintain a rigid torso – with no movement of the spine (especially in the lower back region). This type of stabilization is best explained when you imagine bracing for a punch in the stomach.

Dynamic Training

Dynamic training for the abs can mean maintaining tension while rotating your body – imagine the movement of a boxer delivering a punch, or you turning around while sitting in your chair. A great exercise for this movement is the Full Contact Twist.

The other type of movement is flexion – shortening the distance between the hips and the chest. A great choice is the hanging leg raise which is shown in the video below.

Evolution of Hanging Leg Raises Video

Here is a video we shot, showing a progression for the hanging leg raises. When performed correctly, this can be one of the best exercises for the abdominal muscles, and for the lower abs in particular.

The important thing to note is that you don’t want to just lift your knees or legs. This is useless and only works the hip flexors – the muscles on the top of the thigh that lift your leg.

What you want to do is actually rotate your pelvis forward. This curling motion will shorten the distance between the hip bones and the chest and thus work all the abdominal muscles. So think of initiating the move with an abdominal contraction and lifting/rotating of the pelvis up. Then proceed with lifting the legs.

A good training scheme is to do the leg raises 3x per week for high reps (20-30). Once you get good at the easiest version – the knee raises, switch to bent leg raises, and then to straight leg raises.

So which road are you on? Are there lower six pack abs or aren’t there?

13 thoughts on “Lower Ab Workouts – A Waste of Time?”

  1. Nice post, this is exactly what I am trying to do, I have a six back but the bottom of my abs are far from as nice as my upper part of my abs. So good post and it helps

  2. Yavor,
    Nice to see someone else calling BS on all the abs-centered exercise regimens. A lot of the “big lifts” like deadlifts, presses, and pull ups engage your abs much more than people realize. I’ll throw in some planks and L-sits from time to time to mix it up.

  3. I’m definitely a believer in using compound movements to train the entire abdominal region like you talk about with “Stabilization Training”

    Last summer I did nothing but planks and hanging leg raises to directly target abs, and relied mainly on compound movements like “Thrusters” and pull ups to build a strong core.

    It’s like people trying to build bigger arms with nothing but bicep curls… when chinups are much more functional and effective.

  4. Nice Post! I always wondered about the lower abs. I have a definite top 4 showing but just can’t make the lower pop. I was putting it down to diet?.
    I find hanging legs hard. I do my best to stop any swinging momenteum but can’t. I try to squeeze at the top and hold but only for micro-seconds, everyone tells me it good stuff.
    Cool video.

  5. Matt,

    Keep doing what got you the 4-pack and soon you will have a six pack man. If you want it to be more prominent – increase strength and also do some higher rep work – 8-12 reps – to make it pop.

    Darrin,

    yeah man – stabilization works to engage the stomach muscles. However I DO believe there is place for direct training and that’s why I mention hanging leg raises.

    Craig,

    dude, if somebody wants to be in kickass shape, the easiest way is to find somebody who already is in kickass shape (like you)and do what they tell them to do. You def walk the walk man. Speaking of curls –check out the next post:
    http://relativestrengthadvantage.com/biceps-strength/

    Raymond,

    it’s diet plus more strength and size to make the muscle pop. Sounds like you are starting to feel the muscle work right on hanging leg raises.

    Cheers guys,

    Yavor

  6. MAN! Your site is packed with so much valuable information. Every time I stop by to check out a post I end up spending 30+ minutes on here.

  7. 1. Get strong in barbell squats, deadlifts, l-sits, hanging leg raises, planks.
    2. Lose body fat until the line is uncovered.

  8. Julius, in my experience generally it’s safe.

    However, if you have a history of lower back injuries, especially ones caused by loaded flexion in the lower back (picking something heavy while bending the lower back or doing leg presse and flexing the lower back), I wouldn’t do HLR’s.

    cheers,

    Yavor

  9. Excellent post!!!
    I have been following your blog for a while and one thing is for certain- for best explanation of exercises…I don’t think there is a better source. Thanks for the videos as well!

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