Lower Ab Workouts – A Waste of Time?

Ab Muscle diagram

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?