You've been religiously incorporating abs exercises into your gym sessions 😇
In fact, even dedicated a day of training to your core. But, three months of core-busting crunches later, and… Your lower abs are still non-existent. What gives? Don't worry – there's nothing wrong with you; the lower abs region is generally one of the most stubborn fat-storage places in the body for many people.
Nonetheless, there are lifestyle and training changes you can make to achieve the sexy, well-defined six-pack (not four!) you've been lusting over.
Aren’t the upper and lower abs one single muscle?
Now, before we deep-dive into how you can – finally – meet your lower abs, it’s critical to address a common misconception. Many believe that the upper and lower abs are just one muscle and that the lower abs cannot be selectively targeted.
But research done by Bret Contreras shows that this belief is wrong. Different nerves innervate the upper and lower abs – this, therefore, means that they can indeed be selectively activated. Myth busted!
How to see your lower abs
You might not believe me, but you already have lower abs muscles – they're just hidden underneath the layer of fat around your mid-section. So, following that line of reasoning, if you were to lose the excess abdominal fat, you'd be able to reveal your lower abs! It's as simple as that, I promise.
And how to lose the fat, you ask? Well, here's an excellent place for me to let you know that you can't spot-reduce – you cannot merely exercise the abdominal muscles to lose weight around the midsection. Instead, you'd need to incorporate lifestyle changes (such as dieting, cardiovascular exercise, and strength training) to drop overall body fat percentage.
Ultimately, the adage is true: your abs are made in the kitchen. Yes, unfortunately, that includes your lower abs. Check out our previous article on how you can get lean through proper dieting – it could help you out.
How to target the lower abs
While overall lifestyle changes, such as nutrition, plays a significant role in revealing your lower abs muscles, you can still prioritize and develop the region, so it becomes more visible – even at a higher body fat percentage.
Remember that different nerves innervate the upper and lower abs? Well, this is where that knowledge comes into play: you can selectively emphasize the training of your upper or lower abs based on the core exercise you choose.
And according to EMG findings, here’s how your abs respond to the two primary core exercises available:
· Upper abs – Most activated by top-down exercises that involve the bringing of the shoulders toward the hips, such as the crunches.
· Lower abs – Most activated by bottom-up exercises that involve the bringing of the hips toward the shoulders, such as leg raises.
Best exercises to target the lower abs
Fantastic – I hope it's now clear to you why you didn't see any lower abs results despite all the crunches you did. It's because you were primarily training your upper abs!
So, which are some of the best, bottom-up exercises you should start doing immediately?
Well, here are two of the most well-known bottom-up core exercises – along with the mistakes you need to avoid – that can help fast-track your lower abs progression.
You can think of the reverse crunches as the opposite of traditional crunches. And while this exercise might look easy, it can work your lower abs in just two sets!
Try it out; you won't be disappointed. Here's how you can perform the reverse crunches:
1. Lie on a flat bench, or the floor, with your hands under your lower back.
2. Maintain a (roughly) 90 degrees bend in your knees and raise them, so they're 2 – 4 inches off your choice of platform.
3. Lift your pelvis off the bench, or the ground, by thinking about raising and curling it towards your belly button.
4. Slowly lower back down to the starting point. This is one rep. Repeat for as many reps as you desire.
Don’t make the all-too-common mistake of aimlessly swinging your legs up and down during the movement; this only shifts the tension toward your hip flexors, and you wouldn't be able to work your lower abs sufficiently.
Instead, you should always maintain a posterior pelvic tilt throughout the movement by squeezing your glutes and contracting your abs at the same time.
Hanging leg raises
The hanging leg raise is a must-do exercise when it comes to the development of your lower abs. That's because, according to EMG analyses (from T Nation and Suppversity), it elicits the highest abs activation in comparison to other abs exercises. Now, you know what to do when you’re pressed for time on lower abs day! Here’s how you can perform the exercise:
1. Start by hanging onto a bar.
2. Think about raising the pelvis and curving it toward your belly button as much as possible – you’ll find that your legs will be brought up as well.
Many people swing their legs up and down during the movement, converting the hanging leg raises into a hip-flexor dominant exercise. To truly work your lower abs, make sure to always move into a posterior pelvic tilt before initiating the movement. This allows you to build that crucial mind-muscle connection.
Ultimately, if you want to make your lower abs pop, you'd need to take care of two things. The first is your overall body fat percentage (general nutrition and protein supplementation), and the second, the development of your lower abs muscles through the appropriate bottom-up abs exercises. And remember, these two will take time, so don't be discouraged if you don't see your lower abs after a few weeks. Hang in there – they'll eventually surface!
In the meantime, keep training hard with GymStreak’s app. With it, you’ll feel like you’re carrying a smart, tailored personal trainer on-the-go – right in your pockets, everywhere you go. Don’t have GymStreak on your phone yet? Download it today! It’s time for unparalleled gains.
Contreras, B. (2010, November 18). ABC (Ask Bret Contreras) – Is it Possible to Isolate the Upper or Lower Abs? Retrieved October 5, 2019, from Bret Contreras website: https://bretcontreras.com/abc-ask-bret-contreras-is-it-possible-to-isolate-the-upper-o-lower-abs/
Nation, B. C., T. (n.d.). Inside the Muscles: Best Ab Exercises. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from T NATION website: https://www.t-nation.com/training/inside-the-muscles-best-ab-exercises
Sarti, M. A., Monfort, M., Fuster, M. A., & Villaplana, L. A. (1996). Muscle activity in upper and lower rectus abdominus during abdominal exercises. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 77(12), 1293–1297. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0003-9993(96)90195-1
SuppVersity EMG Series - Rectus Abdominis, Obliques and Erector Spinae: The Very Best Exercises For Sixpack Abs and a Powerful Midsection - SuppVersity: Nutrition and Exercise Science for Everyone. (2011, July 28). Retrieved October 5, 2019, from SuppVersity EMG Series—Rectus Abdominis, Obliques and Erector Spinae website: https://suppversity.blogspot.com/2011/07/suppversity-emg-series-rectus-abdominis.html