Feeling a little extra belly bulge lately? A common misconception of athletes who look in the mirror and see unwanted belly fat is that they can just do a lower ab workout to burn it off. The truth is that our evolutionary process has made it quite impossible to do so. As humans we have evolved to carry our body fat in efficient places that would not interfere with our lifestyles. This is why women have evolved to carry excess fat in their hips and men in their bellies.
But the quest to train the lower abs to ‘burn the bulge’ and get back to a smaller belt size still persists. The good news is that there are some very valuable exercises that can help to develop the strength and power of those lower abs. This is because the hip flexors are a group of muscles that we as athletes need for stability and power. Our rectus abdominis connects with our hips in this region to assist in flexion, extension, and, in some ways, the rotation of the hips.
First, let’s dig into isometric exercises. In my world as an athletic coach and trainer, if my athletes do not possess the strength to stabilize the core and hips, then there is no use in trying to throw a bunch of exercises at them that may lead to injury in the long term.
The L Hang is one of the hardest exercises, but also one where you can test and retest to see objective changes in flexibility and strength throughout the hips and abs. All you will need is a pull-up bar and some mental grit.
How to Do The Lower Ab Workout
- Begin with a firm grip on the pull-up bar.
- Engage the upper back by pulling the shoulders down and away from the ears and squeeze the feet together.
- With the entire body tense, flex at the hip with the toes pointed and knees locked out.
- Bring the legs as high as possible without bending the knees and hold. The goal is to hold the legs at 90 degrees for at least 20 seconds, but this will take time, so start slow and keep working at it 3 times per week.
You should use this exercise in your warm ups every day. The Dead Bug isolates the lower abs and hip flexors. The Dead Bug also helps to teach your body correct posture and position so as to make all the exercises in your workout better. This exercise is one that takes practice, so work at it. I see it performed incorrectly often, so follow these steps to get it right.
How to Do It
- Begin in a supine position on the floor with the entire spine flat to the floor from the neck to the butt.
- Press the low back into the floor and ensure there is no gap between your back and the floor. I often take one hand and stick it in my low back to test the rigidity of my core.
- Flex at the hips and bring the legs up over the body. Keep the knees locked out and the toes pulled to the body. When the legs are extended, your friend or coach should be able to come over and set a cup of coffee on the bottom of your foot!
- Once the lower body is set, reach the arms overhead but ensure that the shoulders stay pinned to the floor.
- The goal is to hold an active Dead Bug position for 30 to 45 seconds without breaking. You will find that after just 10 seconds you will start to shake and your knees will want to start bending. Hold fast and fight to get the abs you want.
Dynamic Lower Ab Workout
Dynamic Abdominal Exercises can be incorporated into your daily workouts. I recommend doing some kind of core-specific work three times per week. This includes one day of holding an isometric position. For dynamic ab exercises you need to ensure that there is no slack in the legs, so keep the knees locked out and/or hips engaged.
My favorite bodyweight exercise is perfect for training stability, power, and speed through the lower abs and hips. This exercise builds off basic gymnastic principles and can be scaled easily.
How to Do It
- Begin in a supine position on the floor with the legs and arms extended .
- Engage the core like you did for the Dead Bug and press the lower back into the floor. This may pick the hips and shoulders off the floor slightly; that’s okay!
- In an active position, flex at the hips and reach the hands to the toes. Trying not to pivot on the butt, flex through the abs and hips to make this exercise challenging.
- Scale this exercise by prepping the same way, but upon performing the V Up, bend the knees at 90 degrees and reach for the feet. This will keep the low back on the floor and core engaged.
The abdominal muscles are layered on top of each other; two layers under the rectus abdominis are the psoas and obliques. These muscles are key for stabilizing the spine during rotation. The Bicycle Crunch is a good exercise to train these muscles and smoke the love handles.
How to Do It
- Begin in a supine position on the floor with the low back pressed into the floor.
- Elevate the hips and shoulders off the floor and interlace the fingers behind the head without putting too much pressure on the neck.
- With the knees flexed at 90 degrees, rotate the torso and elbow across the body to the opposing knee.
- Quickly switch sides without letting the tension out of the core.
- The goal is to perform big sets of Bicycle Crunches (more than 15), so plug this exercise into your workout routine each week.
Hanging Knee Raise with Medicine Ball
Building on the L Hang from the isometric section, this badass exercise is SO good for not only building rock hard lower abs but also for strength and stability in the hips.
How to Do It
- Begin with a firm grip on the pull-up bar, thumbs wrapped around for safety.
- Grab a medicine ball between the ankles, or if you can, squeeze it between the knees. This will activate the hips and and abductor .
- Engage the upper back and pull the shoulders down and away from the ears.
- With the core engaged, flex at the hips and bring the knees above the height of the hips.
- Lower back down, while keeping control, and don’t drop the medicine ball!
- The goal is to perform five sets of 12-15 reps per set. Make sure you are not flailing around but staying in control so as to ensure the right abdominal muscles stay engaged.
Like all things, nothing comes for free and we need to work at it. Getting the lower abdominal defined and powerful takes time. The cool thing is that 100% of functional exercises, that is, exercises which combine multiple joints, always have some element of abdominal engagement in them. So, even when you are not doing the exercises above, if your training program is good, the results will come with consistency.
Eric “ERock” Botsford has leveraged his extensive experience as an athlete, athletic trainer, and gym owner to design a completely unique training program that is proven to deliver real world results. The philosophy on training is rooted squarely in the interval training methodology, with a focus on reaping cardiovascular benefits without losing power, speed and strength. This emphasis led to the creation of the complementary fitness pillars: Endurance, Strength, Agility, and Power.