6 Best Exercises To Activate & Strengthen Your Lower Abs
In the same way your "core" isn't just one body part (reminder: it includes abdominals, back, glutes, and even pelvic floor muscles), your "abs" aren't just one muscle, either. In fact, your abdominals consist of four different muscles: the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, along with the internal and external obliques.
Each of these muscles plays a role in your overall core strength, but your lower abs (the lower part of the rectus abdominis) is often one of the harder areas to work. Why does this matter? "It's important to strengthen the deep core to prevent and address back pain, improve balance, practice good form and prevent injury," says body neutral pilates instructor Helen Phelan. "As a bonus, when you initiate from your core, it can even increase the efficacy of movements designed to work the rest of the body by increasing intensity."
As for how to properly engage your abs, rather than sucking in your stomach, "you really want to envision hugging the abs in and up—it's much gentler and prevents tension build up that can cause weakness over time," says Phelan. "I like to imagine that as I inhale, I breathe equally into my low belly, side, and back ribs, and as I exhale, everything wraps in towards the center equally as well."
To help activate these harder-to-reach muscles, we've rounded up some exercises from our favorite trainers that not only challenge the core but also your lower abs, in particular. So hug those abs in, and get moving!
All-Fours Core Work
- Get on all fours and extend one leg long behind you. Be sure to have your hands under your shoulders and your left knee directly below your hip. Shift weight into the upper body but out of the shoulders.
- Drop your toes to the ground and lift them back up.
- Then, pull your knee toward your same-side armpit. Repeat this while making sure to keep your core engaged.
- After 30 seconds, extend your opposite arm forward. As you lower and lift your toe, lower and lift your hand, too. As you pull your knee in, draw your opposite elbow toward your ribs. Repeat while stabilizing through your core. Continue for 90 seconds.
- Lie on your back. Bring your arms to a low V by your side, and lift your knees to tabletop.
- Keep your ribs knitting down and your belly button driving toward the ground below you.
- Starting with one leg, extend your foot out and down toward the ground, making sure to remain stable through your core. Repeat on the opposite side. Alternate between right and left.
- Next, bring your knees together, and slowly begin to drop both feet out and down toward the ground, making sure to inhale and exhale with the movement. Continue this sequence for 2 minutes.
- Start on all fours and walk your feet back into a plank (parallel and hip-width distance apart).
- Squeeze your elbows in toward each other to engage your lats; lift your heart through your shoulder blades, slightly tuck your tailbone, squeeze your inner thighs, and flex through your heels. Hold for 1 minute.
- Finish this sequence with 1 minute of mountain climbers. Bring one knee to meet the same-side elbow, then return to start. Pick up the speed until your time is up.
Single Leg Stretch Variations
- Lie on your back. Find your neutral spine: Think of your pubic bone and hip points lining up in the same plane.
- Lift your legs to a tabletop position. Your shins should be parallel to the ground and knees stacked over hips.
- As you exhale, extend the right leg straight out at a diagonal, without leaning into that side. Then come back to tabletop with control.
- Repeat on the other side. Continue for 8 breaths.
Bird Dog In Knee Hover
- Start on all fours. Float your knees a couple of inches off the ground, and hold.
- Without shifting your hips, inhale and extend your right arm forward. Exhale as you crunch your abs and pull your elbow toward your torso. Reach it back out, then return it to the ground.
- Inhale as you extend your left leg out, squeeze through the glutes. Try not to lift your leg up much higher than your torso. Then exhale to curl your spine and crunch your body inward.
- Repeat with the opposite arm and leg. Continue for 8 breaths.
Knee Hover Tap
- Start on all fours.
- Exhale to float your knees a couple of inches off the ground.
- Inhale as you slowly lower them to tap on the ground. Engage your core to stabilize the body.
- Continue for 8 breaths.
Kristine Thomason is the health and fitness director at mindbodygreen. Kristine is a New York University graduate with a degree in journalism and psychology, and also a NASM-certified personal trainer. She has spent her editorial career focused on health and well-being, and formerly worked for Women’s Health and Health. Her byline has also appeared in Men’s Health, Greatist, Refinery29, HGTV, and more. In her current role she oversees, edits, and writes for the health, food, and movement sections of mindbodygreen.