The abdominal muscles, known to all as the ‘abs’ are the foundation for an impressive physique both from a functional perspective and visually. Everyone intent on developing the appearance of their abs and their core strength should spend a considerable proportion of their training time working their abs. There are many exercises to choose from, so I have divided the area into three separate – Upper Abs, Lower Abs and Side Abs (also known as the obliques). To develop a great looking and functional set of abs you need to target each of these areas with dedicated exercises. This article it’s lower abs.
The main muscle to the front of the core is the rectus abdominis. I refer – as many others do – to the upper and lower abs, however in reality the upper and lower abs are part of the one muscle, although the parts can be targeted with specific exercises.
In the middle of the rectus abdominis is a vertical line of connective tissue called the linea alba, Latin for ‘white line’. With a combination of well-developed abs and low levels of bodyfat, the connective tissue forms both the vertical linea alba and the similar horizontal depressions which give that famous six-pack appearance. This connective tissue is fascia, a collagen-like substance similar to a tendon material. The fascia surrounds muscles and does not connect to bones.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
To give some variety my Six of the Best for Lower Abs includes exercises that use the floor, the decline bench, flat bench, hanging straps or armrest-supported (Roman) chair and the Swiss ball.
1. Frogs Legs
This floor exercise is one of many different floor-based lower ab exercises that have one factor is common – the action of raising the legs and feet from the ground and then keeping all parts of the legs/feet off the floor until the end of the set. This particular exercise draws the knees forwards, bending at the knees and thereby protecting the lower back to some degree. It also adds a slight leg abduction (movement away from the body) during the leg-return phase.
How to perform:
Lie on the floor on your back, hands by your sides and legs straight out in front. Pull the knees sharply towards your head, bending at the knees so the lower legs still point away from you. Hold and squeeze for a brief moment at the point of maximum pull, where your knees are closest to your head.
Then slowly return to the start position by opening the legs so the knees come apart and lower towards the floor and push back. Join the knees together centrally at the end of this slow push back for the next rep. The movement is similar to a swimming breast-stroke, except that the emphasis is reversed. With the exercise the quick movement is focussed on pulling the knees towards you whilst the push back of the feet is much less aggressive. The lower abs are under continuous tension and you should feel the movement coming more from the angle between your torso and upper legs rather than the frog-leg action itself.
2. Incline Legs Raise
Raising the legs at the hips is the fundamental component move of many lower ab exercises, pushing hard against gravity in the raise and resisting gravity in the lower slower phase. Because of the ‘moments of force’ involved, straight (or near-straight) leg exercises are usually tougher (and better for the lower abs) than knees-bent exercises. This particular exercise has added difficulty as the legs lower to floor-parallel, without touching the floor and are therefore still held by muscular action. Raising the hips away from the bench during the motion takes some effort away from the abs and recruits the hip flexors – this is fine, so long as the abs continue to remain engaged and it doesn’t become a ‘hips swing’. The degree of difficulty can be increased by raising the head-end of the bench higher.
How to perform:
Lie facing upwards on a decline bench, legs straight and feet together. Reach overhead to hold onto a stable part of the bench structure. You’ll be holding on for stability throughout the set, but ensure you aren’t using any extra leverage or assistance from the upper body while doing so. Lift your legs at the hips to the horizontal, or just below – this is the start position. From here, raise the legs to or near vertical, keeping the legs near straight during the raise. Lift your pelvis off the bench towards the end of the movement, but ensure that doing this doesn’t stop the continuing contraction in the lower abs.
The legs shouldn’t go beyond vertical. Note: you’ve gone too far overhead if tension in the abs is lost. Finally, the lower slower brings the legs down to horizontal (or better, just below). You should avoid touching the bench.
3. Bench Knees-Up
Bringing the knees towards the chest is fundamental to all effective lower ab exercises, this one included. This particular exercise also adds some work for the upper abs both in the contracting (concentric) phase and during the gradual return to the starting position (eccentric phase). Keep the lean back to around 20 to 40 degrees away from the vertical – the greater the angle the more effective the exercise will be as the range of motion is increased for both lower and upper abs.
How to perform:
Sit on the middle of a flat bench, with the orientation of the bench left-to-right beneath you and feet flat on the floor with knees together and bent. Grab the front, rear or side edge of the bench, whichever feels most comfortable. The hand hold is for stability, not for leverage or exercise assistance. Lean slightly backwards, so that your feet come off the ground and your weight is on your bottom. This is the starting position. From here, draw the knees towards your chest keeping your feet together.
At the same time, add some effort for the upper abs by curling the upper torso down towards the knees. Hold for a second in the maximum crunched up position then slowly return to the start position. Keep the abs under continuous tension by not letting the feet touch the floor. Your bottom should act as the pivot point as the lower and upper halves of your body move towards each other over the pivot. Exhale during the contraction phase.