Most of the exercises I’ve selected for lower abs do also work the upper abs – it’s the proportion of contribution from each area that makes an exercise more of a lower ab rather than an upper ab one. From a movement point of view it can be argued that upper ab exercises move the upper torso, bending it towards the legs, while lower ab exercises move the legs, bringing the knees towards the chest.
For those after an impressive-looking sixpack, low levels of body fat are an absolute must. No amount of ab exercises will develop a six-pack to be proud of if the muscles are hidden below a layer of fat. And it’s very true to say that ‘abs are made in the kitchen as well as the gym’.
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.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
4. Supported Straight-Leg Lift
This exercise can be performed using a variety of equipment. Here I am using the Roman Chair, which has rests for the arms and padding to support the back. With some machine variants the back padding is replaced by an inflatable plastic dome rather like a Bosu Ball, which is attached to the rear part back rest. This type of exercise can also be performed on an assisted chin-up and dip machine, although there may be less padding to support the arms. It is also possible to do this exercise simply by hanging from a high bar with no support. I find this painful on my arms and after a few reps and my form suffers.
You can lift your legs straight – as illustrated here – or with bent knees which makes for an easier option.
How to perform:
With the forearms supported, raise the legs, keeping them as straight as possible towards a floor-parallel position. Hold for a second at the top of the movement and then lower-slower back to the start.
Move straight into the next rep don’t let the legs hang between reps as the abs will be under no tension and this results in zero benefit.
Your pelvis can move forwards during the later stages of the motion, but ensure this is additional to motion at the abs, not a replacement for it. Do not swing your legs, lift and lower with absolute control.
5. Behind-legs Swiss Ball Lift
This floor-based exercise requires a Swiss Ball to be held constantly behind your knees which ensures there is no change in angle at the knees. This exercise produces a slightly different range of motion to most lower ab floor exercises – the starting position for the upper legs is around 45-degrees up from the floor and the movement end can be 90 further on, 45 degrees up from the torso.
Note these are estimates as the actual angles depend on your flexibility and size of the ball.
How to perform:
Choose a medium-sized Swiss ball. Too big and the grip may be difficult and the range of motion reduced (as you start from a higher position). I’ve also found the grip to be more challenging on a smaller rather than a medium sized ball. Hold the ball in place either with legs parallel and gripping over the top, or further down and more around the outside, as I’m doing in the photo. Your arms should be positioned by
your sides for stability. For a more advanced version fold your arms across your chest – this requires greater balance. To perform the exercise, lift the ball bringing the knees towards the face. Hold for a one count, then lower-slower back to the starting position. Try to judge it so that the ball doesn’t quite touch the ground between reps. Exhale as the ball comes up and feel the effort in your abs throughout the movement.
6. Forward-legs Swiss Roll
Fancy a Swiss Roll? Sorry, different type today. Here a Swiss Ball is used to both support the feet and keep them in the correct position relative to the movement at the knees. Now, this exercise can take a bit of getting used to – expect to have to run across the gym to retrieve the ball a couple of times at first! The exercise is called a Forward legs Roll in order to distinguish from an obliques targeting exercise during which the both knees come out to one side, rather than stay under you.
How to perform:
Start face-down on the floor with your arms extended and your lower legs and feet resting on the Swiss Ball. If your body is approximately horizontal at the start position and your knees clear of the top of the ball you are using the right size ball. Roll the ball forwards with your feet until your upper legs are vertical (or beyond this position). The further forwards the ball travels, the better it is for the abs. At the maximum extent of forward travel, hold for a moment, then roll the ball back more slowly to the start position, from where you start the next rep immediately. Keep all parts of the upper body as still as possible and focus on driving the effort from your abs.