You already know that a strong core is essential for supporting just about everything you do. Whether you’re lifting heavy weights or just moving throughout your day, the benefits of a strong core include improved posture, better mobility, and a lowered risk of injury. But figuring out the right mix of core work to give you the results you’re looking for is just about as complex as the core muscles themselves.
The core is a complex group of muscles, which includes the pelvic floor, obliques, various abdominal muscles, and more. So, in order to build a truly stable center, it’s essential to train it from all angles—including the often-neglected muscles in the lower region of your core (colloquially referred to as “lower abs”).
In order to better understand how to work the lower abs properly and strengthen this misunderstood group of muscles, we asked Peloton instructor Rebecca Kennedy for her advice. Here, she breaks down what the term “lower abs” actually entails, how to train this part of your core, and her non-negotiable exercises to add to your routine.
What to Know About the Lower Abs
First, Rebecca wants to make one thing clear: “There’s no muscle in the body called the ‘lower abs,’” she says. “You have your rectus abdominus, internal and external obliques, quadratus lumborum, psoas (hip flexors), transverse abdominis (your deepest core muscle), and, internally, your pelvic floor.”
Each and every one of these areas is essential to train, and yet, they can be a bit more challenging to engage than other parts of your body. Rebecca says that’s primarily due to a lack of connection with your transverse abdominis (TVA) and pelvic floor. “These two are often undertrained and left out of programming simply because they’re not ‘mirror muscles’ or ‘sexy muscles’” she says. However, they’re essential for our overall health and mobility—so, as Rebecca puts it, “we gotta eat our vegetables, hunny.”
For a little perspective: Your TVA supports posture, pelvis stability, deep breathing, and the internal core compression necessary for weight lifting and power exercises. It is the deepest layer of your core muscles and extends from your sternum to nearly the bottom of your pelvis.
The pelvic floor, on the other hand, is “made up of 16 muscles that work together as a functional unit that stabilize our lumbopelvic hip complex and spine, impact sexual function, and control our bladder, bowels, and uterus,” says Rebecca. In other words, these under-the-radar muscles are truly carrying their weight when it comes to supporting your body.
It’s also worth noting, that while pelvic floor health is most commonly emphasized for pre- and post-natal women, Rebecca flags it’s incredibly important for men and women at all stages of life.
How to Work Lower Abs
According to Rebecca, the first step towards truly training these various muscles is to reconnect with them. “To feel these muscles, you need to focus on your breath, along with spine and pelvis position,” she says.
What does that mean, exactly? To engage the pelvic floor, Rebecca suggests practicing to relax and contract the muscles with your breath. Try this: As you inhale, squeeze the muscles you use to stop the flow of urine. Imagine drawing those muscles upward, not just inward. Then, release as you exhale.
For your TVA, it’s useful to think of it functioning like a corset: “When the lower, middle, and upper fibers contract, the waist narrows slightly and the abdomen flattens,” says Rebecca. One way to connect with this action is to lie on your back with your knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Place your fingers on your stomach, between your belly button and the top of your hip bones. Take a deep breath, then as you exhale, engage your pelvic floor muscles and draw your lower belly down, away from your fingers.
Ultimately, “The pelvic floor muscles and the TVA must work together to stabilize the pelvis and work in synergy with all the other core muscles.” (Yes, that means you need to work on perfecting this engagement before you do any targeted lower ab exercises, or any core exercises for that matter.)
One important tip to note: While it’s crucial to train the wide spectrum of muscles in your core—including your TVA and pelvic floor muscles—it is physically impossible to spot reduce in the lower abdominal region. “The body doesn’t just draw energy from a specific area of the body,” says Rebecca. “If your goal is reduction, we need to turn to diet, lifestyle, and overall activity level.”
10 Best Lower Ab Exercises to Try
In theory, almost every core exercise will fire up your lower abs once you’ve learned how to engage your TVA and pelvic floor, says Rebecca. (Which means, with these fundamentals in mind, you can make the most of any Peloton core workout.) That said, she does have a few favorite lower ab exercises that hit this essential group of muscles.
“They allow you to move slowly, maintain your form, and focus on your breath,” she says. Plus, each one will “have a much bigger bang for your buck than a crunch.”
1. Single Leg Lifts
A. Lay down on your back, with your head on the floor, and legs straight up towards the ceiling.
B. Inhale to prepare, then exhale as you lower one leg down, without letting your pelvis or spine shift from a neutral position. Inhale as you lift your leg back to the starting position.
C. Repeat with the opposite leg.
2. Reverse Crunches
A. Lay down on your back, with your palms on the floor at your sides, and bring your legs into a tabletop position.
B. Slowly tilt your pelvis back towards your face, drawing knees towards your chest, without using any momentum.
C. Return back to start slowly and with control.
3. Bear Plank
A. Start in tabletop position with your wrists under your shoulders and neck aligned with your spine.
B. Tuck your toes, then raise your hips slightly, lifting your knees a couple of inches off the floor. Keep your core tight and hips level the entire time.
C. Hold for 10-30 seconds, Repeat.)
(Tip: Try squeezing a towel or small bouncy ball between knees to engage the TVA and pelvic floor muscles further.)
4. Tabletop Isometric Presses
A. Lay down on your back and bring your legs into a tabletop position, knees above hips.
B. Place your hands on your thighs, just above the knees.
C. With equal pressure, press your hands and legs into one another to create core compression.
A. Start in tabletop position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and neck aligned with your spine.
B. Tuck your toes and then extend your feet behind you, to find a full plank position.
C. Practice engaging your pelvic floor muscles and TVA as you hold your body stable.
6. Mountain Climbers
A. Start a plank position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your neck aligned with your spin.
B. Keeping your core engaged, lift your right knee and bring it towards the left side of your chest.
C. Return to the starting position and repeat with your left leg.
7. Dead Bug
A. Lay down on your back with your hands lifted towards the ceiling and bring your legs into a tabletop position.
B. Keeping your TVA engaged, slowly lower your right leg and your left arm.
C. Pause, then return to start and repeat on the opposite side.
8. Hip Bridge
A. Lay down on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Engage the pelvic floor as you lift your hips, creating a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
B. Continue to engage your core as you lower back to the start.
9. Hollow Body Hold
A. Lay down on your back with legs extended. Engage your TVA as you raise your head, neck, and shoulders off the ground.
B. Extend your arms and lift them overhead.
C. Lift your legs off of the floor. Keep your chin tucked as you hold this position. Pull your belly button to your spine to engage your core.
10. Flutter Kicks
A. From a hollow hold position, swiftly move your feet up and down, alternating which one is on top.
B. Be sure to maintain contact between your back and the ground and continue to engage your lower abs the entire time.
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