Rebecca Kennedy doing a lower ab exercise, a side plank

Build A Solid Core with These 10 Tried and True Lower Ab Exercises

Strengthen your abdominal muscles with moves that improve balance, posture, and performance.

By Kristine ThomasonUpdated April 10, 2024

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You already know that a strong core is essential for supporting just about everything you do. Whether you’re lifting heavy weights or 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.

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.  

The Importance of Lower Abdominal Strength

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.”

Key Muscles and Their Functions

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’s 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,” Rebecca says. 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 postnatal women, Rebecca says it’s incredibly important for men and women at all stages of life. 

Benefits of Lower Abs Exercises

While lower ab exercises can help you build muscle in this area, they won’t “shrink your belly” in perhaps the way you’d hope. It’s physically impossible to spot-reduce in the lower abdominal region. “The body doesn’t just draw energy from a specific area of the body,” Rebecca says. “If your goal is reduction, we need to turn to diet, lifestyle, and overall activity level.”

But lower ab workouts can provide some important benefits, not the least of which is improved core stability and better posture, both of which are essential for injury prevention.

Enhanced Core Stability

It makes sense that the stronger your core muscles are, the more stable they are. This also means you’re at lower risk for injury when working out (or just living your life). A review of research on this topic in the journal Sport Health found that people who regularly performed exercises that engaged lower ab muscles had greater core stability and lower overall injury rates.

Improved Posture

The improved core stability you get from lower ab exercises has an additional benefit: Better posture. A study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that core workouts addressing deep abdominal muscles helped participants develop better core stability, and in turn, improved posture.

Maximizing Effectiveness in Lower Abs Workouts

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. When you do that, she adds, you’ll be able to properly engage your abs.

Proper Engagement Techniques

What does that mean, exactly? To engage the pelvic floor, you need to focus on two things: Breathing and form. 

Breathing

Rebecca suggests practicing a technique that helps you 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. 

Form and Alignment

To connect your breathing with your posture, 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,” Rebecca says. (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.)

Overcoming Common Challenges

Even with all the benefits of developing strong core muscles, there are a few caveats and pitfalls to avoid. The main one is to protect your back—especially if you already have back issues and you’re trying to work on your core.

Avoiding Lower Back Strain

With so much load being placed on various abdominal muscles, it’s easy to strain supporting muscles in your back. Research has shown that certain abdominal exercises, like planks, are not advisable if you have back issues, while other exercises like bird-dog are not only safe but beneficial if you are managing back pain.

Adjusting for Fitness Levels

And of course, lower ab workouts can encompass moves both very basic and more advanced. You should always stick with moves that you’re comfortable doing. If an ab exercise feels too hard, either perform a modified version of it or swap in another ab move that you are more comfortable with.

Comprehensive Guide to the 10 Best Lower Ab Exercises 

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.”

Single Leg Lifts

Rebecca Kennedy doing single leg lifts

Technique Breakdown

  1. Lay down on your back, with your head on the floor, and legs straight up towards the ceiling. 

  2. 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. 

  3. Repeat with the opposite leg.

Modifications for Beginners

After raising your legs straight toward the ceiling, bend your knees so that your legs form a right angle, or tabletop, position. Raise and lower to the floor in this bent position.

Reverse Crunches

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Lay down on your back, with your palms on the floor at your sides, and bring your legs into a tabletop position. 

  2. Slowly tilt your pelvis back towards your face, drawing knees towards your chest, without using any momentum. 

  3. Return back to start slowly and with control.

Advanced Variations

After bringing legs into a tabletop position, straighten them fully so feet point toward the ceiling. Tilt pelvis and reach toes higher toward ceiling, then release.


Static Holds for Core Endurance

Tabletop Isometric Presses

Rebecca Kennedy doing a tabletop isometric press
  1. Lay down on your back and bring your legs into a tabletop position, knees above hips. 

  2. Place your hands on your thighs, just above the knees. 

  3. With equal pressure, press your hands and legs into one another to create core compression.

Plank

Rebecca Kennedy holding a plank
  1. Start in the tabletop position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and neck aligned with your spine. 

  2. Tuck your toes and then extend your feet behind you to find a full plank position. 

  3. Practice engaging your pelvic floor muscles and TVA as you hold your body stable.

Hollow Body Hold

Rebecca Kennedy doing a hollow body hold while holding a dumbbell
  1. Lay down on your back with legs extended. Engage your TVA as you raise your head, neck, and shoulders off the ground. 

  2. Extend your arms and lift them overhead. 

  3. 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.

Dynamic Core Exercises

Flutter Kicks

Rebecca Kennedy doing flutter kicks
  1. From a hollow hold position, swiftly move your feet up and down, alternating which one is on top. 

  2. Be sure to maintain contact between your back and the ground and continue to engage your lower abs the entire time.

Bear Plank

  1. Start in the tabletop position with your wrists under your shoulders and neck aligned with your spine. 

  2. 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. 

  3. 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.

Mountain Climbers

Rebecca Kennedy doing mountain climbers
  1. Start a plank position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your neck aligned with your spin. 

  2. Keeping your core engaged, lift your right knee and bring it toward your chest. 

  3. Return to the starting position and repeat with your left leg.

Lower Ab Exercises for Flexibility and Strength

Dead Bug

Rebecca Kennedy doing dead bugs
  1. Lay down on your back with your hands lifted towards the ceiling and bring your legs into a tabletop position. 

  2. Keeping your TVA engaged, slowly lower your right leg and your left arm. 

  3. Pause, then return to start and repeat on the opposite side.

Hip Bridge

Rebecca Kennedy doing hip bridges
  1. 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. 

  2. Continue to engage your core as you lower back to the start.

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