3 Best Exercises to Work the Lower Abs

I was really close to putting “lower abs” in quotations, because technically, there’s no such thing. The “upper” and “lower” abs both consist of one muscle – the rectus abdominis. That said, certain exercises work the lower portion of the abs more than the upper.

If you’re still unsure of what I’m talking about, the lower portion of the abs is the area beneath the belly button, or what many of my clients lovingly refer to as – their “pooch.” Anecdotally, the lower portion of the abs are tougher to target, and the area below the belly button usually lags a bit when it comes to seeing those muscles to the naked eye. But before I go on, this is a debatable topic.

There have been studies that have said that since the rectus abdominis is one muscle, when it’s active, the entire muscle is active, and that’s that. Even though we may feel the exercise in the upper abs only, the entire muscle is active. However, there have also been studies that report we can contract one portion more than the other,   – and that’s what we’re going to talk about today!

3 Best Exercises to Work the Lower Abs According to the study I mentioned above, which measured lower rectus abdominis vs. upper rectus abdominis activation compared a host of different exercises. Of the top three that required the most lower rectus abdominis activation were: decline bench curl up, stability ball crunch, and the hanging leg raise (and variations.)

–And here’s where I take a beat and re-emphasize the important of correct form on the stability ball crunch. Actually, good form is important on all exercises, but the stability ball crunch is one I see being done wrong ALL. the. time.



Note that my butt is pressing into the ball, thereby allowing my abs to kick back and relax while my hip flexors take over the workload. Doing a crunch like this may allow your back to get further upright, but it’s providing very minimal benefit to the abs.


Notice how you can physically see my glutes turned on, thereby taking my hip flexors completely out of the equation (as far as workload is concerned.) By pushing my tailbone toward the ceiling, my abs are already in activation before I even begin the crunch, and the main place I can feel it? Beneath the belly button.

It’s something that could be easily looked over, but something that makes all the difference! It could be the difference between your max reps being 15 vs. 50! Winking smile

Now I’m off to train my morning clients and teach spin and TRX! Tuesdays are packed with in-person fitness stuff – I love ‘em Open-mouthed smile

What’s one of your favorite ab exercises?

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  1. seriously… i wish I lived in Boulder to work out with you. That’s all. xoxo
    Brittany @ Delights and Delectables recently posted..Stock Your Kitchen: Pantry StaplesMy Profile

  2. Yes! Love these.
    Tiff @ Love, Sweat, & Beers recently posted..A Break in the HeatMy Profile

  3. Your posts are always so informative and helpful but I particularly appreciate that you talk about (and show!) incorrect form on the stability ball crunch!
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Yoga with Tara Stiles at the Reebok FitHub Union SquareMy Profile

  4. LOVE all of these movements so much! And I definitely feel like my “lower” abs are one of my “trouble” zones…time to incorporate a few more of these into my ab routine. 😉
    Katie @ Talk Less, Say More recently posted..3 Lessons Learned While Marathon TrainingMy Profile

    • Agreed! Actually…it never was until this year. Maybe that’s part of the whole, turning-30-next-year thang? Wah! lol

  5. I have all kinds if favorites. TRX knees in and out, planks, dead bugs. I can go on and on.

  6. great exercises!
    Meg @ A Dash of Meg recently posted..Mexican Cauliflower RiceMy Profile

  7. I love this! Can you do one of these about exercises that target the lower abs that don’t require any equipment?
    Lindsay recently posted..this week’s inspiration: truly jess.My Profile

  8. some great moves here. i love the decline bench curl up or reverse crunches lately!
    jen recently posted..wiaw: eats + a hummus recipeMy Profile

  9. Wow! I never really took note of this and now I totally see how it takes the glutes out of the equation! I love love love this. Thanks for spreading this knowledge, Paige! Also, I appreciate that you use actual scientific research to back up your exercise claims. :)
    Kate recently posted..A Season of Self-CareMy Profile


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