The top layer of ab muscles has 6 (or 8 in some cases) segments that are easily visible in very trained bodies (the “6-pack”). It is in fact a single muscle, but the arrangement of the muscle tendons make it look like it’s divided up. Although it’s one muscle, either the upper part or the lower part will do more work, depending on what exercise you do. The point of this workout is to target the lower part of the muscle, which doesn’t get used as much in standard crunch type exercises. For best results follow the technique points below carefully, to ensure the work is focused on the right muscles. See the end of the post for the lower abs exercise chart PDF download.
About this workout
If you’re not already training your lower abs, you’ll need to build strength up. Start with 3 sets of 16 of everything, apart from the Pilates hundred. For the hundred, start with 50 pulses – that is, 5 breaths. (3 sets means do the reps for all the exercises, then start again and do 2 more lots.) Follow the 6 week progression shown in the chart below:
Before you do the workout, please read these exercise safety guidelines.
You’ll need a cushioned surface to do the workout. If you don’t have an exercise mat, then use a folded blanket or something similar.
#1 Pilates 100
The routine starts with an exercise that is often used as a warm up in Pilates routines. The instructions below are for the full 100 pulses, but start with 50 if you’re a beginner, as shown in the reps table above.
- Lay on the floor and raise your legs, as shown.
- Breathe in and then pulse your arms up and down by your side 5 times as you breathe out. Keep the arm movement as you breathe in for 5 pulses and then out again. Keep going with this for 10 breaths – that is, a total of 100 pulses.
#2 reverse crunch
- Start by extending your legs so that they are vertical.
- Engage your lower abs as you curl your lower spine off the mat in a smooth curling movement.
- When your lower back has left the floor, start to reverse the movement – curl your spine back down under control.
- Start in the same position as for the reverse crunch above.
- Making sure you don’t let your back arch, lower and raise one leg at a time.
#4 hip rolls
- Start by lying on the floor, with your legs bent at the hips and knees as shown. Your arms should be out to the side, level with your shoulders
- Engage your abdominal muscles and then rotate your legs to the right. It’s important to keep the abs engaged and control the movement. Only take your legs as far as you can keep the movement controlled.
- When you have lowered your legs as far as you can, begin to reverse the movement. When you get back to the starting position, start again in the other direction.
#5 double leg stretch
- Lie on your back with your knees and hips bent at right angles and your hands behind your head, as shown
- Curl your head and shoulders off the floor as you straighten your legs
- Return to the start position.
#6 mountain climber
- Get into an all-4s position on the floor. Make sure your hands are directly below your shoulders.
- Take your legs out behind, keeping your back slightly curved.
- Now bring one knee at a time in towards your arms.
#7 straight leg crunch
- Get your legs into the vertical position, as for the reverse crunch and scissors exercises.
- Curl your head and shoulders off the floor as you reach your hands towards your feet.
#8 bicycle crunch
- Start with your feet in the air and your hands behind your head.
- Extend your right leg to a 45° angle with the floor.
- At the same time, bring your left knee towards your upper body and lift your right shoulder off the floor to reach your elbow towards your knee.
- Now extend your left leg and bring your left elbow towards your right knee.
- Keep alternating for the given number of reps.
Download the lower abs exercise chart
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Related to lower abs exercise chart
Ab workouts FAQ
The stock answer to this is that you can’t get rid of fat from a specific area. This is repeated frequently and emphatically by almost everyone involved in fitness. Given that it’s the go-to answer, you would think that there’s a pile of evidence to support it. In fact, the evidence is surprisingly weak. On the other hand, there’s no evidence that you can exercise to burn fat from a specific area either.
What we do know for sure is that our bodies have preferred places to store fat – and the abdominal area is one of them. So you’re not likely to have a fat-free belly until you’re a healthy weight. The best way to be a healthy weight is of course to have a healthy diet and to exercise regularly. Any exercise helps with weight control.
Even if it doesn’t burn belly fat, regular ab exercise will make a difference though. The deep core muscles pull the abdominal area flat and having a strong core can make a real difference. In fact it’s often the case that what people think is fat is just poor muscle tone allowing the abdomen to protrude.
So, the best things you can do to look slimmer around your middle are to make sure you’re a healthy weight and do some core training.
Plank holds have been an enormously popular abs exercise for years now. This is probably due to the buzz surrounding the exercise in the form of challenges and extreme hold times, rather than being due to its merits as an effective exercise.
Done correctly, the plank will engage the deepest abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominis (TA). This is the one that plays the biggest part in pulling the abdominal area in flat, as well as playing an important role in pelvic and spinal stability. It’s a challenging exercise and most people will struggle to hold the correct position for more than a minute. These are the good points. However, the plank has its drawbacks:
- Doing it with correct technique is difficult for those who are not used to core training. To be effective, the back and legs must form a straight line (like a plank). Inexperienced exercisers fail to do this.
- It’s a static exercise (ie the muscles are held contracted). There are two problems with static exercises. One is that the muscles are only worked in one position and the other is that it causes blood pressure to increase.
- It’s not functional – we do nothing vaguely resembling the plank in every day life. If we want to train our TA to engage when we’re active, then holding it in a static contraction isn’t the best way.
So should you do plank holds? Yes, it’s good to add them to your abs routine sometimes or to do a plank challenge for variety. But you should make sure your technique is correct and you shouldn’t waste your workout time trying to build up excessively long holds.
As with most “best exercise” questions, the answer depends on what you’re trying to achieve. The two main goals people have are flat abs and 6 pack abs. To have a flat abdominal area you need to train the deeper abdominal muscles. This is done by doing core stabilising exercises. The 6 pack muscles are the top layer of ab muscles and are trained by crunches and similar exercises – any exercise in which the upper body and lower body come closer together against a resistance. If you want to train all your ab muscles, bicycle crunches are a good all-round exercise.