I am constantly asked how to work the” lower abs.” The idea that the abdominal muscle group can be separated in such a way that it can be worked in isolation within itself is a great fallacy. By briefly explaining why, I hope to clear this up once and for all and provide you with a few exercises to actually strengthen your midsection.
I’ve explained in previous posts that your core is responsible to maintain alignment and stability of your spine, hips and pelvis during most movements you make every day, all day long. Your core is not just your abs but I know that vanity has us focused on that flat tummy.
Since belly fat often settles on top of your abdomen we tend to focus on doing exercises that focus on that area. I explained briefly why having a six pack isn’t normal or even healthy here.
Dr. Brent Brookbush, President and Founder of the Brookbush Institute of Human Movement Science, does a fabulous job explaining how your abdominal muscles work with science based research. I will break it down for you.
Muscles work from origin to insertion so when you work your abs you can only work the whole muscle. He describes it as a rope. If you pull a rope there would have to be tension at the other end for it to be useful. If there was slack in the rope, it wouldn’t useful at all.
If you activate one portion of your abdominals, the other portion is also activated. You may feel the burn higher or lower but the whole muscle is working.
By the way, sometimes that lower burn you feel is actually your psoas, a muscle that flexes at your hip joint. But more on that another time.
As I’ve stated in previous posts to effectively work your core you must include exercises that stabilize, flex, extend and rotate your spine and hips.
- The best exercise to stabilize your spine? PLANKS!
The exercise challenges your core to maintain the alignment of your spine. Get face down on the floor and with your elbows inline with your shoulders either your knees on the floor or balancing on your toes. Pull your belly button in toward your spine and do not allow your back to arch. Squeeze those glutes as well and hold it. Stay up as long as you can in proper form. Check out this video for some pointers and progressions. http://youtu.be/9GCLAuFCnV0
- To bend and flex the spine Crunches work well. But the key is range of motion.
You may begin by doing some basic crunches on the floor and then try to progress onto a ball. You must draw your belly button in toward your spine or you will just be pushing your belly out, not engaging your core. You should lift your head off of the ground keeping your eyes on the ceiling with your hands behind your head or across your chest. Keep the movement slow. I recommend pairing this with a prone hyperextension exercise on the ball. Watch this for how.
- To rotate the spine I recommend Wood Choppers.
This can be done with a weight, cable machine or resistance band. Start by standing tall, feet shoulder width apart, toes forward. While performing the exercise, draw the belly in and bend and twist at the waist. Keep your arms straight throughout the exercise. Watch this demonstration. http://youtu.be/Ce0bVB9YQ0A