There are endless ways to work your abs, but lower abs workouts and exercises are usually the hardest to come by. The upper abs and obliques tend to get all the love from many popular exercises, while the lower abs are notoriously harder to target.
For the record, we technically don’t have separate “upper abs” and “lower abs.” When people refer to either, they’re actually talking about just different areas of the rectus abdominis, the muscle that runs vertically from your sternum to your pelvis on each side of your abdomen. It’s what you think of when you picture six-pack abs. But it is possible to primarily activate one part of the rectus abdominis—say, the lower part—while the upper section mostly chills out. The movement you’re doing will determine which portion of the muscle (and the rest of your core, for that matter) are involved and whether you’re getting more of a lower abs workout or upper abs workout.
It’s important to work all of your core muscles, including targeting the lower section of the rectus abdominis. If one portion of your core is weak, this can cause other areas to become overactive as they try take on more of the work, Jason Loebig, an NASM-certified personal trainer and the founder of Live Better, tells SELF. Your hips and lower back are particularly vulnerable to taking over, and ultimately becoming strained, especially if you spend a good part of your sitting down.
“As a result of sitting with poor posture for lengthy periods of time, the hip flexors and lower back may suffer,” says Loebig. “A strong core, specifically the ability to maintain a small amount of tension in the abs while sitting, helps to relieve tight hips and lower back pain by keeping the spine and pelvis in the correct posture position,” he says. So, even if you’ve got strong upper abs and obliques, strengthening your lower abs is important for making sure your core is putting in all the work it should.
To get familiar with where your lower abs are and how to engage them (along with the rest of your core, Loebig recommends a simple breathing exercise. “Start lying down on your back and take some deep breaths through the belly. If you put your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your belly, your left hand should be rising and falling. Each time you exhale, you want to engage your abs like you’re going to take a punch to the gut.”
This starts to warm up your core, so you can bring on the real work, no matter what type of abs exercises you’re doing. Here are some of the best lower abs exercises to get your whole core working more efficiently. Add a couple into your regular workout, or string four to five together to create your own custom lower abs workout.
Demoing the move below are Cookie Janee, a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; Amanda Wheeler, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-founder of Formation Strength, an online women’s training group that serves the LGBTQ community and allies; and Crystal Williams, a group fitness instructor and trainer who teaches at residential and commercial gyms across New York City.