Lower Ab Workouts – Fact or Fiction?

Let’s be honest … we all have an obsession with abs (aka. “abdominal muscles”) and lower ab workouts. In fact, scientists say the stomach is included as one of the top five traits humans are most attracted to (this list also includes a person’s smile, eyes, breasts and hair). Regardless, this infatuation with perfectly chiseled abdominal muscles is what sells magazines, movie tickets, memberships to fitness clubs, DVD to the latest ab workout routine and subscriptions to weight loss programs. Some of the greatest displays of “six packs” in film has resulted in the following box office hits (even though the movies weren’t even close to winning an Academy Award):
Magic Mike (Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez and Joe Manganiello)
Thor (Chris Hemsworth)
300 (Gerard Butler)
Green Lantern (Ryan Reynolds)
Fight Club (Brad Pitt)
How Stella Got Her Groove Back (Taye Diggs)
American Psycho (Christian Bale)
Enter the Dragon (Bruce Lee)
But sexy abs aren’t just for men. Women with flat tummies and chiseled midsections are also in demand! The following female celebrities (just by looking the way that they do) promote the sales of thousands of ab workouts for women in video stores and online:
Cameron Diaz (Actress, Charlie’s Angels)
Gwen Stefani (Singer)
Halle Berry (Actress, Catwoman)
Jada Pinkett-Smith (Actress, The Matrix Reloaded)
Jennifer Lopez (Actress/Singer, Selena)
Kate Hudson (Actress, Glee)
Regardless of where you are starting from it’s common knowledge that it takes exercises that challenge the abdominal muscles to make them stronger and more toned. Before we delve into what to look for in effective workouts for abs … let’s first review the abdominal muscles and how they work.
Abdominal Muscles – Overview
The word “abdominals” is often misused as a single word to represent a group of muscles that serve the area of the torso called the abdomen. The abdominal region of the body that sits in between the bottom of the chest and the furthest part of the pelvis. The muscles of the abdomen work together to provide stability to the spine, the ability to flex forward, extend backward, side bend, and rotate the trunk. These muscles also serve double duty to protect the abdominal organs (i.e., digestive and urinary system).
Muscles of the Abdomen (by TodaysFitnessTrainer.com)
The abdominal muscles are located between the ribs and the pelvis on the front of the body. The abdominal muscles support the trunk, allow movement and hold organs in place by regulating internal abdominal pressure. This muscle group consists of the following four muscles:
Rectus abdominis: a paired muscle running on the left and right side of the anterior abdomen; important postural muscle responsible for flexing (i.e., “crunching”) the spine
External abdominal oblique: pull the chest downward and compress the abdominal cavity; contralateral rotation of the torso
Internal abdominal oblique: compresses the abdomen; rotate and side bends the torso
Transverse abdominis (TVA): compresses the abdominal organs
There are three layers of the abdominal wall, including:
External oblique: largest of the abdominal wall muscles; moves downward and forward
Internal oblique: lying in between the external oblique and transverse abdominis muscles; moves upward and forward
Transverse abdominis: flat and triangle-shaped; fibers run horizontally
The muscle fibers that make up these muscles merge towards the midline and surround and cover the rectus abdominis like a sheath. The “criss-cross” configuration of the fibers makes this muscle group even stronger than traditional muscle groups.
The rectus abdominis muscles are long and flat. The “six pack” comes from three tendinous intersections called the linae transversae. The rectus abdominis is enclosed in a thick sheath formed, as described above, by fibers from each of the three muscles of the lateral abdominal wall.
The Lower Abdominals “Myth”
Earlier I mentioned that we have an obsession with abdominals … more specifically the rectus abdominis muscles and achieving a “four, six or eight pack”. To get even more technical we are obsessed with the idea of training the lower portion of the abdominals because that is the “trouble spot” where most of us have a hard time losing that last bit of fat that gets in between us and our perfect bikini body … washboard abs and a defined midsection.
Unfortunately, lower abdominal muscles DON’T exist in human anatomy. The abdominals we see on the cover of Men’s Health or Shape magazine are the rectus abdominis muscles, which run from the base of the sternum (i.e., Xiphoid process) to the pubis bone. It is in fact split into right and left halves (via the linea alba) but is not split into upper and lower halves.
So, if you are looking for the perfect lower ab workout … you will NEVER find it! This is typically because there is no such thing as the perfect set of exercises to target that specific area of the body. People who already have defined lower abs workout their entire abdominal muscle group, not just one area. The difference between them and the rest of us is that they have less body fat in the abdominal area and their muscles are more visible than ours.
Ways to Lose Belly Fat
Let’s be honest here. Regardless of whatever ab workout you find online or on DVD, the majority of you don’t care how strong your abdominal muscles get or what ab exercises are included in the program. You just care about whether or not you can visibly see the definition and “six pack” that most people associate with doing a million crunches and other effective exercises for abs.
I’m sure you’ve wondered, “What are crunches doing to my belly fat?” while you’re in the middle of a set after your gym workout. A set of crunches really won’t do anything if you are looking for a “belly fat burner”. It’s working the physical muscles of the abdomen but that’s about it.
If your goal is to visibly see the abdominal muscles when you take your t-shirt off at the beach, you might be better off choosing a workout that focuses on burning fat versus burning out your abdominal muscles. In the end we all have the same abdominal muscles in our torso … but it’s the amount of excess fat and skin that covers it that is the difference between a torso we want to show or choose to cover up!
To be honest, there are NO belly fat burner miracle exercises or tricks. You can’t target where your body loses body fat. What you can do is take the right steps to start the fat burning process and see what happens!
If you want to know how to get rid of lower belly fat the simple answer is to get off your seat, exercise at a moderate intensity and burn more calories per day than what you consume through food and beverages. If you want to know how to lose belly fat fast the simple is answer is to exercise (as outlined above) on a consistent basis … and make it a long term lifestyle change.
So, when you see workouts advertised as “the best ab workout for women” or “killer ab workouts for men” you just might be better off choosing a good moderate to high intensity total body workout that also challenges the abdominals for added measure!
Lower Ab Workouts Using the Stability Ball
Ball Crunch with Heels on Stability Ball
Stability ball workouts are a great way to burn additional calories because the body has to work harder to stabilize the body, which requires a lot of core muscular strength, coordination and endurance. Because guys wouldn’t typically be seen using the stability ball at the gym, these exercises were typically considered “ab exercises for women”. Regardless of gender, these exercises will seriously challenge your body in just one focused set! Below is a list of exercises challenging the entire body using the stability ball (and lots and LOTS of abdominals):
Back Extension – Prone
Ball Bridge – Bent Knee
Ball Bridge – Single Leg
Ball Crunch – Heels on Ball
Ball Crunch – Hips on Ball
Ball Squat
Bent Knee Press Up – Prone
Boat Pose
Leg Raise – 45 Degree
Leg Raise – 90 Degree
Pike – Prone
Plank – Elbows
Plank – Inverted
Plank – Roll Out
Push Up – Prone
Seated Balance
Side Ball Raise
Single Leg Lunge
Back Extension – Prone
The back extension exercise in the prone, or facing down, position is essential to any abs workout, simply because it focuses on the lower lumbar spine and hip extensor muscles (the opposing muscles to the abdominals).
Starting Position: Place the stability ball comfortably underneath the hips and pubic bone. Secure feet slightly wider than hip distance apart with toes tucked under. Bend forward at the hips (with a flat back) and extend arms by the ears with fingers facing away from the shoulders.
Movement: Exhale to press the feet into the floor and the hips into the ball as you raise the body away from the ball (arms stay extended beside the ears at all times). Hold for one second and then return to starting position.
Exercise Tips: Hold toes down on the ground for support and stability. Squeeze the glutes to press the hips secure to the stability ball at all times. Keep upper arms by ears at all times throughout the movement (but avoid shrugging the shoulders). Keep core engaged as you raise up to avoid collapsing of the abdominals into the stability ball.
Ball Bridge – Bent Knee
Even some of the best ab workouts fail to include exercises that focus on the hip extensors (including the glutes, hamstrings and lower lumbar spine). This is a great all-in-one exercise that gets them all!
Starting Position: Lie down on your back with the stability ball at your glutes, heels on top of the ball, and arms extended at your sides.
Movement: Inhale to prepare. Exhale to press your heels into the stability ball (it does not move from it’s original position) as you raise your hips up (so you create a straight line from the shoulders through the hips to the knees). Once your hips are elevated, clasp the hands underneath the hips and press the shoulders into the ground for support. Hold for one second and then return to starting position.
Exercise Tips: Avoid collapsing the chin into the chest. Keep the neck long and eyes looking up towards the ceiling. Reach the arms towards the ball as the shoulders press down and away from the head and neck. Press the heels deep into the ball and maintain a 90 degree bend of the knee (keeping knees together at all times).
Ball Bridge – Single Leg
Starting Position: Lie down on your back with the stability ball at your glutes, heels on top of the ball, and arms extended at your sides.
Movement: Inhale to prepare. Exhale to press your heels into the stability ball as you straighten out the legs and raise your hips up (to create a straight line from the shoulders through the hips, knees and heels). Once your hips are elevated, clasp the hands underneath the hips and press the shoulders into the ground for support. Once you are stable flex at the right hip and point the right toes up towards the ceiling. Hold for one second and then return to starting position. Repeat this exercise with the right leg on the stability ball and the left leg pointing up towards the ceiling.
Exercise Tips: Avoid collapsing the chin into the chest. Keep the neck long and eyes looking up towards the ceiling. Reach the arms towards the ball as the shoulders press down and away from the head and neck. Press the heel and calf down into the ball (keeping knee slightly bent) and keep hips level as the the other leg is extended toward the ceiling.
Ball Crunch – Heels on Ball
Crunches are a staple for any abs workout. It isolates the rectus abdominis muscle as you work against gravity and other stabilizing muscles using proper form.
Starting Position: Lie down on your back with the stability ball at your glutes, heels on top of the ball, and arms extended above your head.
Movement: Inhale to prepare. Exhale to roll the head and shoulders off the ground as you reach the arms forward (beside the knees) towards the heels. Keep tailbone on the ground at all times. Hold for one second and then return to starting position.
Exercise Tips: Maintain a 90 degree bend at both the knees and hips at all times. Press the heels down as you hold the ball tight up against the back of the thighs. Tuck the chin as you roll up off the ground (to lengthen the spine) as your arms remain by the ears at all times. Keep shoulders down and away from the ears.
Ball Crunch – Hips on Ball
Performing a crunch on a stability ball adds more challenge to the crunch as muscles from the obliques and leg extensor muscles need to stabilize the core while doing the exercise. The crunch is not a full roll up as the lower lumbar spine and hips remain on the stability ball at all times.
Starting Position: Sit down on the stability ball and slowly walk the feet forward as you lean back and roll the ball up towards the lower lumbar spine. Feet will be slightly wider than hip distance apart and arms will be extended overhead (biceps by the ears).
Movement: Inhale to prepare. Exhale to roll the head and shoulders up and off the ball as you reach the arms forward (alongside the thighs) towards the knees. Keep tailbone and lower lumbar spine on the stability ball at all times. Hold for one second and then return to starting position.
Exercise Tips: Maintain a 90 degree bend at the knees at all times. Tilt from the chin (as you look towards the knees) to initiate the upward crunch action. Keep lower lumbar spine and back of the ribs on the ball at all times.
Ball Squat
Although you may not think that a Ball Squat would be an exercise used to burn belly fat … but it’s a great total body, multi-joint exercise that burns calories and challenges the core (especially when using the stability ball).
Starting Position: Sit upright on the stability ball with knees angled out 45 degrees (toes also pointed out 45 degrees) with hands reaching down inside the thigh.
Movement: Inhale to prepare. Exhale to extend at the knees to raise up off the ball (squeezing the heels together and contracting the glutes). Inhale to lower and lightly touch the ball with your glutes, hold for one second and return to upright standing position.
Exercise Tips: Place the ball in a corner (where two walls meet) to avoid having the ball roll away during the exercise. Keep back upright and flat at all times (like you are sliding up and down a wall). Keep knees over top of ankles (avoid internal rotation of knees).
Bent Knee Press Up – Prone
Working the muscles on the back side of the body (i.e., glutes, hamstrings and lower lumbar spine) makes for better abdominal workouts … because that’s how to lose lower belly fat!
Starting Position: Start with legs extended and hips and torso resting on the stability ball. Place your hands on the floor, shoulder distance apart, with head and neck long and looking slightly ahead of the ball.
Movement: Bend the right knee and point the heel directly up towards the ceiling, weight evenly distributed between both hands and left foot. Inhale to prepare. Exhale to squeeze the glutes to raise the right heel up towards the ceiling. Hold for one second and then return to starting position. Repeat this using the left leg.
Exercise Tips: The limbs touching the floor should be pressing hard into the ground for support and stability. Squeeze the glutes to keep the body heavy on the ball. Keep knees close together as you press the heel up towards the ceiling.
Boat Pose
This is by far the most challenging of the stability ball exercises in this post! This requires the most coordination, balance, stability and “guts” to attempt! Proceed with caution (or have a friend nearby to spot you).
Starting Position: Sit upright on the stability ball and place the hands right behind the hips (fingers facing forward and elbows slightly bent). Slowly begin to lean backwards as you lighten the feet on the ground to a light touch (elbows may continue to bend to provide more stability).
Movement: Inhale to prepare. Exhale to lean back and raise the feet off the ground as you bring the knees parallel to the ground, still maintaining balance on the stability ball. Once you are stable and balanced, extend the knees and straighten the legs so toes are pointing forward and up. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds and then return to starting position.
Exercise Tips: Place the ball in a corner (where two walls meet) to avoid having the ball roll away during the exercise. Start by simply raising the heels off the ground and lightly touching the toes. Move towards bringing the feet off the ground and knees close to the chest (knees bent). Next move towards raising the shins parallel to the floor and moving thighs away from the torso. Finally, extend the legs fully as toes reach towards the front top corner of the ceiling.
Leg Raise – 45 Degree
The leg raise exercise is already a challenging exercise using just the weight of your legs. The addition of the stability ball not only adds more weight, it also promotes greater core stabilization as you squeeze the ball.
Starting Position: Lie down on your back and place the stability ball in between the ankles. Extend the legs perpendicular to the floor and extend the arms at the sides with palms facing down.
Movement: Inhale to lower the legs to a 45 degree angle to the floor (keeping lower lumbar spine neutral at all times). Hold for one second and then return to starting position.
Exercise Tips: Back of the head, shoulders, arms and tailbone should remain in contact with the floor at all times (eyes can watch the ball lower to 45 degrees). Squeeze the ball tightly in between the legs (slight internal rotation of the knees/feet) to secure the lower lumbar spine. You can place the palms (facing down) underneath the hips for added support.
Leg Raise – 90 Degree
The 90 degree leg raise is an advanced version of the previous exercise as the stability ball is lowered to a hover above the ground, increasing the range of motion for the complete exercise.
Starting Position: Lie down on your back and place the stability ball in between the ankles. Extend the legs perpendicular to the floor and extend the arms at the sides with palms facing down.
Movement: Inhale to lower the legs to a hover (one to two inches) above the floor (keeping lower lumbar spine neutral at all times). Hold for one second and then return to starting position.
Exercise Tips: Back of the head, shoulders, arms and tailbone should remain in contact with the floor at all times (eyes can watch the ball lower to hover above the floor). Squeeze the ball tightly in between the legs (slight internal rotation of the knees/feet) to secure the lower lumbar spine. You can place the palms (facing down) underneath the hips for added support.
Pike – Prone
This is a challenging exercise requiring a lot of energy to perform properly. This is an exercise that will burn more calories than other stability ball exercises simply because it is more intense and requires more core work.
Starting Position: Place the stability ball underneath the hips and torso as you place the hands on the floor slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Walk the hands forward until the legs are raised and the body is in a plank position on the ball (the ball is underneath the shins, legs are together).
Movement: Inhale to prepare. Exhale to press the feet into the stability ball as the hips raise upwards towards the ceiling. The torso remains flat at the tailbone is elevated directly above the shoulders. Hold for one second and then return to starting position.
Exercise Tips: Progress into this exercise slowly. Keep eye line in between the hands as you raise the hips up towards the ceiling. At the peak of the exercise the hips should be stacked directly above the shoulders and wrists as the legs are placed lightly on the stability ball for support. Press the hands into the ground to stabilize the shoulders.
Plank – Elbows
The plank is a standard exercise for any effective abdominal workout. To get the most out of this exercise be sure to put as much pressure as you can into the ball (without sacrificing proper form).
Starting Position: With feet flat on the floor, bend forward at the hips to place the forearms on top of the ball (hands clasped and elbows directly below the shoulders).
Movement: With torso flat and neck and shoulders long at all times, walk the feet back to extend at the hips and create a straight line from the heels through the hips and shoulders as you press the elbows into the ball and toes into the ground. Hold for 5 to 15 seconds and then return to starting position.
Exercise Tips: Keep a 90 degree angle in the elbows and the angle between the upper arm and torso. Press the elbows down into the stability ball as you simultaneously squeeze the ball in between the forearms. Stay high on your toes as you press the heels away. Squeeze the glutes to avoid loss of muscle activation of the lower back while holding the position for an extended period of time. Neck and shoulders remain long and stable throughout the exercise.
Plank – Inverted
The inverted plank, although a significant exercise for the core and abdominals, is focused on challenging the strength and endurance of both the shoulders and scapula. To get the most out of this exercise be sure to put as much pressure as you can into the ball (without sacrificing proper form).
Starting Position: Place the stability ball underneath the hips and torso as you place the hands on the floor slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Walk the hands forward until the legs are raised and the body is in a plank position on the ball (the ball is underneath the shins, legs are together).
Movement: Inhale to prepare. Exhale to carefully lower the forearms to the ground as you maintain a straight line from the shoulders through the hips to the heels. Hold for 5 to 15 seconds and then return to starting position.
Exercise Tips: Press the elbows into the ground to activate the shoulders and ensure a stable base of support. Elbows should be pointed out slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Squeeze the glutes to press the knees into the stability ball for added support and stability. Pull belly button up and in to ensure proper abdominal activation.
Plank – Roll Out
Don’t underestimate this exercise. Just because you are starting on your knees, doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Moving through a full range of motion through the shoulders, while still maintaining core integrity is tough!
Starting Position: Kneel with the stability ball directly in front of the hips and thighs. Tuck the toes under and roll the ball forward with the hands as you extend through the hips (creating a straight line from the knees through the hips to the top of the head).
Movement: Inhale to bend at the elbows a place them shoulder width apart on top of the ball (hands clasped). Hold for 5 to 15 seconds and then return back to starting position.
Exercise Tips: Tucked toes and knees should be pressed heavy into the ground to ensure a good base of support. You may want to have feet up against a wall to avoid any slipping during the roll out and in. Squeeze the glutes to press the elbows down into the stability ball for improved abdominal activation. Keep shoulders down and away from the ears to maintain stable shoulders and a long neck.
Push Up – Inverted
Unlike a traditional push up on the floor, the legs are elevated and the abdominal muscles and torso need to stay stable as you move through a full range of motion.
Starting Position: Place the stability ball underneath the hips and torso as you place the hands on the floor slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Walk the hands forward until the legs are raised and the body is in a plank position on the ball (the ball is underneath the shins, legs are together).
Movement: Inhale to bend at the elbows and lower the head and shoulders towards the ground (bending the elbows to 90 degrees). The ball should not move from its original position throughout the exercise. Exhale to extend at the elbows and return to starting position.
Exercise Tips: Press the hands into the ground to activate the shoulders and ensure a stable base of support. Squeeze the glutes to press the knees into the stability ball for added support and stability. Pull belly button up and in to ensure proper abdominal activation.
Seated Balance
Good balance and stability through the abdominal muscles and lower lumbar spine is essential to effective exercise and movement. This exercise, although it may seem simple, is important to master before progressing on to other stability ball exercises.
Starting Position: Sit upright on the stability ball with feet slightly wider than hip distance apart. Place the hands on the thighs and straighten the spine.
Movement: Inhale to raise the arms up to shoulder height in front of the body. Slowly begin to lean slightly back as you raise the heels and balance on the toes of the feet. As you get more comfortable you can attempt to raise the feet one inch off the floor as you maintain balance on the stability ball.
Exercise Tips: Place the ball in a corner (where two walls meet) to avoid having the ball roll away during the exercise. Start by simply raising one heel off the ground, switching to the other side and then raising both heels off together (keeping toes on the ground). When you are ready engage the core to secure the torso and hips on the ball before you attempt to raise the whole foot off the ground (hovering less than an inch).
Side Ball Raise
The side ball raise targets the obliques and requires only a small range of motion. Be sure to keep your torso straight and hips open throughout the exercise (i.e., do not flex forward at the hip to raise the ball off the ground).
Starting Position: Lie on your right side with your right arm extended overhead along the floor with your head resting on your bicep. Place your left hand on the floor in front of your stomach. Bend the right elbow and place your head in your hand. Finally, place the stability ball in between the ankles and calves with toes facing forward.
Movement: Inhale to prepare. Exhale to squeeze the ball in between the legs and raise the right leg off the ground one to two inches. Hold for one second and then return to the starting position. Repeat exercise lying on the left side.
Exercise Tips: Keep the body in between “two panes of glass” (where the left shoulder and hip are stacked directly above the right shoulder and hip). Squeeze the glutes to ensure the hips remain open to isolate the obliques during the exercise. Knees should face forward as you squeeze the ball in between the ankles and calves.
Single Leg Lunge
The single leg lunge using the stability ball is more challenging than a traditional lunge due to the unstable nature of the back leg. Be sure to press the back leg into the ball to maintain stability and to activate the abdominal muscles for more activation.
Starting Position: Stand upright with feet hip distance apart and hands at your sides. Bend the right knee and raise the heel to the glutes. Flex the foot and place the toes on the top of the stability ball. Slowly roll the ball towards the knee as you extend the right leg back (the left leg remains straight).
Movement: Inhale to raise the arms to shoulder height. Exhale to bend the left knee as the right leg extends back (the ball will roll back slightly). Hold for one second and then return to starting position. Repeat exercise with right leg forward and left leg back.
Exercise Tips: Torso should remain upright at all times (avoid the tendency to flex forward at the hip as you bend the front knee). Square up the hips so both are parallel with the wall ahead of you. Keep back knee slightly bent as the toes are flexed towards you (i.e., dorsiflexion). Ensure the front knee is stacked directly above the ankle (avoid the tendency of the knee to turn inward or outward). Shoulders are wide and arms are reaching forward to engage the scapula and activate the complete torso.
Final Thoughts … Lower Ab Workouts and Knowing How to Burn Belly Fat
If you are looking to burn belly fat by choosing a lower abdominal workout … you’re out of luck because there is no such thing. Lower ab workouts are something created by some marketing genius who capitalized on the fact that we are all looking to lose fat in the most obvious places and we also happen to feel the “burn” there when we do any type of abdominal exercise. Keep in mind there are technically no lower abdominal muscles and you can’t “spot reduce” fat by choosing to do specific exercises. If you are interested in more defined abdominals that you want to show off in your bikini, choose abdominal exercises that challenge all four major muscles and work at an intensity that burns more calories to shed the layer on top of your abdominals so that their definition can be seen (and you can brag about it)!
Written by TodaysFitnessTrainer (trainer@todaysfitnesstrainer.com).

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