Your abdominal muscles can be tricky to reach and sculpt, and yet they are so, so important for building a strong, tight core that can help improve your mobility, balance, flexibility, and posture. Plus, even if you don’t get those six-pack abs, you can still boost your performance during workouts, such as in running, HIIT training, and even just daily, mundane activity, such as getting the groceries or walking up the stairs.
Those strong lower abs don’t just happen on their own though—you need to put in the steady work to see real progress. And that means you’ll want to incorporate specific lower abdominal exercises into your workout routines, or even dedicate a whole workout circuit just to those targeted muscles in particular. And during lockdown, there’s plenty of time to do just that.
Here is a great circuit of moves to do that will target those lower abdominal muscles for a killer core workout, courtesy of Kat Wiersum, interval instructor at Studio Three and certified Pilates instructor at Amplified Pilates in Chicago.
If you want to design a workout from these moves, try doing about 2-3 sets, 10 reps each, for every move in the circuit. Yet, you can tailor it to your intensity and time duration, of course.
“This exercise is kind of funny because despite the name, it doesn’t matter whether or not your toe taps anything,” Kat says.
Lie on your back with you knees bent in a table top position, with knees over hips, feet straight out from knees in a 90 degree angle. Keeping this angle, (do not bend or straighten of your knees!), lower one leg down towards the ground, just hinging from your hip joint and trying to let your leg feel as dead weight as possible.
Bring your leg back up to tabletop by tightening your abs, like you are trying to tighten a seatbelt from one hipbone to the other. Alternate legs, inhale on the way down, and exhale and contract on the way up.
“The work happens on the way up, so your leg doesn’t have to go the whole way down! Only go as far as you can maintain tension in your abs,” she explains. You can also do this with both legs instead, which is actually slightly harder, as well as do it lying on a full-length foam roller for that balance challenge.
Double Leg Lower
“This is a very similar concept to the toe tap, but straight legs makes things harder. The longer your limbs are from your torso, the harder your body works to control them,” she says.
Lie on your back with your head down and both legs straight up towards the ceiling. Pull your belly button down to your spine and up towards your heart and while keeping your abs active, lower both legs down as far as you can while maintaining that ab connection. Then slowly draw legs back up to the start by tightening your “seatbelt,” as you had done in the toe tap move.
“The slowest person wins! Your butt stays grounded the entire time, and stop your legs before they go too low. If your back arches or you feel your belly button pushing up into your shirt, your legs have gone too low,” she says.
Leg Reach Balance
Lie on your back with your legs in table top, just like you did in the setup for the toe taps. “Place a small (not fragile) light item on your shins; a small ball, tiny stuffed animal, piece of fruit, a can of soup… really anything provided it isn’t too heavy,” she says.
“Without dropping the item/letting it roll off your shins, move your feet away from you as if you were going to straighten your legs (you can’t because of the item on your shins) and then tighten your ‘seatbelt’ to bring your legs back to table top to start,” she says.
Inhale as your legs go away, and exhale to pull them back. This will force you to keep your legs even and stable, and so it lets your abs do the work to move your legs!
Lie on your back, legs either bent with your feet flat or fully extended on the floor, and then reach your arms overhead. Then while slowly nodding your chin to your chest, reach your arms down, and start to sit all the way up to a full-seated position.
Again, go slowly! “Once you come to seated, roll back down to lying down as slow as possible. Use as little momentum as possible and really push your feet into the ground,” she says. Keep your shoulders relaxed and think about lifting up and over a small ball.
“If you need a little assistance, you can grab onto your legs briefly to get through the sticky spot at first but let go as soon as possible. Not only does this work your entire core, it gets your spine mobile and really teaches your body control,” she says.
Knee Tuck and/or Pike
Find a high plank position with feet on top of home equipment, such as sliders, towels, or paper plates, or go on a hard floor wearing socks, with hands under shoulders.
“Start in a high plank position, upper back active, head long, slight little tuck of lower back, belly button to spine, shoulders over wrists. Without changing upper body or letting hips lift, bend both knees and slide legs into a kneeling hover plank position,” she says.
The upper body stays totally still! Bend and extend legs from hover to full plank. Reset to start position, and keep your legs straight and lift your hips up towards the ceiling, into a pike position. Then slide back down into high plank.
“Use as little momentum as possible; move slowly. Hips lift like someone is grabbing your seatbelt and pulling up to ceiling. Legs and arms stay straight, head drops to look back at feet,” she says. This really targets those lower abs, and it’s all about using that control to feel that burn in the belly.