If you’re like us, there’s probably one area you feel like you can’t work enough: your abs. More specifically, your lower abs. It seems like no matter how much training you do, they just stay the same. Well there’s a reason for that and you’re not alone.
“Lower abs are very difficult to strengthen because that is where our body stores most of its excess fat,” says Butler. “And for women, the hormone estrogen naturally wants to hold onto fat in this area.”
90-Degree Static Press
This is a great way to wake up your core at the beginning of your workout or as a stand-alone exercise any time you want to squeeze in some extra abs work.
How to do it: Lie faceup with your knees and hips bent 90 degrees, feet flexed. Extend your arms and press both palms on top of your thighs. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale, brace your abs in tight, pressing your lower back against the floor as you push your thighs into your hands, pushing back against them (note: your legs should not move). Hold for 1 count and then release. Do up to 3 sets of 10 repetitions in a row.
Make it harder: As you exhale, lift your head and shoulders off the floor as you press your thighs and palms together. Lower your upper body back down to the floor as you inhale.
Mind your muscle tip: During the contraction, imagine you are ‘zipping’ your muscles from your pelvic floor up to your belly button (drawing them in tight as if trying to squeeze into a pair of low-rise skinny jeans).
Resisted Single-Leg Stretch
This Pilates-inspired move uses the same pressing action as the static press to deepen the engagement of your abdominals. The weight of your extended leg makes it more challenging.
How to do it: Lie on your back and bend both knees into your chest, feet flexed. Interlace your fingers on top of your right thigh and extend your left leg out parallel to the floor. Lift your head and shoulders off the floor, curling up over the top of your ribcage and looking at your legs. Press your palms against your right thigh while tipping your pelvis to bring your right knee in towards your chest (your hands should add resistance to your leg). Switch legs and press your palms against the left thigh as your right leg extends parallel to the floor. That’s one rep. Do up to 3 sets of 10 repetitions in a row.
Make it harder: Keep both legs straight, pressing against the top of your thigh as one leg pulls in, and then perform a scissoring action to switch sides.
Mind your muscle tip: As you push against your thigh, imagine you are pulling your leg into your chest with your abs. Focus on feeling the extra resistance in the abs, not your thighs or hip flexors.
This may be a small movement, but it works your lower abdominals in a big way!
How to do it: Sit with your knees bent, feet flat on the ground. Lean back to prop your upper body up on your elbows (your back should remain lifted), palms facing down. Brace your abs in tight and lift your legs into a 90-degree angle (knees should be touching), toes pointed. Slowly bring your legs over to the left (both hips should remain on the ground). Keeping the 90-degree angle with your legs, lower your legs and then lift them up to the right, as if you were tracing a letter ‘U’ with your knees. That’s one rep. Do 20 reps total, alternating sides each time.
Make it harder: The longer the lever, the harder this gets, so if you want more of a challenge, try extending your legs out further (even straightening them completely).
Mind your muscle tip: Use your breathing to help deepen the abs work: inhale as you sweep your legs over to one side and down, and then as you come up to the other side, exhale and visualize your belly button pressing all the way back to your spine.
Reverse Plank Hover
This is another move that’s much harder than it looks. You’ll engage your abs and just about every other muscle in your body!
How to do it: Sit with your legs extended, feet flexed, hands just outside your hips with your fingertips facing your forward. Brace your abs in tight and press down through your arms to lift your hips a few inches off of the floor. Bend your knees slightly, keeping your heels on the ground. Inhale and scoop your abs in deeper towards your back, and as you exhale, fully extend your legs and try to push your hips slightly behind your shoulders. Hold for 1 count. Bend your knees and return hips under your shoulders to gently lower to the floor. That’s one rep. Repeat up to 3 sets of 10 reps.
Make it harder: Instead of lowering your hips back down to the ground in between reps, try to keep them lifted off the floor the entire set.
Mind your muscle tip: Focus on lifting and moving your hips with your abs, only using your arms and legs for assistance.
Criss-Cross Lift and Switch
This two-for-one Pilates move doubles your flat-belly results.
How to do it: Lie on your back with your arms by your sides. Extend both legs straight up to the ceiling, crossing your right leg over your left, toes pointed. Brace your abs in tight, inhale, and lower your legs about 45 degrees. As you exhale, bring your legs back into your body and lift your legs overhead on an angle (as if aiming to where the wall meets the ceiling behind you), lifting your hips and back off the floor, pressing down with your arms for support. Pause for 1 count, and then slowly roll through your spine to lower your hips and bring your legs back to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do up to 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
Make it easier: This move is tough, so if you can’t lift your hips all the way off the floor, take your time to get stronger before attempting. Start by practicing drawing your legs up and over, and see if you can lift just a few inches off the mat and then immediately lower.
Mind your muscle tip: Your abs should remain constantly pulled in towards your back during the entire exercise. Use the visual of ‘zipping’ your muscles in from your pelvis up to your belly button as you lift your legs overhead.
Inching Elbow Plank
You’ll feel every inch of this plank in your abs (along with your arms and shoulders too).
How to do it: Begin in an elbow plank position, hands clasped, with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Step your left foot towards your hands as you begin to lift your hips up slightly, quickly taking another step in with your right foot, lifting hips a little more. Step the left foot in again, lifting your hips higher and then again with the right, so that your hips end lifted high in a pike position. Slowly inch back out, reversing the way you walked in, until you return to the starting plank pose. That’s one rep. Do up to 3 sets of 5 reps.
Make it harder: Take larger steps in to raise your hips even higher in the pike position, and increase the number of reps per set from 5 to 10.
Mind your muscle tip: Your abs should be drawn in during this entire exercise. As you step your foot in, think of bracing your abs in deeper with each step.