The lower abdominal muscles aren't more stubborn than the upper abdominal muscles, but they can seem that way sometimes. The actual problem is that they're more difficult to target. Traditional abdominal exercises like the crunch and the sit-up tilt the chest toward the pelvis, thus building the upper abs more than the lower abs. But weak lower abs allow the viscera to push out, giving you a potbelly. Tilting the pelvis toward the chest feels a bit awkward, but if you keep at it, you'll build functional strength and tighten your lower stomach.
All the rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscles) do is tilt the chest and pelvis together, making the crunch the only pure abdominal movement. The reverse crunch is just like the crunch, but you tilt your pelvis toward your rib cage, maximizing lower abdominal recruitment. To perform a reverse crunch, lie on your back on an exercise mat. Lift your legs and bend your knees so that your shins are parallel to the ground. Maintaining the angle of your legs, crunch your lower body up so that your butt and lower back roll off the mat. Hold for a moment and contract your abs hard. Unroll your spine and settle your butt back on the ground. In "The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding," Arnold Schwarzenegger explains that it's important to feel the contraction and not just go through the movement. Be slow and deliberate and you'll only need to do sets of 10 to 30 reps.
Hanging leg raises also target the lower abdominals by forcing them to tilt toward your rib cage with the resistance of your legs. To perform hanging leg raises, hang from a vertical bench or chin-up bar. Lift your legs until they are beyond parallel with the ground. At the top of the movement your lower back should round and you should feel a contraction in your abs. Slowly lower your legs back down. Perform sets of 10 to 30. Schwarzenegger suggests that if you need to make hanging leg raises easier, perform them on an inclined ab board. Adjust the incline to adjust the difficulty.
The exercise ball pull-in is a fun exercise that will really hit your lower abdominals hard. To perform an exercise ball pull-in, get into a push-up position with your legs resting on an inflatable exercise ball near your knees. Pull your knees in to your chest. Push your legs back out straight. Because the ball rolling beneath your legs is unstable, exercise ball pull-ins recruit the entire core, tightening the web of abdominal muscles. Perform sets of 10 to 30 reps.
The ball pass is an efficient exercise that works both your upper and lower abdominals intensely. To perform a ball pass, lie on your back on an exercise mat with your arms extended overhead holding a medicine ball. Pass the ball to your legs by crunching up with your upper body and performing a leg raise with your lower body, then straighten back out. Do the same thing to pass the ball back to your hands. As the "Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding" points out, this is one of the most difficult and effective exercises for the abdominals, but because you're busy concentrating on passing the ball back and forth, you barely notice. Try to not let your back arch by lowering your legs and arms too far. Perform sets of 10 to 20.
- "The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding"; Arnold Schwarzenegger; 1998
- "Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding"; Robert Kennedy; 2008
- beautiful blondie training her abs image by Olga Ekaterincheva from Fotolia.com
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.