Before you crank out thousands of sit-ups, crunches, and leg lifts that will do little more than crush your spine and tighten your already tight hip flexors, I want to hook you up with the five best lower ab exercises you should be adding into your exercise routine.
In the meantime, if you still love your sit-ups then you’ll want to see these 10 worst ab exercises of all time.
Now fair warning, the lower ab exercises I’m about to show you will seem odd and you might even wonder what these unique exercises have to do with training your abdominals. So before we jump into these exercises, it might help to understand how your lower abdominals work and why traditional ab exercises do little to help to get rid of that lower ab “pooch”.
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The No-BS Truth About Sit-Ups (And Leg Lifts)
If your goal is to lose lower belly fat, isolated ab exercises like sit-ups and sit-ups will do nothing to help you. They are too small a movement to create any metabolic effect.
To get a sense for what I mean, flex your right biceps muscle and hold that contraction for 2 seconds. Now let me ask you: Did you notice your body getting warmer at all? Were you out of breath? Did you start sweating? Most likely not in all 3 cases.
And that’s because just like sit-ups, small isolated movements do not generate enough heat (ie. raise your metabolism) to burn calories.
This was confirmed by a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. In this study, one group did 7 different ab exercises – 2 sets of 10 reps for each one – five times per week, for six weeks. The control group did nothing.
The study revealed that, after six weeks, neither group was any closer to having flat, toned abs. Doing all of those “old school” ab exercises did little to nothing to burn belly fat. (1)
Plus, when you consider that most traditional ab exercises impose more stress on your lower back and engage your hip flexors more than your actual abdominal muscles, it makes you wonder why we’ve been duped into doing these exercises for so long. For some more ab exercises that aren’t crunches check out this post.
With that out of the way, here are the 5 best lower ab exercises. The first thing you’ll notice is that they all integrate your entire body (not just your abs), which engages your core to a much greater extent.
Second, because each exercise recruits more muscle, you end up burning more calories. If your goal is to lose lower stomach fat, then this is very important since you can only “spot reduce” by losing more total body fat.
Kettlebell Front Squat
You can use dumbbells, a kettlebell, or a barbell for this odd abdominal exercise. The reason I call it an abdominal exercise is because your core is heavily activated to hold and stabilize the weight you’re carrying, especially as you push to standing from the squatted position. Try it for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.
Hold the kettlebell at chest height, keeping the weight firm in your hands and not resting on your chest. Sink down into a squat, keeping your abs tight and torso tall, then push yourself back up to standing. Choose a heavy enough weight that only allows 8 reps.
If you do this exercise with a traditional barbell front squat set-up, it’s even more effective for your abs. That’s because when you have the barbell across the front of your shoulders, you’re forced to keep your elbows high so that your upper arms are parallel to the floor.
This keeps the bar from tumbling forward. The simple act of keeping your arms in this position activates all of your core muscles, including your lower ab muscles, perhaps to a greater degree than any other exercise.
Reverse Lunge with Overhead Press
You can use a dumbbell or a kettlebell for this exercise. It’s a great example of how your core is the bridge between your upper and lower body.
Pick up the kettlebell in your right hand and extend it over your head. Lunge backward with your right leg. Push back to standing and then step back with your left leg.
This is a very challenging exercise for both your core and your working arm, so perform 6 reps on one arm, then switch to the other arm.
Knee Drive Side Plank
This is a great variation of the traditional side plank that heavily activates your groins, hips, and lower ab muscles.
Keeping your body straight, come up onto your left forearm and place your right foot slightly in front of your left. You will feel all the action in the left side of your core.
Brace your abs and now draw your left knee in towards your chest. You should feel the groin region of your right leg doing a lot of stabilizing work here. Pause for a second and then return.
Repeat for 10 reps and then switch sides.
Lie flat on the floor on your back. Contract your abdominals and raise your legs off the floor at a 90-degree angle so your lower legs are parallel to the floor.
Bring your arms off the floor and push your hands into your thighs, keeping your arms straight. This is your starting position and you should already feel a good amount of activation in your abs just doing this.
Next, simultaneously lower your left leg and right arm until they are just off the floor and pause for a second before returning to start position. Repeat for the leg and arm on the other side. This is one repetition.
Complete 6 reps on each side.
Prone Stability Ball Twist
This is an exercise I rarely see people do, but it’s awesome for strengthening your lower abs, hips, and upper body.
Begin in a push-up position with your hands on the floor (right under your shoulders) and your feet on the stability ball and slightly spread to the sides.
Now, rotate your hips slightly so that your right foot comes toward the floor. Engage your abs to rotate back to your starting position and then rotate to the left. Be sure to keep your hips level with your shoulders and your abs tucked in and engaged through the entire motion.
Repeat for 6 reps on each side.
The Bottom Line
So there you have it. 5 of the best lower ab exercises that have nothing to do with traditional sit-up exercises.
Doing these odd exercises will not only strengthen your abs, but they’ll provide a greater overall metabolic effect or burning more fat because they engage more muscle.
And the best part is that they won’t crush your lower back. In fact, they’ll strengthen it without you even thinking about it.
(Your Next Workout: The 21-Day Ab Challenge)