Don’t Stop at a Six-Pack: Go for All Eight
Lower abdominal definition, also known as the elusive 8-pack, is considered the fitness “holy grail” by some. Due to postural, dietary, and genetic factors, highly defined lower abs are generally achieved by very few dedicated, disciplined, and lucky women.
It’s especially difficult for us women to define the lower abs, as our hormones make our bodies want to store excess fat in that area. Excess fat can mask even excellent muscle tone. Lower abs definition can be yours, though, through the right combination of nutrition, cardio exercise, and the best lower abs exercises for women.
Jump to the Videos of the Best Lower Abs Exercises or continue reading to learn more.
Basic Lower Abs Anatomy
You may be surprised to learn that there is no separate muscle comprising the lower abs. The lower abs are just the lowest part of the rectus abdominis, the classic six-pack muscle. The rectus abdominis originates all the way down on the crest of the pubic bone, spreads across the front of the abdomen, and inserts into the rib cartilage and the tip of the sternum.
The six-pack shape of the rectus abdominis is created by tendinous inscriptions in the muscle. The vertical line down the middle is called the linea alba, translating to “white line” due to the color of the connective tissue.
The rectus abdominis has three functions: to flex the trunk forward, pulling the abdomen toward the legs; to balance out spinal extension performed by other muscles on the back of the body, and to help stabilize the lower back-pelvic-hip complex.
Posture Problems and Lower Abs Exercises for Women
Postural alignment plays a huge role in the appearance of the lower abs. Posture problems, also known as muscle imbalances, can occur in multiple areas throughout the body and cause a host of issues, predisposing you to the injury cycle.
One postural distortion in particular can make you appear less fit than you actually are: anterior pelvic tilt. Ideally, the pelvis is pretty much straight up and down like a bowl holding the lower internal organs. In an anterior pelvic tilt situation, the top front of your pelvis tilts down while the back underside of your pelvis is tilts up like a bowl tipping over.
Anterior pelvic tilt, also known as lumbar lordosis, is extremely common in our sedentary culture. The body will assume permanent characteristics of any habitual body position. From excessive sitting, the hip flexors (such as the iliopsoas and the tensor fascia latae) become short and tight, pulling the top of the pelvis forward even when you stand. The butt muscles (gluteus maximus and the others) become elongated and weak, failing to pull the back of the pelvis into alignment. The net result is swayback posture where the butt and lower abdomen both stick out.
The good news is that anterior pelvic tilt can be fixed through exercise interventions! Even if you feel that your posture is terrible, don’t despair; I’m telling you from personal experience, pelvic tilt is correctable. The basic strategy is two-pronged: strengthen the weak glutes while stretching out the tight hip flexors. Since your posture didn’t become distorted overnight, it won’t be fixed overnight either. Stick with it, though, and you will see results.
If you need help learning how to stretch your hip flexors and strengthen your glutes, enlist the help of a personal trainer or a physical therapist. You can also check out our pages on Glute Exercises and Lower Body Stretches to learn more about what you can do at home to work on anterior pelvic tilt.
If you clearly have the pelvic tilt postural distortion, you will be much better off working on correcting your posture instead of focusing on lower abs workouts. Correcting pelvic tilt is a better use of your time, and failure to do so before beginning lower abs workouts may lead to injury due to improper core stability.
The Importance of Diet and Genetics to Lower Abs Exercises for Women
The old saying “abs are made in the kitchen” couldn’t be more true. You may have a stellar 6-pack or even 8-pack tucked away underneath a stubborn layer of pudge. Spot reduction, the idea that exercising a certain area will melt away fat in that particular spot, is a total lie exploited shamelessly by fitness magazines and marketing departments.
The (somewhat disappointing) truth is that you can’t actually control the particular areas fat disappears from as you exercise. Fat loss works on a whole-body scale, a little bit at a time. The only way to reduce fat is through burning more calories than you consume, not through strength training a certain “problem area.” To hit the required amount of caloric expenditure to lose abdominal fat, you will need to do a good deal of cardiovascular exercise as well as strength training.
This means that if you’re serious about defining your lower abs, you must be very mindful of diet and nutrition. The best advice is to avoid any fad diets which often lead to muscle wasting and the fat bouncing right back as soon as you stop the diet. Instead, eat a healthy diet consisting of plenty of lean protein, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods, and drink lots of water. Minimize stress as much as possible and get 8 hours of sleep every night. Inadequate sleep diminishes your body’s ability to recover and may cause your body to fool you into craving carbs and simple sugars as quick, cheap sources of energy.
You also need to know that genetics play a large role in fat distribution, especially for women. Women’s bodies are genetically programmed to store excess fat in the abdomen, butt, and thighs. This frustrating fact drives many female exercisers to distraction. My point here is not that the results you want aren’t attainable, simply that you need to realize that lower abs definition is something of an uphill battle, so don’t freak out when it doesn’t happen right away! You can achieve essentially any fitness goal you aspire to (within reason, of course) but it will take time, discipline, and dedication!
If you are just starting to learn how to work your abs, you must spend at least a couple of weeks stabilizing your core to prevent injury and build good habits before you move on to these more demanding strength training exercises. Read our article on Core Stabilization Exercises to find out everything you need to know about getting started with abs exercises.
Pay close attention to your form when doing lower abs exercises. Improper form easily leads to injury and exacerbates postural problems which cause the lower abdomen to appear bulgy. If you perform the best lower abs exercises for women incorrectly, you will simply be strengthening the hip flexors instead of the lower abs, which will pull your pelvis even more out of alignment.
To maintain proper form, perform a drawing-in maneuver during your lower abs exercises. Contracting your abdominal muscles, pull your belly-button area in toward your spine. This is different from “sucking it in,” which comes from the breathing muscles. Drawing-in requires abdominal engagement.
Also, keep your glutes contracted at all times to reduce involvement of the hip flexors. Since the glutes oppose the action of the hip flexors, activating the glutes helps force the hip flexors to relax.
You need to feel the lower abs burning during these exercises. If you feel the burn in other areas than your lower abs, you need to stop and reassess your form. Otherwise, you are not isolating your lower abs and your efforts won’t amount to much. Never sacrifice proper form for extra reps: doing so can lead to injury, muscle imbalance, and development in the wrong muscles.
Abdominal exercises of any kind, including lower abs exercises, require high reps in order to be effective. The abdominals mostly consist of type I muscle fibers, which are high in endurance and slow to fatigue. Aim for at least 20 reps of each of the best lower abs exercises. You can do multiple sets if you like for more of a challenge. If you want to learn more about workout structure, read our article on Repetitions & Sets.
You can do these exercises straight through or you can rest for 30 seconds between exercises. Allow 48 hours between lower abs workouts to allow the muscles ample time to recover.
Best Lower Abs Exercises for Women
If you understand all of the above information on proper form and realistic goals, you are ready to add the best lower abs exercises for women to your exercise routine! There is a tendency to hold the breath during abs exercises that you must fight against. Keep breathing as smoothly as you can, exhaling when you contract strongly on “the hard parts.”
Hanging Leg Raises
Hanging leg raises are an excellent exercise for building the upper and lower abs at the same time. You can hang from arm supports as shown in the video, or use the Captain’s Chair commonly found in gyms. This is the only best lower abs exercise for women that requires equipment.
Situate yourself in the equipment with your legs dangling freely. Keep your glutes contracted to deemphasize the hip flexors. Using both legs at the same time, bring your knees as high up as possible toward your chin. Use your abs to raise your legs, not the leg muscles. It’s OK to swing a little to get your legs all the way up as long as you lower them slowly using your abs as much as you can. Go for 20 reps total. This is a tough exercise, so feel free to stop and regroup for a few beats halfway through your set if need be.
Also known as Leg Rolls. This exercise is called the Big 40 because you do 40 repetitions without stopping. Big 40s start with you lying flat on your back on the floor. You can brace your hands flat on the floor by your sides, or slide them slightly under your glutes if that feels better on your sacrum (especially if you are on a hard floor).
As with the other lower abs exercises, keep your glutes actively contracted at all times to encourage the lower abs to work instead of the hip flexors.
Keeping your head, upper back, and lower back pressed to the floor, raise your feet up off the ground and bring your knees in toward your chest. In one smooth, continuous motion, push your feet out straight without letting your feet touch down to the floor. Keep these circles going for a total of 20 repetitions. You’ll look a little like a choo-choo train!
Once you’ve completed 20 choo-choos, keep your feet off the ground and move your feet in circles like you’re trying to draw circles on the wall. Draw 10 circles in one direction, then reverse and draw 10 circles in the other direction. When you’re finished, you’ll have completed 40 reps of a challenging lower abs exercise.
V-Ups are commonly referred to as the Pike, the Jackknife, or the Boat Pose in yoga.
Lying flat on your back with your lower back pressed to the floor, start V-Ups with your legs straight out and your arms straight overhead. Contract your abs while bringing your feet up and your hands toward your legs, keeping your arms and legs straight. At the top of the movement, only your butt and lower back should be in contact with the ground. Avoid jerky movements or relying on momentum to get your arms and legs up. The action is all in the abs. Keep the glutes active to avoid emphasizing the hip flexors. Shoot for 20 reps.
Lying flat on your back with your lower back pressed to the ground at all times, bring your legs up off the floor and move them up and down like scissor blades. Do 10-20 kicks of each leg, then switch up the movement so your legs are crossing one over the other like sideways scissor blades. Do 10-20 sideways scissor kicks.
Remember to keep your glutes contracted to minimize hip flexor involvement. Use the same hand position as in the Big 40 (palms down, by your sides or slightly under your butt).
The Vacuum is also known by the unflattering name of the Cat Vomit, since when you do the vacuum, you look kind of like a cat trying to hack up furball! Although this is technically not a lower abs exercise, the Vacuum is often the hidden key to achieving a flatter midsection.
The Vacuum works out the transversus abdominis, the deepest abdominal muscle, responsible for increasing intraabdominal pressure. Increased muscle tone in the transversus abdominis will provide better support for your organs and tighten up your whole abdominal area.
To perform the Vacuum, get down on hands and knees with your knees directly under your ankles and your wrists directly under your shoulders. Hold your spine in a flat, neutral position. Take a deep breath in and then exhale all the way out. As you blow out the last of your breath, strongly tighten the area behind your navel using your abdominal muscles. This is similar to the drawing-in maneuver described in the Exercise Guidelines section above, but more forceful. Hold this strong contraction for 5-10 seconds, then release, take a few deep breaths, and repeat from the top for a total of five repetitions. Don’t go for 20-30 as is recommended for the other abdominal exercises. Personally, I’d pass out if I did that many vacuums!
I hope these exercises are helpful to you in your quest for lower abs definition. Remember that no amount of these exercises will give you 8-pack abs; nutrition, cardio, and posture are just as important as strength training if you wish to reveal your lower abs.