You can do all the crunches and situps in the world and still not hit the bottom muscles of your core. The area is notoriously hard to target in the realm of abdominal-strengthening moves — which is why fitness trainers are revealing the best lower ab exercises that do the job.
When you incorporate these moves into your workout routine, your entire body reaps the benefits. “Having a strong core is key to body function,” Stephanie Urbina, a women’s fitness specialist, tells Bustle. That’s especially the case if you’re hunched over a computer for the majority of the day or regularly deal with back pain, she says. Having stronger abdominal muscles — lower abs included — contribute to improved posture and fewer lower back aches.
Keep in mind, though, that it’s tough to single out specific areas of your core. “Studies have shown that we can't exactly isolate our lower abs,” Gabby Sansosti, a coach at TONAL, the home fitness equipment brand, tells Bustle. The good news? You can up the burn in that area with the right moves — you’ll just be engaging your upper abdominals as well, she explains. So you’re really doing your entire core a favor.
Ready to give a few exercises a try? Read on below for the 11 best lower ab exercises trainers love.
How To Do It: Lie flat on your back (or sit up to modify) and raise both legs into the air. Slowly lower your legs for four counts then back up for four counts. Go slow and make sure your neck and shoulders remain relaxed.
Why It’s Great: Sansosti loves this move because you can feel the burn immediately in the lower core.
How To Do It: Start in a full plank position, then pull one knee into your nose before extending it out behind you. Repeat with the other leg and keep alternating.
Why It’s Great: Urbina notes this is a modified version of mountain climbers — which are an option if you want to try something more advanced (with a pop of cardio).
How To Do It: Start in a plank position with your forearms on the ground. Roll into a side plank with your top arm straight into the air, stack your feet or stagger them, and reach your hips high. Hold at the top, count to three, then roll through your forearm plank and into the same position on the other side.
Why It’s Great: Rolling planks have the added element of balance, says Sansosti. “You’re challenging the body through instability, which makes every muscle in your body turn on,” she tells Bustle.
Swiss Ball Exercise
How To Do It: Start in a high plank position with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your shins balanced on an inflatable workout ball. Brace your core to support a neutral spine and from there, squeeze your abs and draw your knees in towards your chest while using your toes to roll the ball forward. Pause for a moment with knees drawn in and then slowly return to the starting position.
Why It’s Great: Sansosti points to the exercise ball as an outside object that adds an extra challenge: “Incorporating an outside object increases demand on the body,” she says.
How To Do It: Stand tall and bring one knee up to your chest at a time. You can do this slowly or in a jumping motion, says fitness instructor Cary Williams. Just make sure you engage your lower abs each time you lift a knee.
Why It’s Great: “You will really feel this in the lower ab muscles,” Williams says... and going slow will only increase the burn.
How To Do It: Start in a tabletop position with your navel drawn into your spine. Extend one arm and the opposite leg with your foot flexed. Hold for a count, then lower down, repeating on the other side.
How To Do It: Lie on your back and extend your right arm and left leg at the same time while keeping both off the floor so you feel the burn in your lower abs. Then alternate.
Why It’s Great: This exercise targets the lower abs in a way that’s easily modified. “For those who can’t be in a supine position, this can also be done on hands and knees [by] extending opposite arms and legs out,” Urbina says.
How To Do It: These are similar to regular crunches, but instead of having your knees together, allow them to fall apart into a butterfly position. As you crunch, lift your arms above your chest and reach forward as you rise all the way up as you look straight at the ceiling.
Why It’s Great: “This completely removes the hip flexors from the action so that the core has to do all of the work,” Barton says. “They are also quite challenging, so a good modification would be regular crunches.”
How To Do It: From a seated position on the floor, bend your knees and lean back so your torso is at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Keep your spine straight and begin rotating side to side around your spine. Rotate as far as you can comfortably go while keeping abs drawn in.
Hanging Knee Raises
How To Do It: Find a pull-up bar and hang with both arms straight. Make sure you’re motionless before raising your knees up to a 90-degree angle and then return back to hanging. Go slow and don’t use momentum to lift your knees.
Why It’s Great: Fitness trainer James Shapiro tells Bustle this is a great exercise you can easily make more advanced by straightening your legs or adding a weight between your feet.
Gabby Sansosti, coach
Stephanie Urbina, women’s fitness specialist
Cary Williams, fitness instructor
Jesse Barton, trainer
Jonathan Tylicki, master trainer
James Shapiro, personal trainer
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