Lower Abdominal Exercise Physiology
Lower Abs Workout Tips

No abdominal website would be complete without an explanation of lower abdominal exercise physiology.

This is your page if you've asked the question, "How do I work my lower abs?"

This is the question that I have been asked most often in regards to abdominal exercises and core training.

There are two main points that must be covered to answer this question correctly. The first point deals with the biomechanics of strengthening through exercise, and the second deals with the wish to spot reduce and lose fat from 1 particular place through exercise.

Keep reading to learn about the science, or click the links to learn
basic lower ab exercises
Leg Raises and Leg Lifts
the best lower ab exercises
Hanging Reverse Crunches (Hanging Knee Raises) Roman Chair
Hanging Leg Raises from a bar
Lower Ab Workout Tips
Lower Ab Crunches on the Bosu Ball
Lower Abs Exercises on the Bosu Ball

Point #1: The biomechanics of strengthening the lower abs through lower abdominal exercise.

Your ab muscles (rectus abdominus) are considered a segmental muscle, which simply means that they have different segments or parts. This is similar to the arrangement of the spine. Your spine has many segments (lots of vertebrae), and your abs move your spine. So the part of your spine that is moving determines the area of the abs that is emphasized.

If your ribs and upper back move, like in a crunch, the upper portion of your abs is emphasized. However, if you move your pelvis and lower back, the lower abs are emphasized.

So in order to emphasize your lower abs your pelvis must move or abs must work to keep your pelvis stable when your legs move.

Reverse Crunches are a great lower abdominal exercise and one that is often recommended in rehab to help people recover from certain causes of back pain.

When performing the reverse crunch the main key is to lift your pelvis off the floor.

Your ab muscles attach to your pelvis and when your pelvis moves your ab muscles work harder.

If you are just starting out, have more than 20 pounds to lose to reach your ideal weight, or you are really inflexible, you may find that lifting your pelvis off the floor is very difficult.

Don’t be discouraged. You will find that after a couple of weeks your strength and flexibility will improve greatly. You’ll amaze yourself if you just keep working at it.

This is an important lower abdominal exercise to master. One of the reasons people have back pain and chronic back pain is that they cannot keep their pelvis stable when their legs move.

Reverse crunches are a great exercise for exercising the lower portion of the stomach and increasing your ability to keep your pelvis stable to protect your lower back.

Remember, it is important for your overall lower back health to train and exercise your body in many different directions.

Regular Crunches alone are not enough.

Side Bar for nerdy Anatomy people—like me!

Skip ahead for point 2 if you choose, this section is going to get a little more technical.

So many professionals inaccurately say that you cannot target the lower abs with a specific lower abdominal exercise.

It is true that you cannot only activate the lower portion of the rectus abdominus without activating the upper portion of the rectus abdominus. I think that sometimes the debate is over semantics, and the meaning of the terms isolate and emphasize are often used interchangeably.

I don't believe you can isolate the lower abs from the upper abs, but I do believe you can emphasize the lower abs by performing certain movements and exercises.

Some professionals will argue with the statement that you can emphasize the lower abs, but the truth is that you can emphasize the lower abs.

Some professionals say, “that the rectus abdominus (the 6 pack muscle) is one muscle and you cannot stimulate different parts of a muscle”, but this is not accurate.

People who make the claim that you cannot emphasize different parts of a muscle site the “All or none principle” which says that when a muscle fiber gets the signal to contract it contacts all the way—not in segments. So the argument is when the abs contract they contract all the way—not in segments.

The flaw is that people use the term muscle fiber or motor unit interchangeably with the term muscle. A muscle is made of thousands of muscle fibers, and thousands of motor units.

A motor unit is a single nerve cell and the muscle fibers it stimulates. Most muscles are made up of thousands of motor units. In regards to motor units, it is true that you cannot control different parts of a motor unit, but the nervous system recruits motor units in varying patterns.

Asynchronous contraction is a physiological principal that says that the nervous system alternates the motor units that it chooses to stimulate in order to prevent muscle fatigue.

And when you look at the nerve supply for the abdominal muscles you will find that they are innervated by multiple nerves (i.e. the ventral rami of T7-T11, T12 (subcostal nerve), and L1 (iliohypogastric, ilioinguinal).

Our brain and nervous system are way too complex and sophisticated to be limited to the statement you cannot emphasize an area of a muscle. [Physical Therapists use techniques to specifically activate the vastus medialis oblique (VMO) portion of the quadriceps.]

Lastly, the anatomy of the rectus abdominus is such that there are tendinous intersections dividing the muscle and separating muscle fibers and the external oblique has an upper portion and lower portion according to one of the pioneers in physical therapy, Florence Kendall.

With all that said, I just wanted to give a little more insight for professionals or individuals who crave a deeper understanding of anatomy, and I wanted to provide evidence to support my claim that you can emphasize and focus on different parts of your abdominal muscles by doing different exercises.

Did I mention … I love anatomy!

Point #2: Spot reduction refers to the desire to pick a spot on the body and exercise that spot in order to reduce fat from that spot. Spot Reduction is the #1 ab myth.

Much of the energy and calories to fuel exercise are brought to the muscles through our blood. The great travesty of exercise is that our body does not take calories directly from the spot you are exercising.

What does this mean? This means that a lower abdominal exercise by itself is not enough to disintegrate all the fat around your stomach.

Doing stomach exercises is a very positive thing (burns calories, builds strength and coordination, improves posture, increases endurance, and can aid flexibility) in the quest for weight loss and a toned waist, but it is only a piece of the puzzle.

In order to get the best abs, you must do two things… Develop your core and stomach muscles & Lose weight &/ or decrease your body fat percentage

Anecdotal Story about me: I was at my ideal weight and was very lean, but I could only see the upper 4 parts of my 6 pack. I mostly performed regular crunches and a few variations, but my lower abs were not developed.

One day, I was fortunate enough to meet with a professional bodybuilder and fitness model, and he showed me a great lower abdominal exercise that would help to develop the muscles in the lower part of my stomach.

I did the same lower abdominal exercise religiously for 1 month, and afterwards my lower abs were just as developed as my upper abs.

Now, if you are trying to lose the pooch or fat on your lower stomach, reverse crunches and other lower abdominal exercise variations are only one part of the equation.

Exercising your stomach is necessary for developing your lower abs and stomach muscles, but in order to get the most results you must follow a comprehensive program that can also help you to lose body fat and weight.

Remember, if you want to get a flat stomach or a ripped six pack, you have to do two things… 1) develop your core and stomach muscles & 2) lose body fat. Lower abdominal exercise is only part of the solution. To get the best results you must use a comprehensive strategy that focuses on every aspect of fitness.

Keep working at it and never give up!
Yours in Health
Dr Charles

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