If there’s one major muscle group we don’t mind firing up during almost every workout, it’s our abs. And for good reason: Aesthetics aside, a strong midsection leads to proper body alignment, better balance and it can help alleviate lower back pain.
When it comes to targeting the bottom half of your trunk more specifically, there’s just one catch. Those “lower abs” people often refer to are known as the rectus abdominis, which run along your entire midsection (and help give that coveted flatter belly or six-pack look). So while you’ll be working the lower portion of your stomach, you’ll also be getting the upper half involved. That’s not a bad thing, though — you’re targeting your abdominals from every angle to really carve out some definition.
Tone up — from bottom to top and front to back — with these seven lower ab exercises. Then go ahead and consider yourself hardcore!
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Perform these seven moves in a row, with little to no the rest time in between, for a full midsection-centric workout. At the end of the circuit, take a 90-second break, then repeat two more times.
1. Bear Crawls
How to: Start on all-fours, then lift your knees a few inches off the floor (a). Keeping your knees elevated, move your right hand and left foot one step forward (b). Then move your left hand and right foot one step forward (c). Keep walking forward or if you have limited space, step backward with opposite hands and feet (d). Repeat for 10 reps.
Pro tip: This move works your entire core, but to really target the deep transverse abdominis (which cinch your waist), make sure you draw your navel in and maintain a neutral spine.
2. Straight Leg Lifts
How to: Lie on your back with your hands underneath your butt or low back, whichever is more comfortable and will keep you from arching your back. Your legs should stay straight and your low back should remain against the floor throughout the entire exercise (a). Lift your feet toward the ceiling so your legs are perpendicular to the floor (b). Lower your feet back down, just a few inches off the floor (c). Continue to lift and lower for 10 reps.
Pro tip: Start with your head, neck and shoulders resting on the ground and when you’re ready to kick your ab workout into high gear, raise your shoulders and head off the floor.
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How to: Lie on your back, with your feet a few inches off the floor, toes pointed, and your head and shoulder blades lifted off the ground. Place your hands behind your head, elbows wide (a). Bring your right knee in toward your chest, as you lift your left shoulder blade higher off the ground and toward your knee (b). Straighten your right leg and lower your left shoulder, as you rotate and bring your left knee inward and your right shoulder up and toward your knee (c). Continue switching sides to complete 20 reps total (10 each side).
Pro tip: Make sure to lift and rotate your shoulders — not just your neck and head — to really fire up your obliques during this exercise. Keep a neutral pelvis, too.
4. Mountain Climbers
How to: Start in a high plank position, body in a straight line from head to toe and hands shoulder-width apart (a). Bring your right knee in toward your chest (b). Return it back to the floor and immediately bring your left knee to your chest (c). Continue switching legs to complete 10 reps on each side.
Pro tip: The faster you move (without wrecking your form), the more calories you burn, so get stepping to turn your workout into a seriously sweaty one!
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5. Dead Bug
How to: Lie on your back. Lift your legs and bend your knees 90 degrees so your shins are parallel to the floor. Lift arms straight above you (a). Lower your left arm toward the floor behind you (elbow straight), as you lower your right foot to just above the floor (knee bent) (b). Return to start (c). Lower your right arm toward the floor behind you and your left foot to just above the floor (d). Return to start and continue alternating, so you do 10 reps on each side.
Pro tip: As for most of the moves on this list, focus on drawing your belly button toward the floor so you maintain a neutral pelvis and keep your low back in contact with the floor. This will help you best target more muscles.
6. Modified V-Ups
How to: Sit down on the floor, knees bent and feet flat. Lean your upper body backward, so it’s about 45 degrees from the floor (a). Bring your knees into your chest, shins parallel to the floor and arms straight in front of you (b). Extend your legs straight out so your feet reach just a few inches off the floor (c). Bring your knees back into your chest and repeat for 10 reps.
Pro tip: Intensify this exercise by keeping your knees straight as you lift your legs and as you lower them, slowly drop your upper body back toward the floor as well. You’ll complete a full V sit-up with this approach that targets your entire stomach.
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7. Forearm Side Plank
How to: From your side, place your forearm on the ground, elbow in line with shoulder and other hand on your hip (a). Stagger your feet and lift your hips up so your body is in a straight diagonal line (b). Hold this position for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
Pro tip: Planks are one of the best exercises to work the deep inner muscles of your abdominal wall, helping to keep your trunk stable. Want to make your plank even more challenging? Try one of these five variations.
For more creative exercises that work major muscle groups, sign up for Daily Burn 365. You’ll get a new workout every day.
Originally published December 2016. Updated January 2018.
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