When I was Googling around the other day, I came across so many different lower ab workouts it made my head hurt.
Thousands of different “best lower ab workouts for men” articles and videos, all of them containing completely different exercises, with no real way of knowing which ones are worth doing, and which ones are a complete waste of time.
28 Lower Abs Exercises That Will Set Your Core on Fire over here… 10 Minute Lower Ab Workouts for Men over there.
It can all get very confusing.
I’m a simple guy, and I like to keep things as simple as possible.
I think you can get a great workout for your abs with just one exercise. And that exercise is the rollout.
Whether it’s with a loaded barbell, Swiss ball or Power Wheel, rollouts are always one of the first exercises I do for my abs.
But it wasn’t until I came across this study that I discovered just how effective they are, particularly when it comes to working the lower abs.
Exercises For Your Lower Abs
For the study, researchers from California State University set out to test the effectiveness of several abdominal exercises, including rollouts, crunches, hanging knee-ups, sit-ups and reverse crunches.
Of all the exercises tested, muscle activity in lower rectus abdominis (the lower abs) was highest for the rollout.
You can see the full set of results in the figure below.
Here are the exercises listed in order of effectiveness:
- Power Wheel rollout
- Hanging knee-up with straps
- Power Wheel pike
- Reverse crunch inclined 30 degrees
- Power Wheel knee-up
- Ab Revolutionizer reverse crunch with weights
- Ab Revolutionizer double crunch
- Ab Revolutionizer oblique crunch
- Bent-knee sit-up
- Reverse crunch flat
- Ab Revolutionizer reverse crunch
Much the same results were seen in the upper abs, with the the rollout, hanging knee-up with straps, and reverse crunch inclined 30 degrees registering the highest levels of muscle activity in upper rectus abdominis.
Upper vs Lower Ab Workouts
With all this talk about lower ab workouts, I don’t want to give you the impression that you can work the lower and upper abs separately.
The “lower abs” isn’t a separate muscle. It simply refers to the lower section of rectus abdominis, which is one long muscle that extends down the stomach from your ribs to your hips.
Although some studies suggest that you can put greater emphasis on the upper or lower abdominals depending on the exercise you do, that doesn’t mean you can work one area separately from the other.
Getting lower abs also has a lot to do with the way tendons “cut” into rectus abdominis. Not everyone has the genetic makeup to build lower abs that really “pop” out.
Take a look at the picture of Frank Zane in the image below. Zane was Mr Olympia back in the 1970s, and is one of only a handful of men to have beaten Arnold Schwarzenegger in a bodybuilding contest.
Zane had great genetics, took drugs and had a level of dedication and consistency that few possess.
But even his lower abs are flat. He’s got more of a four pack than a six pack. Zane must have done thousands of lower ab workouts over the years, but even that wasn’t enough to get his lower abs to stick out.
The study I mentioned earlier used a Power Wheel to do the rollouts, which is a useful piece of equipment if you don’t have access to a suspension trainer. As well as rollouts, you can also use the Power Wheel to do the body saw, another great exercise for working your abs.
Don’t assume that rollouts are going to be easy. They’re not. If you’ve never tried them before, start with an easier version like the fallout.
What I like about fallouts is that it’s a lot easier to modify the exercise based on how strong you are. The closer you are to a standing position, the easier the exercise. As you get stronger, lengthen the straps and gradually move closer to the floor.
If you don’t have a suspension trainer, here’s a simple way to progress from the plank to the rollout.
The exercises below are listed in order of difficulty. The four-point plank is the easiest while the two-point rollout is the most difficult.
While lying down on your stomach, raise yourself onto your forearms. Make sure that your elbows are lined up directly beneath your shoulders. Your feet should be about shoulder width apart with your toes on the floor. Avoid lifting your hips too high or dropping them too low.
Start with sets lasting 15-30 seconds and add 10 seconds each week as your muscular endurance improves. If your shoulders or elbows hurt, try performing the plank from a push up position.
Although the plank is a great way to work the abdominal muscles, it can get extremely boring, especially if you’re able to hold it for long periods of time.
One way to make the exercise harder is to remove one of the contact points from the floor. From the standard four-point plank position, lift one foot off the ground and hold it there. Make sure to hold your body still, keep your spine in a “neutral” position (no arching or rounding your back) and avoid tilting sideways. Switch legs every 5-10 seconds.
With a Swiss Ball, loaded barbell or Power Wheel in front of you, kneel down on the floor. Starting with the ball close to your body, push forwards as far as possible, pausing for a second in the end position. Pull back with the arms to return the ball to the starting position.
As with the plank, the way to make rollouts harder is to remove one of the contact points from the ground. Take your knees off the floor and straighten your legs. In this position, only your toes should be in contact with the floor. Push the ball forwards as far as possible, pause for a second, and then return to the start position.
Ab Wheel Rollout
If you’re really feeling strong, try rollouts with an ab wheel or loaded barbell. In the video below, I’m using a cheap ab wheel that I got from Amazon.
With the advanced plank and rollout variations, it’s important to “brace” the abdominals (rather than pulling them in) during the more challenging parts of the exercise.
This involves tightening the abdominal muscles as if you’re about to take a punch in the gut. Avoid arching or rounding your back — focus on keeping your spine in a “neutral” position.
You might also find that you want to hold your breath briefly, particularly at the end position of the rollout.
Although any type of breath holding is usually frowned upon by the exercise police, holding your breath raises intra-abdominal pressure, which when combined with abdominal bracing, provides support and strength to your torso by making it stiffer.
How Do You Get Rid of Lower Belly Fat?
In a lot of cases, people looking for lower ab workouts are simply trying to get rid of the fat from the lower part of their stomach.
You can do all the hanging leg raises, scissor kicks, mountain climbers and reverse crunches you want. Doing so is not going to get rid of your lower belly fat.
These exercises work the muscles that sit underneath your belly fat. But that isn’t going to get rid of the fat that’s covering them up.
In other words, when you work a specific muscle group, you develop the muscle that sits underneath the fat. But you’re not shrinking the fat cells in that area.
Training a particular muscle often appears to lead to spot reduction.
However, what looks like a reduction in the thickness of subcutaneous fat is nothing more than an increase in the size of the underlying muscle. This leads to the compression of the extracellular space between fat cells, creating the illusion of spot reduction.
The total amount of subcutaneous fat remains the same. It just takes up less space because the muscle underneath has got bigger.
In other words, while you can’t spot reduce, you can certainly “spot increase” by adding new muscle to a particular part of your body.
Why I Like Simplicity
Bruce Lee, who had a decent set of abs himself, was a big fan of keeping things simple. He once said that the art of Jeet kune do, the martial art he founded, was “simply to simplify.”
“In building a statue, a sculptor doesn’t keep adding clay to his subject,” Lee said. “Actually, he keeps chiseling away at the inessentials until the truth is revealed without obstructions. Jeet kune do doesn’t mean adding more. It means to minimize. In other words to back away from the inessentials. It is not a daily increase but a daily decrease.”
The message of simplicity is often a difficult one to sell.
Many people take the view that if something is simple or easy to understand, then it won’t be as good as something that’s complicated and hard to figure out by yourself. They only listen if something sounds exotic, rare or new.
Complicated carb cycling protocols that you can’t stick to for more than a week, exercises you’ve never heard of, and diets that burden you with endless rules about what you can and can’t eat will often move you further away from your goals rather than closer to them.
That’s because an increase in complexity almost always leads to a decrease in compliance. The more complicated things get, the harder it is to stick with a program long enough to make a decent amount of progress.
Lower Ab Workouts: Final Thoughts
Getting a solid workout for your lower abs doesn’t require dozens of different exercises – the rollout by itself will do the job just fine.
While no single abdominal exercise will get rid of the fat from your belly (that’s more about diet than it is anything else), the rollout will help to give you those washboard abs once you’re lean enough to be able to see them.
SEE ALSO: THE FLAT BELLY CHEAT SHEET
If you want less flab and more muscle when you look down at your abs (or where they should be), check out The Flat Belly Cheat Sheet.
It's a “cut the waffle and just tell me what to do” PDF that tells you exactly how to get rid of belly fat. To get a copy of the cheat sheet sent to you, please click or tap here to enter your email address.
ABOUT THE AUTHORChristian Finn is the nation’s leading authority on science-based, joint-friendly ways to build muscle. A former "trainer to the trainers," he holds a masters degree in exercise science, and has been featured in or contributed to major media on two continents, including the BBC and Sunday Times in the U.K. and Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness in the U.S.