Traditional core exercises, like crunches or bicycle, are great for sculpting your upper abdominals and obliques. But they barely touch those pesky lower abs, making toning this trouble spot quite a challenge for most of us.
If you want to really flatten and sculpt your belly, you have to make sure you’re hitting every last inch of those hidden muscles. We asked fitness expert and certified personal trainer Kira Stokes (who has a six-pack most can only dream of) to show us some of her favorite moves for chiseling the lower abs.
The key? Put your legs and your brain into it. “Anytime you move your legs, you’re working your lower abdomen,” Stokes says, since they’re connected to the hip flexors. Unfortunately, most of us feel these exercises mainly in the hip flexor, which can take away from working the abs, not to mention be pretty uncomfortable. “The low abdomen takes so much mental focus,” she says. Putting your brain into the muscle group is key, by constantly focusing on your lower abs and making sure you feel them engaged in every move.
Before you go any further, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a classic plank position down pat, since many of these moves are based off it. To plank perfectly, Stokes instructs: prop yourself up on your feet and forearms, shoulders rolling down your back, squeezing the butt cheeks, drawing the navel in strongly. Be careful not to arch your back—your whole torso should stay in a straight line. Got it? Time to whip your tummy into bikini-body shape.
Get into a plank position with a glider under each foot. If you don’t have gliders, you can use paper plates or towels, Stokes says. Hold the plank, press down on the gliders, and slide legs out behind you, maintaining the plank position. Your arms will extend as you slide your body back. Then, pull your body back into the starting position. Keep a straight plank pose the entire time. Make sure you’re pushing and pulling as far as you can, getting as much range as possible. Do 10-15 forward and backs (counting forward and back as one) or for 30 seconds.
“Think of cleaning the floor and wanting to get it done as fast as possible,” Stokes says. The key is to really press down on the gliders to create friction between the glider and the floor—that’s what really gets your core engaged. If you just let them fly, you’ll only be working your hip flexors. This move works your entire rectus abdominus, Stokes notes, so you’re getting both a stretch and building strength, which is rare for core workouts.
Get into an extended arm plank, propped up on your hands with hands directly beneath your shoulders, feet hip-width apart. Press down on the gliders and slowly pull the knees in so they come about 4 inches in front of your hips. Then, push back to starting plank position, keeping the core tight the entire time, drawing the navel in. Do for 30-45 seconds, or 10-15 reps. You should be moving very slowly to get the most out of each move, Stokes says.
3.One-Legged Mountain Climber
Start in a plank position with your right knee pulled into your chest. Keep the right knee completely stable so you have a constant contraction on that side. Then, slide the left knee in and back, maintaining the height of your hips. Do 10-15, then switch and do the same on the other side.
In this move, your abdominal wall is contracted on one side by holding the knee in tight and the other side is more active so both sides are working. “They’re hard,” Stokes admits. “It’s more about the quality of your movement than necessarily the quantity,” so start out with less if that’s what it takes to do them correctly.
Get down into a plank position, squeezing your butt, with a glider under each foot, on the edge of your mat. Using your forearms, crawl forward about five steps, until your gliders hit the end of the mat, and then crawl back. Make sure to hold the plank position and keep legs straight and hips stable. Do this 3-5 times, counting forward and back as one full rep.
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