The belly area in general is a tough place to tone and tighten. And, on top of that, the lower abs tend to be ignored more than the upper abs in core workouts. With stubborn fat that tries hard not to let go, and a number of different muscles and organs to think about, the lower abdominal region can be the bane of many people’s fitness regime. But don’t worry, we’ve put together a list of exercises for lower abs that will help you strengthen and flatten that muffin top…
A Quick Lesson In Ab Anatomy
Before we get into exercises for lower abs, we need to understand the area we’re targeting. The abdomen, commonly referred to as the ‘belly’, is located in your upper body, also known as the ‘core’. It contains all your digestive organs, including your stomach, small and large intestines, pancreas, liver and gallbladder. It also contains your kidneys and spleen, as well as a number of important blood vessels. The abdomen is covered by fascia, a thin but tough layer of tissue. In front of that, you will find your abdominal muscles, including:
- Transversus Abdominis – This is the deepest muscle layer, which stabilizes your core and maintains internal abdominal pressure.
- Rectus Abdominis – This is located between the ribs and pubic bone at the front of the pelvis. When engaged, it can create those bumps and bulges known as the ‘six pack’. Its main function is to move the body between those areas.
- External Oblique Muscles – These are positioned on either side of the rectus abdominis. They support the trunk in twisting motions.
- Internal Oblique Muscles – These are located just inside the hipbones and work with the opposite external oblique in twisting motions. For example, to twist to the right, your right internal oblique and left external oblique are engaged.
So, in certain lower ab exercises, you are targeting the internal and external oblique muscles, as well as the lower parts of your transversus abdominis and rectus abdominis. But, targeted exercises are not enough to flatten and tone the belly – an area notorious for its stubborn fat storage…
Why Does The Belly Store So Much Fat?
The belly is one of those problem areas that can be extremely difficult to tone and trim. And the lower abdominal muscles are often missed or ignored in regular ‘core’ exercises. Sit-ups, for example, target the upper abdominal muscles much more than the lower muscles. The issue with this whole belly area, however, is that target exercises are not enough to tighten, tone and remove belly fat. The belly area is one of the most difficult areas to remove flab from, often holding on even when other areas of the body have shrunk. So, why is the belly so prone to stubborn fat storage?
To begin with, let’s look at fat itself. There are two layers of fat in the body – some is right under your skin, called ‘subcutaneous’ fat. Then, there is a deeper layer of fat called ‘visceral’, which layers your heart, lungs, liver and other organs. Visceral fat is what can become the bigger problem in relation to health. While you do need it to cushion your organs, too much can cause high blood pressure, and lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. When too much fat builds up in the body, it starts to get stored in unusual places, and the belly is one of those go-to areas. Too much visceral fat is more harmful that excess subcutaneous fat. However, the good news is, it is also easier to lose than subcutaneous fat. Although, it does become even more complicated when you look at it on a cellular level…
Understanding Fat At A Cellular Level
Certain fat cells that are very resistant to burning tend to accumulate in certain areas. They include the belly, along with the hips and thighs. Because these cells are programmed to hold on and accumulate, people tend to really struggle with tightening and toning those areas. Burning fat is a two-part process that includes lipolysis and oxidation. Lipolysis involves the release of fatty acid molecules into the blood, followed by oxidation, which involves those fatty acids being utilized or ‘burned’ by other cells. Certain chemical responses in the body stimulate this process, mainly the production of adrenaline and noradrenaline, or catecholamines. When these hormones enter your blood, they travel to fat cells, attach themseleves, and trigger the release of fatty acids stored in them. Other cells in the body are then able to use the fatty acids as energy.
BUT, fat cells aren’t all made alike, and, while some respond well to catecholamines, others don’t. Unfortunately, those stubborn fat cells in the belly are the type that doesn’t respond well. That’s because belly fat contains many more alpha-receptions, which hinder lipolysis, than beta-receptors, which trigger it. You’ve probably noticed when losing weight that it always disappears from your chest, face and arms first. That’s because they all contain more beta-receptors.
Exercises To Target Your Lower Abs
The lower abs can often be forgotten or ignored in ‘core’ focused workouts. For example, regular sit-ups or crunches really target the upper abdominal muscles, and leave out the lower ones. Here are some great exercises for lower abs that can be added to the end or beginning of a cardio or resistance workout. Or, you can simply add them to the end of your usual exercise of walking, swimming, running, cycling or sport.
Plank targets every single abdominal muscle, including upper and lower. Lift yourself off the ground with your feet and hands – wrists under shoulders, body straight, and hands firmly pressed on the ground protecting the wrists. Your core should be strong and your back straight (don’t collapse in the back). Depending on your strength, hold the pose for 30 seconds to begin with – if that’s easy, hold it for a couple of minutes, otherwise work up to that.
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