The best exercise for your lower abs revealed
By Christian Finn, Men's Health Columnist & Exercise Scientist
Some fitness experts will tell you there are distinct "upper and lower" abdominals, which need to be exercised differently.
Others say that rectus abdominis (the six-pack look is the result of bands of connective tissue that "cut" into rectus abdominis) is just one muscle, and doing separate exercises for the upper and lower abs is a waste of time.
So, who's right?
Some studies do appear to show that certain exercises are more effective for the lower abs than others.
Scientists from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, for example, used electromyography (known simply as EMG) to measure abdominal muscle activity during various exercises, including the trunk curl, reverse curl, v-sit, and twist curl (these animated demonstrations aren't exactly the same as the exercises used in the study, but they're close enough) .
This study suggests that you can put greater emphasis on the upper or lower abdominals depending on the exercise you do. But it certainly doesn't show that you can work the lower and upper rectus abdominis separately.
More interesting still, Professor Stuart McGill, an expert in spine function at the University of Waterloo in Canada, points out that a distinct upper and lower rectus abdominis does not exist in most people .
"There’s a muscle called pyramidalius, which is a lower muscle that overlays the bottom beads of rectus, but only in some people - it's an optional muscle," says McGill.
In other words, those using EMG who claim there is an upper and lower rectus abdominis might simply be monitoring pyramidalius.
I usually train my abs twice a week, using a variety of different exercises. In one workout, for example, I might do cable woodchops, hanging leg raises and standing cable crunches. In the next workout, I'll use a few different exercises, such as barbell rollouts or swiss ball reverse curls.
I also believe that all the talk about the "upper" and "lower" abs ignores what is probably the most important part of getting your abs to show.
"The truth is, getting six-pack 'killer' abs has almost nothing to do with training," writes Tom Venuto, author of Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle. "It has everything to do with low body fat."
If you've seen pictures of Tom, you'll know he has some of the best abs in the business.
"Some people might argue that I was just blessed with good genetics in the ab department, which may be true," says Tom. "But based on my experience with others who have less favorable genetics, I still believe that developing the abdominal muscles is easy. The hardest part is getting your body fat low enough for your abs to show."
- Christian Finn
1. 1. Lehman, G.J., & McGill, S.M. (2001). Quantification of the differences in electromyographic activity magnitude between the upper and lower portions of the rectus abdominis muscle during selected trunk exercises. Physical Therapy, 81, 1096-1101
2. Willett, G.M., Hyde, J.E., Uhrlaub, M.B., Wendel, C.L., & Karst, G.M. (2001). Relative activity of abdominal muscles during commonly prescribed strengthening exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 15, 480–485