There’s nothing but confusion out there when it comes to body part specific training. This confusion invariably arises from thinking about the body as individual muscles or segments and ignoring the fact that our body is designed to function as one integrated whole. The biceps never performed a curl without being attached to the arm or the rest of the body. The same is true for the lower abs.
That said, step one in learning to exercise the lower abdominal muscles is to stop thinking of them as separate from the upper abs or rest of the body. Next, consider the role of the abdominal muscles: abdominal muscles counteract extension, flex the spine and help to stabilize the lumbar spine.
Therefore to work the lower abs we must take a two pronged approach: 1.) exercises that prioritize stabilization of the spine and 2.) movements that place the lumbar spine into flexion. To those who love and advocate tons of twisting exercises, please contact me. I have the number for a great physical therapist. In reality, the abdominal strengthening from good twisting exercises primarily comes from spinal stabilization rather than the turning of the body.
Spinal stabilization exercises always get the abdominals firing while simultaneously strengthening the lower back. That’s what’s great about correct movements, you can’t improve one part of the body without improving the rest. Second, when we move the lumbar spine into flexion we are using the abdominal muscles in concert to perform the movement. This is why isolation crunches are lame and conversely why people love Pilates for flattening the abs. Much of the abdominal work in the Pilates system involves placing the lumbar spine into flexion.
Look at it this way, the spine likes to flex, extend and be protected from load bearing forces. Exercises that flex or stabilize the spine will hit all of the abdominal muscles and give you the tight strong stomach you desire. If after investigation into how to strengthen the lower abs you are disappointed you can’t see your six pack, then you have a dietary problem and not a strength or conditioning issue.
*Two examples of how to work the lower abdominal muscles. Notice in both photos the abs are engaged by connecting the feet to the hands. By involving the whole body maximum force is delivered to the center of the body.