Tone and Strengthen Your Lower Abs

Learn to engage your abs correctly with these 3 moves.


By Cori


Do you have to put your hands behind your lower back every time you do a move like leg lowers (you know that super tough ab move you do where you lie on your back and try to lift and lower your legs straight up and down)?

Sick of feeling your lower back when you do a core workout?

Then you need to learn how to strengthen your lower abs and get your intrinsic core stabilizers working correctly!

You shouldn’t need to put your hands behind your lower back when doing leg lowers. You shouldn’t feel your lower back during sit ups or planks.

You should really feel your abs shaking and working during your core workouts if your abs are engaging and working correctly.

Learn how to really engage your abs correctly with these 3 moves:

1. Vomiting Cat

You know that cat/cow stretch? Well that stretch can be turned into one of the best core activation moves out there. Because of the way you draw your abs in, it can make you feel like a cat coughing up a hairball, which is why it is called the Vomiting Cat!

To do the Vomiting Cat, start on your hands and knees, with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Then draw your bellybutton in toward your spine as you round your back up toward the ceiling, tucking your hips under as you try to contract your abs as hard as possible. Let your head tuck as you round your spine.

You should be drawing your abs in toward your spine, almost as if you are trying to “cough up a hairball” or vomit.

Hold and consciously try to contract as hard as possible. Then relax out. Try to even make your abs shake as you focus on contracting as hard as you can. Then repeat. The holds don’t need to be long, but they should be as intense as possible!

2. Pelvic Tilt Progression

All too often we want to jump straight to double leg lowers in our workouts. But double leg lowers are something that we need to EARN. We can’t simply put a bandaid on things and place our hands behind our lower backs if we actually want our abs to get stronger. Placing our hands behind our backs may take away the low back pain, but it doesn’t teach our abs to truly engage or work correctly!

So if you are struggling to get your abs to engage during double leg lowers, you need to regress the move and focus on another variation of the Pelvic Tilt Progression. Because double leg lowers are simply an advanced variation you need to build toward.

To do the Basic Pelvic Tilt and learn how to engage your abs correctly to avoid your lower back engaging during double leg lowers, start by lying on your back on the ground with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Relax your arms down by your sides.

You should feel a space between your lower back and the ground. Now draw your bellybutton in toward your spine as if you are “scooping out” your stomach. Press your lower back into the ground. Feel your abs engage as you draw your bellybutton in toward your spine. Hold for a count then release.

From here you can progress to single knee tucks, tucking one knee in at a time. Then you can move to double knee tucks, tucking both knees, before progressing to single leg lowers and finally double leg lowers.

As you progress, at each stage, just make sure your lower back isn’t coming off the ground. If it does, reset and try again or regress the move until you are ready to advance!

3. Dead Bug

This is a great move to build core stability and use the pelvic tilt to get your lower abs and deep intrinsic core stabilizers working. It can also be a great contralateral movement to get your opposite arm and leg working together just like they need to when we run or walk!

To do Dead Bug, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Press your low back into the ground and engage your abs like you would with the Pelvic Tilt. Then tuck your knees up so they are bent to 90 degrees and your feet are up off the ground. Your lower leg should be about parallel to the ground.

Crunch your upper body up, lifting your shoulder blades up off the ground as much as you can. Then take your right hand and place it on your left knee. Push into your knee to create tension through your core while you keep your arm straight.

Then straighten your right leg out as close to the ground as you can without your lower back engaging as you reach your left hand back overhead. Keep your shoulder blades lifted. You can either perform a hold, staying here or you can slowly switch to the other side.

To perform reps and switch from side to side, you will want to tuck your right leg in as you bring your left hand down to touch your knee. As you tuck and place your hand on your opposite knee, you’ll straighten your other arm and leg out. Move slowly, switching from side to side. Do not let your low back come up off the ground at any time.

If your low back starts to engage, either do not lower your straight leg out as close to the ground or instead regress to more of a single knee tuck version instead, keeping both legs straight and instead touching the toe down of the leg you aren’t pushing into with your hand.

Cori is the owner of Redefining Strength, a functional training facility in Orange County, California focused on helping each client find their strong. She started training and writing a fitness blog in 2011 because she wanted to empower people through diet and exercise so that they can lead healthier, happier lives.