As a Beachbody Coach and CEO of my own fitness, nutrition, and healthy living company, I hear a lot of people complain about their mid-section. I am one of them. Forever I’ve had this annoying fatty area just below my belly button that won’t go away. You can see from the photo above that I still have some work to do, lol. What can I say, I’m a work in progress. 🙂 I digress… So in my quest to help others with this, while helping myself, I’ve learned a few things I’ll share with you now.
There are several misconceptions behind the question of how to deal with this lower ab area, so I’ll take them one at a time.
You Can’t Isolate Parts of Muscles
Thanks in large part to the bodybuilding approach to fitness—in which you divide your body into segments, like a butcher’s diagram of a beef steer—many people believe that muscles, and even parts of muscles, can be worked in isolation from one another. So they believe it should be possible to perform an exercise that specifically targets that six-inch square section of flesh below their navels.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Muscles tend to work in groups. Even a simple action like getting up from a chair activates muscles from your neck to your ankles. And forget isolating a part of a muscle. Much like bungee cords, muscles tend to stretch and shorten along their entire lengths.
That’s true of the rectus abdominus, or six-pack muscle, as well. Contract the “lower abs,” whatever those are, and you inevitably contract the entire muscle from its point of origin at the front lower edge of your rib cage to its point of insertion at the front of your pelvis.
There are, of course, effective ways to build a rockin’ six-pack. There’s just no such thing as working your “lower abs.” You either contract your abdominal muscles—all of them—or you don’t.
Your Muscles Probably Aren’t the Problem Anyway
What most people think of as weakness or lack of tone in the lower abs is more likely just a dollop or two of fat around their waist. In both men and women, the lower belly tends to be an area where even relatively lean people carry some fat. Can I get a witness?!?Women’s fitness magazines like to call these areas “trouble spots,” though personally I find it more troubling when people obsess over seeing veins pop out in areas where both the Vera de Milo and Farnese Hercules were smooth. Hope that last link made you laugh!
Just because you can pinch an inch—or two, or seven—around your lower belly doesn’t mean the muscles underneath are weak. Consider this: most football linemen carry a few extra inches of fat around their bellies. Average body fat for these athletes, according to an NCAA Sport Science Institute study, is almost 25 percent.
But the strength and durability of a lineman’s core muscles—which enable him to deal out dozens of bone-crushing, full-body blows in a 60-minute game—is world class. The upshot: carrying some body fat around your middle doesn’t mean your core is weak. And having a strong core doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be lean. Which is a perfect segue into my next point…
You Really, Seriously Can’t Spot-Reduce
Although following strategies for reducing overall body fat can help your abs’ overall appearance, there’s no surefire way to target fat in specific areas. Go for a run and you might burn fat off your face rather than your legs. Rip off 50 pushups and you might burn fat from your thighs rather than your chest.
Trainers have been saying this for decades, but if you need further proof, check out this National Center for Biotechnology Information study showing that exercising the abs, though it does plenty for your core endurance, does little to decrease the fat on top of those muscles.
Where’s the good news in all this? Your entire abdominal musculature—top, middle, sides—will get stronger and more toned when you work them, just like the rest of your muscular system does. Planks, leg lifts, and many other ab-focused moves you’ll find in any Beachbody program will all help get your abs where you want them to be. And the fat cells on top of those muscles will shrink with a smarter diet. For example, a daily dose of nutrient-dense Shakeology can help you reduce cravings and lose weight (or maintain weight in my case). A mindset shift about food as fuel vs. a reward helps too. Eating real foods instead of packaged, chemical and sugar filled stuff marketed as health food is also key.
So if you’re looking for motivation to recommit to smart diet and good exercise habits, your “lower abs”—or whatever you want to call that area—might be it. Just don’t call it your trouble spot.
And if you wanna try some of the best workout programs ever created not just for abs, but total-body fitness, I encourage you to check out Beachbody On Demand. Hundreds of workouts are available for streaming anytime, anywhere. It sure has been a game changer for my healthy living journey! Combine BOD, a healthy eating plan, and my personal support to help you crush your goals, and you have everything you need. We can work on our “lower abs” together!
*Credit Andrew Heffernan and the Team Beachbody blog for doing the heavy lifting on this article.*