How to Progress Your Lower Ab Workout From Easy to Challenging


Make Easy Abs Your Warm Up

Young woman doing stretching exercise lying on back, mid section
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Make Easy Abs Your Warm Up

Pretty much everyone, including you, I'm sure, knows that strong lower abdominals are paramount for preventing and managing low back pain. 

As such, you may have already surpassed the beginning phases of your low ab stabilizing workout - you know, lie on your back, breathe, bring one leg up and down, and maybe even two. 

But did you know that those now passe moves make for great warm ups?

Here are a few of my favorite pre-exercise warm ups:


Add an Easy Challenge to Your Abs - Double Knees into Chest

Woman in trainers, cycling shorts and a vest lying on her back on an exercise mat, head raised as she pulls her bent knees towards her, side view.
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Add an Easy Challenge to Your Abs - Double Knees into Chest 

Continuing with the easy-moves-as-warm-ups theme, drawing both knees into your chest is the next level of challenge. It's almost as easy as lying there and activating your core muscles, but will likely get those abs a-workin' just a bit more.

If you're already strong, consider adding in a lifting motion of your shoulders and upper back (and head, of course, but it's best to think of the movement as coming from your shoulders. You'll likely "get" a better upper ab challenge that way.)


Easy Ab Challenge Taken to the Next Level - Double Knees Away from Chest

Woman in tank top and shorts lying on back on blue mat, head raised, arms raised straight out at sides, knees bent together at right angles to body, side view.
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Easy Ab Challenge Taken to the Next Level - Double Knees Away from Chest

If keeping your knees into your chest (while maintaining good form) is getting too easy, the next step is to move them out a bit. 

You can increment this in units: Take them out only as far as you can while using your abs to keep your low back close to the floor. It should feel challenging, but not painful or unmanageable. Once you've gotten stronger at this level of incrementation (which takes about 10 days to 2 weeks of everyday practice) increment them out a little more and repeat the process.

At this phase, your knees are still bent. 

As with the previous move, if you are already strong, consider adding a shoulder-neck-head lift to the mix. And instead of holding your head/neck with your hands, try extending arms straight out to the side, as seen in the photo above. 

Note: Only try the double knees away from chest variation if you can pull it off without neck pain.


Alternate Straight Leg Raises

Woman in cycling shorts and a vest lying on her back on an exercise mat, head raised as she pulls one straight leg towards her, the other one stretched out in the air in front of her, side view.
Russell Sadur / Getty Images

 Alternate Straight Leg Raises

The next level of challenge involves straight legs, but not double straight legs. This doesn't have to be perfect; the idea is to alternate your leg raises. As one comes up, the other comes down. 

If you're strong enough, take the non-raised leg down to the point where it hovers just above the floor (2 - 10 inches.) This will "get" your lower abs much more than if you simply plop it onto the floor until it's time to raise it again. 

If you're not strong enough yet, or if you're dealing with a low back or sacroiliac injury, go as far as you can without strain. Even taking the non-raised leg only 1/4 or 1/2 way down from 90 degrees is fine if that's your level of challenge.

As with the other exercises, you can keep your head on the floor if you are still in the "developing basic core strength" phase. Otherwise, consider lifting shoulders, neck and head.

If you get neck, back or hip pain while doing this, scale it back to a pain free level or stop exercising altogether and consult with your doctor or physical therapist.


Grand Prix of Lower Ab Work - Double Leg Raise

Woman doing yoga exercise, lying on her back, legs raised in the air
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Double Leg Raise Lower Abdominal Challenge

And finally, the grand prix of strong lower abdominals - a double leg raise.  Warning: This level is not for everyone. You really need a foundation of solid core strength to do this without injuring yourself. (I know this from personal experience.)

As with the alternating straight leg raise challenge level discussed on the previous slide, moving your legs down only 75% or 50% is perfectly fine. The real key is finding that place that makes your lower abs work, without losing form or getting your back into trouble.

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