365 Ways #193–Why your lower abs are absent

#193--Unlike most muscles with two sources of innervation, the abdominals have NINE sources of innervation. The last two, from the umbilicus down, are the iliohypogastric nerve and the ilioinguinal nerve. Together they are what is termed the "lower abdominals". Most people have excellent upper abdominal function from years of sit ups, crunches, and leg lifts. In contrast, the lower abdominals are often fast asleep as evidenced by the little roll so commonly found on people's bellies, even in those who have good upper abdominal definition.

The usual suspect for turning the lower abdominals off is sensory motor amnesia. You haven't used it, so you lost it. But many other factors can contribute to this abdominal amnesia:

--A tight psoas group which not only put the pelvis in a position of excessive anterior tilt but also holds the abs in a stretched position, effectively inhibiting them.
--intestinal inflammation from medical drugs, food intolerances, alcohol consumption, etc. can keep the lower abs from working since pain inhibits function
--poor form/improper training techniques which facilitate the upper abs and/or the psoas so that these muscles activate preferentially and even steal the neurological drive intended for the lower abdominals.

So what's the fix? For most it's learning how to actually activate the lower abs. Because if you can't turn the muscle on, you cannot train the muscle. The first in a long series of abdominal exercises is the easiest to perform but the most difficult to learn. It requires complete focus and precise neurological control. It's called the pelvic tilt or lower abdominal #1.

To perform the movement, lie on your back with your knees bent as if you're going to do a crunch. You should have a natural lumbar curve that keeps your spine from lying flush to the floor. Place one hand in the small of your back opposite your navel. The other hand should rest on the lateral aspect of your abdominals inferior to the umbilicus, just above where a pocket would be. Using your lower abdominals, flatten your back so that you decrease/eliminate the lumbar curvature so you feel pressure on the hand in the small of your back. The other hand should feel the muscles of your abdominals get tight. Your pelvic girdle should posteriorly rotate (if it were a cup of water, you would pour water down your backside) while your hamstrings stay relaxed. That's the hard part, as the hamstrings will also posteriorly rotate the pelvis. But if they do the work, the lower abdominals won't!

Do at least one set a day (you don't need to rest 48hrs between sessions as the movement is not intense enough to cause muscle damage--so don't expect a "burn") of 20-30 FOCUSED reps. The moment you think you can do this exercise and whistle Dixie, you're probably doing it wrong! So concentrate instead of crunch. And watch your lower abs finally show up for once.



Yes, Doug—that’s why I suggest in my book to follow the flexibility/stability/strength/power progression when developing a program. Stretch the iliopsoas first (if hyper facilitated), then strengthen the lower abs. If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing…

Doug Reitz, DC

If you cannot lay comfortable on your back without tightness and/or ache in the lower lumbar region you may have an iliopsoas dysfunction and will not be able to perform these. Proper function of the iliopsoas must first be restored or the abs will be fighting a much stronger muscle. This dysfunction is also part of the reason the abs stopped working.

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