When it comes to building the muscles in your midsection, not all ab exercises are created equal. If you’ve been trying to target the stubborn lower ab section of your torso, you’ll know that it’s not easy. There’s only one muscle that runs down your abdomen, the rectus abdominis, but a lot of ab exercises you might be practicing in the gym primarily target the upper section of your abdominals. (While we’re talking abs, here’s the one ab exercise you should stop doing right now).
In my quest for the perfect abs, I turned to one of my favorite YouTube trainers — Pamela Reif, and unrolled my yoga mat to give her lower ab workout a go. (Looking for a new yoga mat for your workouts, we’ve found the best yoga mats for home workouts here). The workout has amassed over 18 million views on YouTube, with the fitness influencer revealing it is one of her most asked for videos.
A huge, but important, caveat before we begin, you cannot ‘target’ fat loss in one specific part of the body — humans just don’t work like this. You can do as many sit-ups, or crunches as you please, but fat loss is achieved by limiting the number of calories you eat and increasing the number of calories you burn.
That said, far from just being an aesthetic goal, losing belly fat is a good way to improve your overall health: research has linked larger waist sizes to conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, as well as some cancers. A stronger core can also help you run faster, and help prevent lower back pain.
Looking for more inspiration? I've found the best ab workouts you can do for free here.
What is Pamela Reif lower abs workout?
The Pamela Reif lower abs workout is a 10-minute workout, made up of 20 exercises, all held for 30 seconds. It’s super-important when working on your lower abs to ensure your lower back stays pressed into the floor, so Reif has added a couple of activation exercises to help you work out what this should feel like.
In the workout description, Reif writes, “Please make sure you keep your lower back flat on the mat. This is essential for your health & essential for training your lower abs. If you don't keep it flat on the mat, you will not train your lower abs. Only move your legs downwards as far as possible (for example during a leg lift). If that means you only have a small range of motion: FINE. You will improve over time.”
If you prefer to take a look at the exercises before you get going, I’ve noted them down here. You’ll work solidly for 10-minutes, without any breaks, but beginners should feel free to press pause if needed. I’ve left out the activation exercises, but be sure to do those to grasp the feeling of where your lower back should stay for the entire workout.
Crunch and leg lift: As you crunch, raise, and lower your legs at the same time. At the top of your crunch, your legs should be up to the ceiling as you squeeze your core.
Scissor kicks: With your back pressed into the floor and your core engaged, raise your head and neck off the floor, and your legs as high as they can go without your back lifting off the mat. Scissor kick your legs up and down and side to side.
Pullover and toe touch: Start the crunch with your arms extended behind your head and your legs extended outwards. As you crunch up, reach your arms forwards and tuck your knees in, and tap your hands to your feet.
Draw circles: Again, lying on your back, lift your legs as high as they can go without peeling your back off the mat, and raise and lower your legs, taking each leg out to the side as you do, as if you are drawing a circle.
Leg pullovers: This time, perform the pullover, but only tuck one knee in at a time, alternating which leg you tuck in for the full 30-seconds.
Butterfly kick outs: This is a reverse crunch, with a butterfly toe tap. Lying on your back, engage your core and lift your hips up off the mat. As you lower back down, press your heels together and drop your knees out to the side. Tap your heels on the floor, then bring your knees back together and repeat.
Ab hold: With your legs outstretched at an angle where your back is still on the floor, lift your head and neck from the floor and extend your arms out by your side. Squeezing your core, hold for 30 seconds.
Mountain climber and hold: Think of this as very slow mountain climbers. Keeping your core sucked in, from a plank position tuck one knee up to your chest and pause, before returning to your starting position and repeating on the other side.
Bear hold: Keeping your stomach tucked in, get into a table top position on your hands and knees, then lift your knees a couple of centimetres off the ground. Hold.
Kick and front up: Lying on your back, kick your legs out away from your body, then lift them up to the ceiling, using your core to lift your hips up off the mat.
1 leg pam knife: From the ab hold position, with your arms and legs outstretched and your head and neck off the floor, lift one leg at a time and crunch your core up to touch the toe of the outstretched leg.
Plank and lower ab crunch: From a plank position, think about arching your back and sucking your lower abs into your spine, before lowering back to a plank. Keep repeating this for the full 30 seconds.
I tried the Pamela Reif lower abs workout — here’s what happened
If you’ve read any of my other workout reviews for Tom’s Guide, you’ll have heard my horse-riding accident story before, but for new readers, I hurt my spine falling off a horse as a teen, and have to be super careful of my back when working out. This is, hands down, one of the best ab workouts I’ve done in terms of looking after your back and for once, I didn’t find myself having to tweak movements.
I’ve spent a lot of time with physiotherapists learning how to keep my back pressed into the floor and my pelvis slightly tilted during abdominal exercises, so to see Reif adding this to her workouts through activations and visual reminders was refreshing. It’s so, so, so important to think about the health of your spine, especially if you’re someone who spends a lot of time sitting behind a desk.
The workout itself was fast-paced, challenging, and left me with a tremble in my inner core muscles, reminding me that I’d worked hard and engaged my core. I also loved that Reif didn’t stop the workout to speak at any point, so I could continue to listen to my podcast and just follow along with the video on mute (although I’ve since done the workout again, and must say the playlist is fantastic).
I’ll warn you now, it’ll be some of the longest ten minutes of your life, but this ab workout is one you’ll return back to, especially if you suffer from any sort of back pain. This is a great, zero-equipment workout you can do from just about anywhere. I’ll definitely be recycling this one, once my core stops shaking.