SparkPeople member BUTTERFLIY recently asked a very common fitness question: "I have a lot of weight under my belly button! How and what can I do to work the lower part of my belly?"
This is a very common complaint for women. We naturally hold a little bit of extra fat on our lower bellies—it's a lot more common (and normal) than you might think. But at the same time, we see so many (albeit unrealistic) images of flat and toned abs on women—and we think there's something wrong with us for not looking the same way. Body image issues aside, there is a two-part answer to this question that might actually surprise you...
First off, there is no such thing as "upper" and "lower" abs. Unfortunately, there are many trainers and fitness instructors that perpetuate the myth of upper and lower abs—maybe because they don't know better themselves, or because they tell clients what they want to hear. Your rectus abdominis (or abs, for short) runs down the front of the torso, from the center of the ribcage to the pubic bone. It is one long sheet of muscle that just happens to look like several small muscles. This is due to a unique feature called "tendinous inscriptions." These inscriptions run across the muscle and down the center, giving it that "6-pack" (but more accurately, 8-pack) appearance.
If the abs is one muscle, then why do certain exercises seem to target different areas? Actually, all abdominal exercises target the entire muscle, but during some exercises, you just happen to feel it in one region of the muscle a little more. That means that all types of abdominal exercises will target the whole abs muscle, no matter where you might feel the exercise. As far as strengthening and toning the abs goes, aim for a variety of exercises. The abs are like any other muscle, so you don't need to do hundreds of repetitions for a good workout—when you do an exercise correctly, you shouldn't be able to do a thousand reps anyway. Rest 1-2 days between each abs workout to give those muscles a chance to repair and strengthen. For effective workout ideas, click here.
Now for the second part to this answer. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as spot training, so all the crunches in the world won't help you lose weight from your lower belly. While the strengthening and toning part (above) is important, it doesn't burn the fat that covers the muscles. Cardio exercise, in combination with a healthy diet, will burn fat from all over the body. So don't leave out this very important step.
The last thing I'll mention is to be realistic. Very, very few women have abdominal definition or a completely flat belly (myself included). A little bit of lower tummy is perfectly normal—it's what gives women that soft, curvy and even voluptuous look. But it's not impossible to tone up your tummy and improve its appearance. With cardio, a healthy diet, and a variety of strengthening exercises, every woman can help tighten and flatten her belly.
Which part of your body is your biggest trouble zone? What are you doing to improve it?