If you’re struggling doing ab exercises with back pain, you may find it frustrating to try and do ab exercises. After all, you’re trying to alleviate your discomfort, not make it worse. However, it’s important to remember that ab exercises can actually be beneficial for managing low back pain. By strengthening your core muscles, you can improve your overall stability and reduce the strain on your back. The key is to find the right exercises and make any necessary adjustments or modifications to accommodate your discomfort.
It’s common to experience discomfort or flare-ups while doing ab exercises with low back pain. This can be due to a number of factors, such as weak core muscles or improper form. However, with some adjustments and alternative exercises, it’s possible to work around these issues and continue to strengthen your core muscles.
Why do ab exercises hurt my back?
Typically, when people say they have back pain during ab exercises, it is simply because their core is not yet strong enough to support the exercise they are trying to do. Having a weak core could be a contributing factor to back pain for a number of reasons. Your core muscles, which include your abs, obliques, and back muscles, play a crucial role in supporting your body and maintaining proper posture. When these muscles are weak, they may not be able to adequately support your body, leading to strain on your back muscles.
For example, let’s say you’re lifting a heavy object off the ground. If your core muscles are weak, you may find it difficult to maintain good posture and brace your body as you lift, which can lead to back strain. Or, let’s say you’re playing a sport that requires quick changes in direction. If your core muscles are weak, when you go to make that quick movement, your core may not be strong enough to keep your spine stable which can cause you to pull a muscle in your back.
By strengthening your core muscles, you can improve your overall stability and reduce the strain on your back muscles. This can help to alleviate back pain and prevent future injuries. There are a number of exercises you can do to strengthen your core muscles, such as planks, bird dogs, and dead bugs. By incorporating these exercises into your routine, you can safely and effectively strengthen your core muscles to improve your back health and reduce discomfort. Remember to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your exercises as you get stronger. And as always, consult with a medical professional before starting any new exercise routine.
How to test if your core is the problem
There are a few different tests you can do to determine whether or not your core muscles are weak:
- Plank test: To do a plank test, start in a push-up position with your hands shoulder-width apart and your feet hip-width apart. Hold this position for as long as you can, keeping your body in a straight line. If you’re unable to hold a plank for more than 30 seconds, or if you feel significant discomfort in your back or abs, it’s possible that your core muscles are weak.
- Side plank test: To do a side plank test, start in a plank position with your feet stacked and your right hand on the ground. Lift your left hand off the ground and hold this position for as long as you can. If you’re unable to hold a side plank for more than 30 seconds, or if you feel significant discomfort in your obliques or back, it’s possible that your core muscles are weak.
- Russian twist test: To do a Russian twist test, sit on the ground with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Lift your feet off the ground and lean back slightly, keeping your core muscles engaged. Hold this position and twist your torso side to side, using your obliques to initiate the movement. If you’re unable to complete at least 20 twists without significant discomfort or strain, it’s possible that your core muscles are weak.
It’s important to note that these tests are not definitive and that it’s always a good idea to consult with a medical professional if you have concerns about your core strength or back health.
The best ab exercises for those with bad backs
Here are a few ab exercises you can do to strengthen your core without hurting your back:
- Planks: To do a plank, start in a push-up position with your hands shoulder-width apart and your feet hip-width apart. Hold this position for 30 seconds, building up to longer holds as you get stronger. You can do 3 sets of planks, resting for 30 seconds in between sets.
- Bird dogs: To do a bird dog, start on all fours with your hands shoulder-width apart and your knees hip-width apart. Lift one arm and the opposite leg off the ground, holding for a few seconds before lowering back down. Repeat on the other side. You can do 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions on each side, resting for 30 seconds in between sets.
- Dead bugs: To do a dead bug, lie on your back with your arms and legs extended. Lift your head, shoulders, and legs off the ground and bring your opposite arm and leg towards each other, touching your elbow to your knee. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. You can do 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions on each side, resting for 30 seconds in between sets.
In the case of all of these exercises, notice that the focus is bracing the abs as hard as you can and either moving while bracing or statically holding the braced position. What this is doing is training your body to brace the core in order to keep the spine in a safe position. What we are avoiding in these exercises is combining a lot of movement with a back that is unsupported, like in the case of a Russian twist, for example. During a Russian twist, your back is unsupported, and you are simultaneously twisting. If your core is not strong enough to support your spine, your back will round instead of staying straight. In the world of health and fitness, it is well known that the most vulnerable position for the back to be in is rounded and rotated, which is exactly what you will be doing in the Russian twist example I just discussed.
Too long; Didn’t read
Trying to do ab exercises with back pain can be a frustrating pursuit. However, in most cases, the problem is simply that you are doing ab exercises that exceed the strength that your abs can produce. This causes your body to compensate by putting pressure on the back muscles, which will eventually present itself as back pain.
If you want to test whether or not your core is the cause of your back, you can do a simple test like so:
- hold a plank for 30 seconds
- hold a side plank on both sides for 30 seconds each
- Perform 20 Russian twists with your feet off the ground
If, during any of these exercises, you experience back pain, it is likely that you have a weak core and that you need to focus on easier movements that work on core bracing.
In order to combat this, you need to learn how to brace your core and keep it braced while you are moving your body. Back-friendly exercises like planks, dead bugs, and bird dogs all accomplish this goal.
Jordan Tank, Personal Trainer, Columbus, Ohio
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