3 Ab Exercises For a Strong Core and Healthy Back
By: Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN
Traditional ab exercises consist of sit-ups, crunches, and other “flexion-type” movements that impose a great deal of stress on the lower back. It’s important to understand that any abdominal exercise that involves flexion of the hips and heavily activates the abdominal muscles will also usually produce a greater amount of pull (or strain) on the lower spine.
Thus, if you have a history of lower back pain or have not developed proper core endurance then it is best to avoid the traditional sit-ups and related ab exercises (ie. leg lifts, crunches, etc…).
Instead, you will want to focus your ab workouts on endurance exercises that keep your spine in a neutral position. In so doing, you will lessen the strain on your back while greatly developing the deeper abdominal muscles such as the tranverse abdominus and internal/external obliques.
So put away those gimmicky ab machines and shopping channel products and add the following 3 ab exercises into your routine.
The plank is a fundamental core exercise that helps to build endurance in both the abs and back, as well as stabilizer muscles. Here’s how to do it:
1. Lie face down on mat resting on the forearms, palms flat on the floor.
2. Brace your abs by gently drawing in your belly button and tensing your abdominal muscles (this “abdominal brace”) is maintained throughout the entire exercise.
3. Push off the floor, raising up onto toes and resting on the elbows.
4. Keep your back flat, in a straight line from head to heels. Tilting your pelvis (ie. tucking your tail bone under) can help with this.
5. Hold for as long as possible. The goal is to build up to holding the plank for more than 1 more with good form.
The side plank is another fantastic static exercise for strengthening the abdominals, back and shoulders. Isometric strength is important for stabilizing the trunk in various sports and exercises. When you are doing the side plank (as with all exercises in general), make sure to perform your “abdominal brace” by lightly contracting your abdominals and drawing in your belly button (like putting on a type pair of pants). This stabilizes the spine and pelvis and ensures proper form at all time.
Here’s how to do the side plank:
1. Lying on your side with your feet stacked, place one forearm underneath your shoulder and perpendicular to your body.
2. Lift your body off the ground and balance on the one supporting forearm and the side of your feet. Remember your abdominal brace. Hold this position for as long as you can (ideally more than 30 seconds) and then switch sides.
This is an unbelievable ab exercise that does not impose a great deal of stress on your spine. For beginners, do this movement on the floor. If you are more advanced I suggest giving this a go on a BOSU (as shown in picture).
Here’s how to do the dead bug:
1. Lie on your back and bring your knees up to your chest.
2. Place straightened arms towards the sky so that they are perpendicular to your body.
3. Maintain a neutral spine and brace your abs and, in a slow and controlled motion, extend your left leg toward the floor, straightening it while at the same time
extending your opposite arm (right arm) behind your head so that it is now parallel to the floor. Ensure that the non-working arm and leg are stationary. Hold this position for 2-3 seconds and then switch sides. Aim for 12 to 20 reps depending on your abdominal and core endurance.
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