Top 7 Ab Exercises for Lower Back Pain
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Chronic lower back pain is often a symptom of weak abdominal muscles.

At the same time, many popular ab exercises that strengthen these muscles – think sit-ups and crunches – seem to only exacerbate back pain. It’s a frustrating cycle, and leads many chronic back pain sufferers to just give up on core training all together.

Here are 7 great ways to tone, shape and strengthen your abdominal muscles using methods that are gentle on your spine and support your lower back, helping to improve the health of your entire core section, as well as your overall fitness level.

 

Reverse Curl Ups

Hours spent sitting turns off important spine-supporting abdominal muscles, such as the deepest layer of tummy muscles called the transverse abdominals, as well as the ab muscles on the sides of the torso, the oblique muscles.

Reverse curl ups are a good way to engage these muscles while toning up the lower abdominal area and encouraging healthy breathing patterns.

How to Do It:

Lie on the floor on a mat or towel. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor. Arms are along your sides; or, for more back comfort and support, place your hands under the small of your back.

Exhale and tilt your pelvis by pulling your belly button down towards your spine and rolling your hips up towards your ribcage, as if you are trying to scoop out your lower tummy. Maintain this position while you perform the exercise, to support your back.

Bring your knees up towards your chest, widen your knees and cross your ankles to help keep your feet locked down near your bottom (you should not kick your feet up our stretch your legs out during the exercise). This is your starting position.

While you exhale, roll your knees up even closer towards head by using your tummy muscles to pull your hips up towards your ribcage. Then return back to the starting position.

Leg Passes

This exercise also works the lower tummy, transverse abdominals and oblique muscles, while helping to relax and release tension locked in your spine that could lead to pain.

How to Do It:

Lie on the floor on a mat or towel. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor. Arms are along your sides; or, for more back comfort and support, place your hands under the small of your back.

Exhale and tilt your pelvis by pulling your belly button down towards your spine and rolling your hips up towards your ribcage, as if you are trying to scoop out your lower tummy. Maintain this position while you perform the exercise, to support your back.

Bring your knees up towards your chest. This is your starting position.

Keeping both knees bent, bring your right heel down to lightly tap the floor. As you bring your right knee back up to the starting position, lower your left heel at the same time and tap the floor. Continue alternating heel taps.

Dead Bug

One you’ve become comfortable with reverse curl ups and leg passes, you can try this more advanced move. The dead bug targets the transverse abs, the oblique abs, and all your core stabilizer muscles without -requiring your spine to flex, rotate or arch. It also challenges coordination and balance.

How to Do It:

Lie on the floor on a mat or towel. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor. Arms are along your sides; or, for more back comfort and support, place your hands under the small of your back.

Exhale and tilt your pelvis by pulling your belly button down towards your spine and rolling your hips up towards your ribcage, as if you are trying to scoop out your lower tummy. Maintain this position while you perform the exercise, to support your back.

Bring your knees up towards your chest, bending the knees at a 90 degree angle. Straighten both arms up towards the ceiling. This is your starting position.

Making sure not to arch your back, extend your right knee to straighten your right leg at about a 45 degree angle to the floor. As you extend your right leg, bring your left arm back by your ear.

Then bring your right leg and left arm back to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite leg and arm, and continue alternating.

Bird Dog

The Bird Dog is similar to the Dead Bug, only it’s performed on hands and knees, taking all of the pressure off of your spine. It targets your abdominal muscles, your back muscles, your butt muscles and your coordination.

How to Do It:

Get on your hands and knees. Place your knees right under your hips, and your hands directly under your shoulders. Be sure that your torso is straight, and not bend to any one side.

Straighten your back and activate your abdominal muscles by exhaling and pulling your belly button into your spine. Maintain activated abdominals throughout the exercise, being sure not to arch your back at any time. This is your starting position.

Extend your right leg straight out behind you, in line with your hips and back. Simultaneously, extend your left arm straight out in front of you, in line with your shoulder.

Hold this position for 5 seconds before returning to the starting position. Repeat this movement again 3 to 5 times, and then perform 3 to 5 more with the opposite leg and arm. Continue to alternate.

Swiss Ball Crunches

Performing abdominal crunches on a Swiss ball has been shown to activate your abdominal muscles 40 percent more than performing regular crunches on the floor. Another advantage of Swiss ball crunches is that the ball cushions your spine and doesn’t place excessive pressure on your back the way floor crunches do.

How to Do It:

Lie your back across a stability ball, with your knees bent at 90 degree angles, your feet hip-width apart and flat on the floor (brace your toes against a wall for extra stability while lying down on the ball). The ball should be positioned between your tail bone and mid-back, with your upper back, neck and head held off the back of the ball. You can give your head and neck additional support by placing your hands right behind your ears, elbows held open, or you can place your arms across your chest. Engage your core muscles by pulling your belly button into your spine, as if you are bracing for a stomach punch. This is your starting position.

Perform a crunch by scooping out your tummy while you curl your rib cage towards your hip bones. Hold the crunch for a couple seconds, and then return back to the starting position. Repeat.

 

Kneeling Plank to Full Plank

The plank is one of the best exercises for targeting all of your core stabilizing muscles at the same time, all without placing pressure on your back or torqueing your spine.

The kneeling plank is performed with your knees down on the floor, and as your abdominals and back muscles get stronger, you can progress to the full plank, with straight legs.

How to Do It:

Begin in the push-up position. Lower your elbows and forearms to the floor, so that your elbows are directly beneath your shoulders and there is a 90 degree angle between your upper arm and forearm. Lower your knees to the floor — you knees should be placed behind your hips, so that your knees are at a wide 145 degree angle. (When performing a full plank, do not lower your knees to the floor; maintain straight knees while balancing your weight between your forearms and the balls of your feet).

Exhale and activate your abdominal muscles by pulling your belly button up into your spine and bracing for a (imagined) stomach punch. Your back should remain straight, with no arch or hump in your spine. Keep your back in a straight plane, lining up your shoulders and hips.

Hold this position for as long as you can.

As you get stronger, challenge yourself with a full plank.

 

Front-to-Side Plank

Once you’ve built up to performing a full plank, take the challenge level up another notch by performing these front plank to side plank transitions. This is an excellent exercise, as it activates all of the major and minor core muscles – your back, your transverse abs, your side oblique abs, etc. – at different angles, while also working the muscles in your hips, arms, butt and legs.

How to Do It:

Get into a full plank position (see above).

Reposition your forearms by placing them horizontally in front of you, one in front of the other.

Shift the weight of your body into your right forearm and right foot. Then rotate your entire body to the left by reaching your left arm up to point straight towards the ceiling. Keep your torso straight, and do not sag the right side of your torso or right hip into the floor. Hold this stiff side plank for several seconds, as long as you can.

Than rotate back to a front plank, holding a front plank for several seconds, as long as you can.

Repeat on the other side.

Your back, abs and legs should remain straight and stiff throughout the entire exercise. Keep your abs activated the entire time (as if you are bracing for a stomach punch), and do not allow your back, tummy, hips or sides of your torso to sag towards the floor at any time.

 

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