LIVESTRONG.com’s "One GREAT Answer" series takes your health and fitness questions to the world’s smartest experts.
I have back and neck injuries. How can I work my abs and core safely?
-- Bethany Gray, via Facebook
Ooh, that’s a tough one because the back and neck are complex areas, so a number of potential problems could exist. That’s why it’s always best to consult with a doctor before starting an exercise program. Working with a medical professional helps ensure that you can stay active without doing more damage to your body. With that said, I can make some generalized recommendations about how to approach core training safely.
First, a quick lesson in functional anatomy: While your core muscles allow you to bend forward, arch backward and twist, they actually spend most of their time resisting these motions so you can hold a stable, upright position and protect your spine. It’s why crunches are not the best way to work your abs. Think about it — when you crunch, you create movement. Sure, your abs work, but not as hard as they could and not in the way they were designed. When you perform exercises where your core stabilizes your body (think planks), you actually work your abs harder. In fact, a study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" found that while crunches create about 60 percent muscle activation in your abs, planks accomplish 100 percent.
You might already be performing planks (and their multiple variations), but to train around your pain, embrace the concept of resisting movement to challenge your core with the following exercises.
Half-Kneeling One-Arm Cable Press
On one knee with your trunk upright, face away from a cable column machine. Set the cable handle to approximately shoulder height. Keeping the rest of your body stable, press the cable forward. Return to the start position. Perform 12 to 20 reps for two to three sets.
Half-Kneeling One-Arm Cable Row
On one knee with your trunk upright, face a cable column machine. Set the cable handle to approximately shoulder height. Keeping the rest of your body stable, pull the cable toward you. Perform 12 to 20 reps for two to three sets.
Tall Kneeling Anti-Rotation Press
Kneel on both knees, your trunk upright and a cable column machine to your right. Set the cable handle to approximately shoulder height. Hold the cable at that level, arms extended, and resist the rotational pull of the cable for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat for two to three sets on both sides.
About the Expert
Mike Robertson, MS, CSCS, is the co-owner of Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training and founder of robertsontrainingsystems.com.