If your abdominal workout feels like punishment, you might need to update your routine. Many abdominal exercises like crunches and sit-ups are being phased out by the experts in favor of exercises that are friendlier to your spine. If you're suffering from neck or back pain after an ab workout, these are the exercises you need to get the best workout, pain-free.
Ab Workouts That Cause Back Strain
Not all ab workouts are created equal; specifically, sit-ups and crunches are more closely linked with back pain than other exercises. The New York Times Health Guide recommends against straight-leg sit-ups for those experiencing acute back pain.
That's because the repeated flexing motion of a sit-up or crunch rapidly compresses and de-compresses the spine, causing the fibrous tissue around your gel-like spinal discs to rupture. Discs that compress and bulge can press on the nerves of your spine, causing acute back pain, and the problem can worsen until your discs herniate, which can require a surgical procedure to correct.
Excessive lower back or neck pain may indicate an injury. Always seek professional medical advice from a doctor or physiotherapist if your pain persists, and never exercise if you're experiencing pain to prevent worsening an injury.
Stationary Ab Workout
Stationary exercises are the best alternative for those suffering from back or neck pain during their workout. These exercises are zero impact and keep your spine elevated off the ground for a pain-free workout. Plus, they engage more muscles than a traditional sit-up.
You also want to work your back extenders, your flexors and your oblique muscles. Engage your entire core to form a belt of supportive muscles that prevent neck or back strain, a task perfectly suited to the traditional plank exercise.
Read more: 10 Most Effective Ab Workouts
The plank is a staple abdominal exercise that's safe for your neck and back. For this exercise, lie down on your stomach with your palms at your side, flat on the floor. Press up and lift your body off the floor, just like a push-up.
Then, hold your position for one minute, or as long as you can, with just your toes and palms touching the floor. Your back and legs should form a straight line, and you should feel your abdominals tense.
The Side Plank
Start by laying on your side, with your feet together and your legs straight. Then, slowly prop your upper body up by your elbow. You should feel your abs contract.
If you're feeling comfortable, you can take the side plank further and lift your hips off the floor, with your palm flat and your arm forming a straight line to the floor. Your other arm can continue this line straight into the air. Hold this position for one minute, or as long as you can.
For the most effective ab workout, consider working these exercises into a routine. Start with the plank, and then add other stationary ab exercises as your strength improves over time.
The Bird Dog
The Bird Dog, also known as the quadraplex, is a more complicated stationary exercise, working many muscle groups simultaneously for a powerful core workout. Start on your hands and knees, with your palms flat, shoulder-width apart, and your back parallel to the floor.
Next, lift your left arm and right leg off the floor simultaneously, and straighten both. Try to form a continuous line from your left fingertip to the toes on your right foot, staying parallel to the floor. Hold the position for five seconds, then slowly lower both arm and leg and switch to your right arm and left leg. Repeat for up to one minute, or as long as you feel comfortable.
Read more: The 41 Hardest Ab Exercises
- The Toronto Star: The Death of the Sit-Up
- The Daily Mail: Are Sit-Ups Bad For You?
- Wall Street Journal: Why You Can Stop Doing Sit-Ups
- The New York Times: Are Crunches Worth The Effort?
- ArmyPRT.com: Quadraplex
- Newsweek Europe: Stop Doing Sit-Ups: Why Crunches Don't Work
- The New York Times: Herniated Disk