On Sunday, I was doing a workout class at my local gym, and I was cringing during our ab circuit. The instructor was having us do double leg lifts while simultaneously moving our arms overhead (and gripping a dumbbell). I was modifying the movement, so I could keep my back pushed into the mat.
I glanced around and realized that most of the individuals in that class were letting their backs arch and were fighting to complete the movements. Their backs were taking a beating. (At times like this, I don’t know what to do. I can’t fix a person across the room during a class, but I want to!)
During this class, I realized that most of us aren’t sure what modifications we can make during an abdominal workout to protect our backs! If no one advises us how to modify a movement, we are going to keep doing the same movement that is harming us.
You want to strengthen your entire core, which includes your back. So, it’s imperative you protect your back while doing abdominal movements. Here are some reminders and modifications I offer my clients, so their backs are protected while doing abdominal movements. (Maybe this will help you modify an ab workout in the future!)
Keep your back on the mat. If you find it arching, adjust your positioning. If you are doing a leg raise or dead bug movement, don’t lower your legs as much. Just lower your legs to a point where you can maintain your form and your back stays grounded on the mat.
Maintain a level back when planking. As we fatigue during a plank, we let our lower backs dip toward the ground. You want your shoulders, back and hips to remain in a straight line.
If you have back issues, don’t lift both feet/legs in the air for leg raises or any other movement. You can modify this type of movement by keeping one leg bent with your foot flat on the floor. Raise and lower your other leg. You are still working your abdominals but also protecting your back!
Avoid doing a Russian twist or other rotational movements with your feet raised off the ground. I rarely do Russian twists or bicycle crunches because there are so many other, safer movements.
Listen to your body. If something hurts or you feel a tweak, stop!
If you are looking for a back-friendly abdominal workout, check this one out. Be sure to opt for the suggested modifications listed next to the exercises!
Mountain Climbers – 30 seconds
Dead Bugs – 10 per side
Bird Dog Crunch – 10 per side
Standing Side Crunch – 10 per side
High Knees – 30 seconds. (Take this to a march for a lower impact option.)