Ultimate, Back-Friendly Ab Workout

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!)

Avoid raising and lowering both of your legs simultaneously if you have lower back issues.

Avoid raising and lowering both of your legs simultaneously if you have lower back issues.

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.

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  • 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!

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  • 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!

Ab Blast

Mountain Climbers – 30 seconds

Plank Jacks (or plank step/tap outs if you have a sensitive back) – 30 seconds

Side Plank Hold – 30 seconds per side (A great modification is to do a side plank with one knee on the ground.)

Dead Bugs – 10 per side

Forearm Plank with Alternating Leg Lifts - 10 per leg (Modify this movement by doing a plank with alternating shoulder taps - 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.)

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Fast, At-Home Workout

If you hate going to the gym, you’re not alone. In a survey conducted by Fitrated, 65 percent of women said they avoided the gym for fear of being judged. Concerns about not looking fit enough (55 percent), being judged by what they were wearing (49 percent) or being stereotyped (25 percent) were cited by the survey participants.

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I agree with the survey participants – going to the gym can be incredibly intimidating. It’s hard enough to get motivated to work out, so the last thing you want to deal with is added discomfort from your environment.

The good news is that you can get a fantastic workout at home – no fancy gym needed! I created this workout for individuals who would prefer to work out at home or for those days when fitting in a trip to the gym is not an option. This quick and easy workout is a bodyweight workout, so no equipment is needed. You just need 20 minutes and a little bit of space.

For more bodyweight workouts, check out my workout page. Or, try some of my favorite at-home workouts:

Cardio Workout You Can Do Anywhere

Calorie-Torching Pyramid Workout

The Isometric Burn Workout

At-Home Workout

Circuit 1:

12 Push-ups

12 Supermen

Repeat 3 times.

Circuit 2:

15 Squats with Arms Overhead

15 Single-Leg Bridges (each leg)

Repeat 3 times.

Circuit 3:

12 Lateral Lunges (each leg)

12 Wide Leg Sumo Squats

15 Squat Jacks

Repeat 3 times.

Circuit 4:

12 Plank Arm Raises

12 Bird Dogs

Repeat 3 times.

Circuit 5:

12 Tricep Dips (on the ground)

15 Mountain Climbers

Repeat 3 times.

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