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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Five Minute Ab Workout

By the time I get to the end of a workout, I’m tired and it’s a struggle to come up with a challenging abdominal workout. Here’s a quick, five-minute workout you can tack on to the end of a workout or do it by itself on those “I-don’t-have-time-to-work-out” days.

For more abdominal and core workouts, check out some of my favorites:

Ultimate Core Workout

Belly Blasting Workout

Five Minute Abdominal Workout:

30 Sec. Plank Walk Outs

30 Sec. Cross Body Mountain Climbers

30 Sec. Plank Rainbows

15 Bent Leg Crunches

15 Straight Leg Crunches

30 Sec. Plank

15 Side Plank Rotations (L)

15 Side Plank Rotations (R)

30 Sec. Scissor Lifts

30 Sec. Plank

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How Often Should You Train Your Abs?

Although you might be motivated to train your abs frequently, that’s not necessarily the best approach. Your muscles need a day, or more, of rest in between sessions in order to repair themselves. Lifting weights damages muscle fibers (creates microscopic tears in the muscles you’ve worked), so rest days give your muscles time to reconstruct, recover and increase in size.

Strive to do abdominal workouts 2-3 times a week. Your workouts shouldn’t be 20 minutes of nonstop crunches – you want to do a workout that involves your core in a variety of movements. (Check out my belly blasting workout for an example of a full-body, core-intensive workout.)

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Remember: eating a balanced, healthy diet coupled with working out will give you the best shot at seeing definition in your abdominal muscles. What you eat has the biggest impact on the size of your belly. You can do 100 crunches a day and still not see any progress. You might strengthen your core, but if you have fat on top of your muscles, it will be hard to see the definition.

Here are a few workouts you can do to strengthen your core:

Ultimate Core Workout

Belly Blasting Workout

How to Lose Belly Fat

Toning and shrinking the belly area is a hot topic among my clients. It seems like everyone wants to have firmer, more defined abs. I get it - we all want to have that envy-inducing six-pack!

You will often here fitness professionals joke that a six-pack is made in the kitchen. They are absolutely right! What you eat has the biggest impact on the size of your belly. You can do 100 crunches a day and still not see any progress. You might strengthen your core, but if you have fat on top of your muscles, it will be hard to see the definition.  

Read More

Ultimate Core Workout

Although we covet and drool over an impressive set of abdominal muscles, we often overlook how much support those muscles provide in our bodies! Your core (abdominal muscles, back muscles, pelvic core muscles and diaphragm) is the support system for a multitude of movements: bending forward, straightening up to standing, bending back, bending to the side, twisting your torso as well as stabilizing your spine.

When we think about working our core, we often just focus on abdominal movements, but we need to be working our backs and strengthening our pelvic core muscles, too! Many people suffer from lower back pain, and strengthening your core is a great way to help combat back tightness and weakness.

Read More