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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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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Get Ready for Summer Workout

After a long winter, I’m always anxious for warmer weather and the opportunity to spend more time outside. Now is the ideal time to start ramping up your activity levels, so you are ready for those summer hikes, bike rides, marathon yard work sessions and trips to the pool.

As with any change in your fitness routine, start small. Don’t go from the couch to a 60-minute spinning session. Start with 20 or 30-minute workout sessions a few times a week. These sessions might be walks around the neighborhood or 30-minute strength training classes. Just make sure you aren’t asking too much of your body the first day/week.

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Best Workouts for Bad Knees

We rely heavily on our knees in our day-to-day activities, but often our exercise choices abuse them. If you have sore or injured knees, you can still work out – I promise! The important thing is to be aware of what can impact your knees while working out and avoid these activities.

One movement that can have an impact on the health of your knees is how you stand when you lift weights. If you lock out your knees while lifting weights, you are increasing the risk of injuring your knees.

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Intense Workout You Can Do in a Small Space

Spring Break has come and gone, and I’m not ready to get back to the real world! We were fortunate enough to be able to get away, and I’m still enjoying the relaxed routine we fell into during vacation.

Whenever I’m on vacation, I like the challenge of coming up with a small-space, full-body workout. Hotel rooms, dorm rooms or even apartments can make it challenging to work out. This is a workout I created this past week, and I really liked it. It was challenging enough that I felt like I was getting a good workout, but I was able to do it in a small area.

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Best Indoor Workout for When it's Cold Outside

We’ve had a rough winter in Kansas this year. Since Jan. 9, our school district has had at least five snow days. One snow day – let alone five – is not a common occurrence. There have been many days where the weather was too bad to go outside for a run or venture to the pool. This workout is for those days when you are trapped at home and can’t make it to the gym. It’s a quick workout that will get your heart rate up. Give it a try!

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No-Equipment Workouts For At Home

This winter has been brutal. Lots of snow and ice. It’s easy to skip your workout – no one wants to risk his or her life in order to squeeze in a trip to the gym! If you are stuck at home but really want to work out, check out some of my favorite at-home workouts included below. They are bodyweight workouts that require no equipment! Click on the image to link to more detailed instructions for the various movements.

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Fit February Challenge: 5-Minute Workouts

As a trainer, if I could have one “wish” come true, it would be for more people to just get moving. I’m not talking about taking on a huge, new workout regimen or trying the latest fitness craze. I want people who haven’t had the time to start exercising or have struggled to get back into the habit of exercising to just move. For 5-10 minutes. That’s it.

The logistics of starting an exercise program can be daunting – where to do it, how to do it and when to find the time to do it. My goal for February is to set small, five-minute goals that are manageable and logistically doable.

So, here is my challenge for this week: five minutes of activity, three times a week. You pick the days…just get moving for three days. Challenge a friend or spouse to join you.

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Indoor Workout You Can Do With Your Kids

In December, I had an insane amount of continuing education credits to finish because I had put the classes off…for two years. One of the classes I took was about exercise and kids. I was reminded that kids need a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity a day. While taking the class, I started to worry that my son wasn’t getting enough activity each day. As a result, I’ve been trying to focus on ensuring that he gets at least 30 - 60 minutes of activity each day.

Much to my son’s dismay, I’ve started making him exercise with me in my gym. Knowing he wasn’t crazy about the idea, I’ve been trying to come up with workouts that are fun and distracting. We just want to burn some energy! This is an alphabet workout we did recently, and it was a success! I spelled out “Happy Valentine’s Day, Finn.” He had to do the exercises associated with each letter!

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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.

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"No Time to Exercise" Workout

I’m a personal trainer, and even I have to scramble to fit in my workouts on some days. No matter how well I organize my week, I’m often struggling to squeeze in a quick workout. I create 20-minute workouts all of the time, yet I always need more.

Today was one of those days. I wanted a full-body workout, but I didn’t want to be tied to a specific piece of equipment. As Many Rounds As Possible (AMRAP) workouts are my go-to format on days like these. I can push myself a little harder because I’m competing against the clock, and I know I’m going to be done in 20 minutes. It’s a win-win!

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Heading Back to the Gym: Bodyweight Workout

I have a love/hate relationship with the month of January. I love the idea of a fresh start for the new year, but I dislike that the month also brings that annual pressure to lose weight and get in shape. I’m always in favor of trying to incorporate more exercise and activity into my life, but I think the pressure and expectations of resolutions and big goals set us up for failure. Most people who make big, sweeping changes rarely maintain their new “normal” for a lifetime. It usually requires an insane commitment that most people can’t sustain.

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FAST, Full-Body Workout

There is never enough time in the day to get everything done. If I don’t schedule in a time to work out (and actually adhere to that schedule), the day will end with me being too exhausted to work out. I’ve experienced it too many times to count.

I designed this workout to be a quick, full-body challenge. It requires no equipment, so you can do it at home, in your office during lunch or at the gym

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How to Squeeze in Workouts During the Holidays

As the craziness of the holidays take over our schedules, it’s harder to find time to fit in workouts. I’ve found that if I identify small blocks of time for workouts, I can usually fit in a quick workout. I aim to work out for 20 minutes. That’s it. Sometimes 20 minutes seems impossible, so I set my timer for 10 minutes and walk the stairs. Any kind of activity is beneficial - it doesn’t have to be an intense, hour-long class at the gym!

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Want to Start Strength Training? Try This Beginner Workout

Are you wanting to start a strength training program but have no idea where to start? Rest assured, you are not alone! I used to be a cardio-only workout person. I didn’t particularly enjoy lifting weights, and truthfully, I had no idea where to start. If I could get past being totally intimidated by the serious lifters, I’d walk into the workout area and just stare at the gym equipment wondering where to start.  I’d grab a few free weights, do a random number of repetitions and slink back to the treadmills! 

The good news is that it’s not nearly as mysterious as it seems.

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10-Minute Upper Body Workouts

Strength training doesn’t have to be an hour-long endeavor. Many of us don’t have hours to devote to working out. We often look at strength training as an all or nothing pursuit – either we have the time to do it or we don’t do it at all.

Today’s workout is intended to combat that mindset. I’m including two upper body, equipment-free workouts that you can do in 10 minutes. 

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Heart-Pumping, Bodyweight Ladder Workout

I created this workout while we were on vacation. I just happened to be reading a Men’s Health magazine the night before, and one of their articles/workouts inspired me to create this ladder workout. (I LOVE Men’s Health magazine. They have some of the best workouts.)

This workout starts slow, but by the time you get into rounds 10-15, you are feeling it. If you struggle doing push-ups or any movement that places pressure on your wrists or hands, check out the wrist-friendly version included below.

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