Many people focus on developing the abdominals at the front of the core with the goal of achieving a six-pack. That’s a great goal to aim for. However, strengthening the abs the right way can also go a long way toward alleviating lower back problems and improving overall spinal health. Other core exercises that develop the erector spinae are also important to develop a healthy spine. In this article, I’ll reveal seven of the best abdominal exercises you can do to maintain spinal health, even if you have an existing back complaint.
- Spinal Health and Wellness
- Core Strength Workout
- Lower Back Specific Exercise
- Wrap Up
Spinal Health and Wellness
Lower back pain is the #1 reason that people visit the doctor. Around 80 percent of people will suffer serious back pain at some point in their lives. There are a number of causes of back pain, with the most common factors being:
- Lack of mobility in the muscles around the spine
- Poor biomechanics
- Bad posture
- Weakness in the muscles of the back
- Muscular imbalance
- Lack of movement
- Improper exercise technique
I’ve had personal experience with the last of these. As a guy who’s been weight training for many years, I’ve had numerous occasions when a wrong action while squatting or deadlifting has thrown out my back. For a couple of weeks, I’d be in agony and would have to forego my workouts.
Over the last year or so, I’ve become a little wiser with regard to spinal health and functional fitness. As well as incorporating the abdominal exercises I outline in this article, I try to practice the following spinal health measures:
- Use a firm mattress
- Wear shoes with a strong, supportive base
- Use a foam roller before and after exercise
- Consciously practice good ergonomics
Core Strength Workout
If you have an existing lower back injury, the following exercises are ideal for strengthening the core without placing extra strain on the injured area. Perform this core workout for abs twice per week to strengthen your entire core in order to prevent future injury.
To perform a basic elbow plank, lie down on the floor with elbows positioned underneath your shoulders. Raise your shoulders and hips so that you are supported from your forearms and feet. Keep your core engaged by holding your glutes and abdomen tight. Do not let your lower back sag downward, and maintain a straight posture through your ankles, knees, hips and shoulders. If you are unable to achieve thirty seconds with good control, perform the exercise on your hands and feet or elbows and knees. When you are able to hold this position for 30–60 seconds, revert to the elbows and feet position. Then work to progressively increase your isometric hold during your plank workouts.
Perform a plank from your elbows and feet like you did in the previous exercise. Slowly walk your feet apart by performing slow alternating steps, about six inches each time. Focus on squeezing your glutes to lift the leg that you are moving. Make sure your lower back does not dip as the leg is in the air. Stop the walkout when your feet are a comfortable width apart. Then slowly walk them back together.
Ready to level up your abdominal exercises? Use a ball! For this exercise, you will perform the same plank posture but place your forearms or hands on a physioball. Start with the ball against a wall to help your stability. As you gain control of this position, perform the exercise with a ball on an open floor.
Stir the Pot
This is a great variation of the ball plank. Perform a plank with your forearms on the ball. Now perform a small, circular motion with your forearms as though you were stirring a pot. Keep your body in place, especially your shoulders, and try to move only through your arms and the ball as you do this. Perform at a variety of speeds and a different number of alternating repetitions in each direction. You can also add forward and backward side-to-side movements to increase the fun.
90 / 90 Holds
Start on your back with your feet on a wall. The wall will help you get into the right position for these abdominal exercises. Your legs should be flexed at 90 degrees. Place your arms straight at your sides and lightly press them into the ground. You should notice that your core activates. Focus on tilting your pelvis backward, lightly flattening your spine to the ground, and keeping your lower rib cage down. Pull your feet off the wall and hold this posture. If you are unable to hold this position, pull your knees a little more toward you. If it is too easy, you can drift your legs away slightly.
Leg Reach in Supine
Start in the same 90/90 position, but with your arms also flexed at 90 degrees and pointing toward the ceiling. Perform alternating and opposite arm/leg reaches. Make sure to keep your core tight and hips and spine in place.
Lower Back Specific Exercise
In conjunction with your core strength abdominal exercises, here’s an awesome non-weight lower back exercise that you can do anywhere, anytime.
Seated Torso Extension
Sit on a seat with your hands together in front of your chest and your knees together. Now curl your body down toward your knees, pivoting at mid spine level (not at hip level). Next, extend your lower back as you lift up again.
This movement lengthens and shortens the erector spinae at the base of the spine. The stronger this muscle is, the more able it will be to support the spine.
A pain in your lower back doesn’t mean that your core training has to come to a halt. In this article, I’ve presented you with seven powerful moves that will strengthen your entire core area without putting any extra strain on your back. Select 3 or 4 of these abdominal exercises and perform three sets of each for a quick ten-minute workout twice per week. Combine the workout with the four spinal maintenance tips provided and you will be well on the way to optimizing your spinal health and reducing the risk of lower back injury.