Much of our daily back pain comes from what happens outside of the gym. If you sit too long at work or in the car, your abs will be less tense than when you are standing or on the road.
“When your core is weak, your back muscles take on more work to keep you upright and moving through your day,” says Peter Donohoe, CSCS, two-time Olympian and Hydrow coach. “But when the abs are strong, your back is better supported and you can function more freely without compensating for a weak core.”
However, adding more crunches isn’t enough to keep your back pain-free. “It’s important to prep the body with mobility and flexibility moves prior to performing any strength and endurance workout,” says Donohoe.
He suggests adding flexibility and balance exercises to any workout to get your body into proper alignment in preparation for the extra load. A July 2020 survey in The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicinefound that performing core exercises and hip stretches only three to four days a week reduced pain and improved physical function, balance, and activity levels in people with low back pain.
Try This 10-Minute Ab Workout For Back Pain
Abs and back
- Start on all fours with hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
- Exhale as you arch your back, pull your navel toward your spine and pull your chin toward your chest.
- On an inhale, lower your abdomen toward the floor while arching your back.
- Continue moving between the cat and cow poses for 60 seconds, letting your body move with your breath.
If your back is extra tight and you need a few more stretches, try doing hip flexors, psoas, and quad stretches for a few minutes to free your lower back from tension.
2. Abdominal Roll-Up Series
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the mat and hands behind your head, elbows out.
- Press your lower back against the mat. Turn your chin slightly toward your chest as if you were gently holding an apple under your chin.
- Crawl into a half crunch, keeping your abs engaged and your back flat.
- Lift and lower without coming completely back to the floor for 10 crunches.
- At the beginning of the last crunch, hold for 5 seconds, then lower your shoulders to the mat and rest for a count of 5.
- Repeat 10 more crunches, holding for 5 counts at the top of the last crunch.
- Without lowering back to the floor, reach your right elbow to your left and then your left elbow to your right, 5 times each.
- Lower yourself back down and rest for 5 counts.
- Then raise both legs, knees bent in an inverted tabletop.
- Crunch as if you were trying to connect the bottom of your ribs to your hips.
- Do 10 reps.
- At the beginning of the last crunch, hold for 5 counts before lowering for 5 seconds to rest.
- Then make a side angle and reach each elbow to the opposite knee 5 times on each side before lowering to the floor.
3. Bird Dog
Back, butt and abs
- Start on your hands and knees with your neck and spine in a neutral position.
- Extend your right arm and left leg at the same time.
- Hold for 10 seconds.
- Return to all fours.
- Switch sides and hold for 10 seconds.
- Repeat 3 times on each side.
4. Plank Knee Touch
Abs, buttocks and back
- Start in a low plank, balancing on your forearms and toes.
- Lower your right knee with a gentle tap that barely touches the mat before straightening it again.
- Repeat with the left knee.
- Continue tapping the knee alternately for 20 reps in total (10 on each knee). Do 3 sets.
5. Side plank with rotation
- Start in a modified side plank on your right. Support your upper body with your right arms and bend your right knee for support under your hip. Extend your left leg straight and raise your left arm toward the ceiling.
- Lower your left arm and pivot toward the floor. Put your left arm through the space under your body.
- Release your arm and return to the starting position.
- Repeat the movement slowly for 30 seconds.
- Repeat on your left.
- Perform this exercise twice on each side.