A UVA Heart & Vascular Center Initiative

Back-Friendly Ab Workouts

Posted April 20, 2015

Your typical abdominal and core-strengthening exercises can be painful when your back is injured or strained. Some ab exercises, if not done properly, can even cause back discomfort. However, cutting out ab exercises altogether isn’t an option. “A strong core is essential, whether you’re recovering from a back injury or trying to prevent back problems in the future,” says Club Red cardiologist Brandy Patterson, MD . Below are some great tips and alternative ways to strengthen your core without hurting your back.

What If My Back Already Hurts?

It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before you begin any new exercise routine, especially if you have a history of back pain. Ask your doctor if he or she can suggest a workout that exercises the abdominal muscles without causing strain.

While you shouldn’t work out during an acute bout of back pain, you should stay active. Walking, swimming, bike riding and other low-impact activities can speed up recovery.

4 Easy Exercises for Strong Abs and a Happy Back

When you start a new abdominal workout, go slow and focus on maintaining good form. Avoid sit-ups completely, which can strain your disks. These four exercises are especially good for beginners, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:

Crunches: Lying with knees bent and hands supporting your lower back, slowly raise your upper body toward your knees until your shoulders are several inches off the floor.

Heel raises: While standing, raise your heels off the floor. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly lower.

Heel slides: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Straighten one leg by sliding the heel against the floor, then repeat on the other side.

Wall squats: Stand with your back against a wall. Then slide your back down the wall as you bend at the knees, making sure your knees don’t extend past your ankles.

Modify Your Movements As You Advance Your Routine

Some intermediate abdominal exercises require lifting both feet off the floor. If this hurts your back, keep one foot on the ground with the knee bent. Then alternate legs, so you don’t work one side harder than the other. Eventually your abs will become strong enough to support both raised legs without back strain.

Achieve Full-Body Fitness

Finally, make sure you’re also exercising the other major muscles surrounding your back. By focusing solely on the abs, you can pull your spine out of alignment. For a full torso workout, just add some side planks (lying on your side and raising your upper body) and bird dog exercises (getting down on all four while raising alternate arms and legs) to those ab exercises. You’ll soon be on your way to achieving balanced core strength.

Before you start an exercise program, be sure to consult with your physician. Looking for a primary care doctor? Call 434.243.3675 to find a PCP close to you .

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