Whether your workout routine is longstanding or you’re thinking ahead for this year’s New Year’s resolutions, there’s a good chance that working on your abs is part of your plan. It seems like everybody is looking for a six-pack … or at the very least to tighten up those muscles to look better in their jeans. Unfortunately, for far too many of us, our ab work consists of doing tons of crunches, and that represents a big problem for our backs.
Though we want the strong abdominal muscles that crunches provide, they are not the only way to get them — and they may be the absolute worst for our spines. That’s because crunches repeatedly flex and extend our spines, and that is not a motion that our spines have evolved to provide.
The unnatural motion can cause significant injury because they push the curved spine against the floor while working our hip flexors. The hip flexor muscles run from the tops of our legs directly to the vertebrae in our lower backs, and crunches tighten them so much that they create tension. This tension leads to the all-too-familiar lower back pain that so many of us suffer.
Even worse, if you’re doing the motion improperly the damage can extend up to your cervical spine and neck. All of this potential damage just to tighten up a few muscles makes absolutely no sense.
So what’s a gym rat to do? There are plenty of ways that you can tighten up your abdominal muscles while holding your spine in a healthy position. This means you’re getting the workout you want without hurting your back. Here are some of our favorites of those better-for-you exercises.
The Dying Bug
Lie flat on your back with your arms extended towards the ceiling and your hips bent 90 degrees so that your knees are elevated and your lower legs are parallel to the floor. Now extend your left arm to the left of your body and your right knee to the right at the same time, holding your core still. Return both limbs to their original position and then repeat using your right arm and your left leg. Repeat four more times.
Lie flat on your back with your hips bent 90 degrees and both legs up and extended so the bottom of your feet are facing the ceiling. Keeping one leg as straight as possible, lower the other as close to the ground as possible, keeping it straight, then return to the original position and switch sides. Repeat four more times.
Facing down, extend your body straight and then raise yourself up on your elbows and toes without letting your hips fall low or push up too high. Hold for as long as you can, working up to one minute.
These basic exercises will give you the strong core that you’re looking for without creating too much stress on your back. If you find that you are experiencing back pain, don’t ignore it: make an appointment with our lumbar spine specialist in New Jersey.