In the summertime, six-pack abs are just as desirable as a cold six-pack of brews. But if you’re one of the 80 to 90 percent of Americans affected by back pain at some point in their life, crushing ab workouts is much more difficult than crushing Bud Heavies. Still, strengthening your core is absolutely critical, not just for day-to-day tasks and overall body stability, but also to help treat your annoying back pain.
“A strong core is critical in alleviating back issues,” says Dan Giordano, DPT, CSCS, and cofounder of Bespoke Treatments in New York City. “And while working out your abs may not feel stellar, there are exercises you can do to shape up without the wince.”
Here, Giordano shares seven ab exercises you can do if you struggle from lower back pain. The best part? When done together (do two sets of the below moves, resting 30 seconds between each), you’re tackling your entire core from the transverse abdominis to accessory muscles.
Do it: Assume a pushup position with your arms completely straight. Brace your core as if you are about to be punched in the gut. Without changing your lower-back posture, lift your right foot off the floor and raise your knee to your chest. Touch the floor with your right toes. Then simultaneously jump your right foot back to the starting position while bringing your left knee to your chest this time. Alternate back and forth. Continue for 30 seconds.
Trainer notes: “You want to keep your hands slightly rotated [out or away from your body] to take the pressure out of the shoulder joints,” says Giordano.
Do it: Lie on floor with feet in air, hips and knees bent 90 degrees, pressing lower back down. Press your palms and knees together; hold, maintaining resistance, for 30 seconds.
Trainer notes: “Do NOT hold your breath!” cautions Giordano. “Make sure to breathe easy, and brace through your core. When you feel like your back is starting to rise up, it’s time to stop the movement.”
Do it: Lie on floor with feet in air, hips and knees bent 90 degrees, pressing lower back down. Press your palms and knees together; hold, maintaining resistance, for 30 seconds. Extend one leg until heel hovers one inch above floor. Alternate back and forth. Continue for 30 seconds.
Trainer notes: “If you feel your pelvis shift as you’re pressing your legs forward and down, you’ve gone too far,” cautions Giordano. “If it feels off, make this easier to execute by not lowering your legs as far toward the ground.”
Do it: Sit on the floor in the top of a sit-up position, knees bent and feet planted. Slowly roll down and back toward the floor. When you feel the tension in your core activate, return slowly to start. Do 12 reps.
Trainer notes: “Make sure you’re not lowering down too far; if you go too far, your feet will likely rise,” says Giordano.
FOREARM SIDE PLANK
Do it: Lie on your right side with your knees straight. Prop your body up on your elbow and forearm. Raise your left hand until it’s perpendicular with your torso. Your body should form a T. Brace your core by contracting your abs forcefully as if you were about to be punched in the gut. Raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders. Breathe deeply, hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.
Trainer notes: “If you have back pain, the typical stacked-feet side plank will likely be rough,” says Giordano. “Instead, alleviate pressure by widening your base of support and staggering the feet at the base of your plank.”
Do it: Lie faceup on the floor with your legs above you, slight bend int he knees. Place your hands lightly behind your head. Pressing your lower back to the ground and bracing your core, raise your head and shoulders, then crunch your rib cage toward your pelvis. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position. Do 12 reps.
Trainer tip: “With back pain, your hamstrings may be tight,” says Giordano. “A slight bend in your raised legs totally fine so you’re not straining to perform the movement.
ROTATION-FREE BICYCLE CRUNCHES
Do it: Lie faceup with your hips and knees bent 90 degrees so that your lower legs are parallel to the floor. Place your hands behind your head. Lift your shoulders off the floor and hold them there. Pull your right knee in as you crunch straight up. Simultaneously straight your left leg. Alternate back and forth. Continue for 30 seconds.
Trainer tip: “You’re aiming for full extension of the leg, but it can be a bit much,” says Giordano. “If your back starts to hurt, you can raise your extended leg higher which will alleviate pressure from the spine.”