Just because you suffer from back pain doesn’t mean you need to stop your abdominal workout. With a few tweaks, you can do belly crunches pain-free. Small changes such as adding in a stability ball or slowing down your crunch can alleviate back pain while still targeting your belly.
Move your crunch from the floor up onto a stability ball to reduce back pain. A study published in the “International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy” in 2012 showed that crunches done on a Swiss ball targeted your rectus abdominis, or the muscle on the front of your stomach running from your pelvis up to your ribs, without causing extra back pain.
To still target your belly efficiently, you need to place the ball in the right spot. A study published in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” in 2007 analyzed the ball in two positions: the ball high on the back under the scapula and the ball low on the back. When the ball is placed under your lower back, abdominal muscle activity was doubled compared with the upper back.
Slow down your crunch to reduce back pain. A study published in the “Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology” in 2012 showed that the speed of crunches influences your back muscles. The faster you do your crunch, the more back muscles are recruited to help you perform the move. If you take things slowly, your body will use fewer back muscles and focus more on your abs.
Exercises to Avoid
Although crunches on the stability ball reduce back pain, there are crunches that actually increase back pain. A study published in “Physical Therapy” in 2008 found that reverse crunches and bent-knee situps could be problematic for people with back problems. In the reverse crunch, you begin with your legs off the floor and your knees bent to 90-degrees and then crunch your trunk toward your knees. The bent-knee situp is your traditional floor crunch where your knees are bent and your hands are placed behind your head. If you want to avoid hurting your back, skip these moves.
Adding in Resistance Training
Switching up your schedule and doing your crunches in the middle of your strength-training workout can help alleviate back pain. A study published in “Clinical Biomechanics” in 2008 showed that doing abdominal exercises in between resistance-training sets decreases the negative compressive forces placed on your back during crunches. Resistance-training exercises give your body a chance to actively recover.
- International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: Swiss Ball Abdominal Crunch With Added Elastic Resistance Is an Effective Alternative To Training Machines
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Electromyographic Comparison of a Stability Ball Crunch With a Traditional Crunch
- Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology: Velocity of Isokinetic Trunk Exercises Influences Back Muscle Recruitment Patterns in Healthy Subjects
- Physical Therapy: Electromyographic Analysis of Traditional and Nontraditional Abdominal Exercises: Implications For Rehabilitation and Training
- Clinical Biomechanics: Spinal Unloading After Abdominal Exercises
Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.