For women looking to improve the look of their abdominals, core workouts are key. However, the last thing you want to do during an abdominal exercise is injure yourself. If done improperly, core exercises can potentially cause serious damage. Thus, make sure to safely perform your core workouts by remembering to breathe, maintaining proper spine alignment, focusing on neck safety and controlling your speed.
Your abdominal muscles are actually involved in breathing and, as a result, it is natural for women to hold their breath during core exercises. However, this is unsafe for a few reasons. First, it is obviously never good to cut off your oxygen supply. If you are doing a very tough exercise yet not breathing, your body could run low on oxygen. Second, holding your breath causes increases in intra-abdominal pressure, resulting in large increases in blood pressure. Continuing to breathe during abdominal exercises will allow this pressure to decrease, reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems.
Since your core muscles are involved in movement of the spine, how you position your spine during abdominal exercises is critical. For any isometric core exercise like a plank, make sure to maintain a straight spine. If your spine is out of line, certain areas of the spine can be stressed, and this can result in back pain and vertebral disc issues. Also, when doing abdominal exercises that involve movement, such as a crunch, make sure to move through a normal range of motion with your spine. If you hyperextend your back, you risk damaging your vertebrae.
Similar to spine safety, it is important to maintain proper positioning with your neck during abdominal exercises. This is true for all core exercises, but specifically those that involve your head being unsupported by anything, such as a crunch. During a crunch, you lift your shoulders off the ground with your hands behind your head. The main purpose of the hands is to support the head; unfortunately, many people pull on their head with their hands, which strains the neck. Keep the neck in line with the rest of your spine and relax your arms. If your eyes remain on the ceiling throughout a crunch, you have done it correctly. If your eyes look forward, you are straining your neck.
For all abdominal exercises, you must use slow, controlled movements. Quick movements risk injuring many joints in your body. If you are used to doing 100 situps in a row as fast as you can, rethink this exercise. The sudden, quick changes in direction can easily cause damage to tendons, ligaments and joints. Also, you are using momentum to power the movement, not your muscles. In addition, quick movements are not conducive to breathing, so you are likely holding your breath as well. Slow, controlled abdominal exercises are much safer for the body, and also ensure that you are effectively working your muscles.
- ACSM’s Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 5th edition; Leonard A. Kaminsky
- ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 7th edition; Mitchell H. Whaley
- NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training; Michael A. Clark
Scotty Brunning is a Chicago-based health and fitness writer. Having worked with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas, he has a plethora of fitness experience. He is an ACSM-certified health fitness specialist and a Cooper Institute master fitness specialist. Brunning holds a master's degree in health and fitness.