You don't have to give up tummy exercises because of a bad back. In fact, strong abdominal muscles improve posture and, along with exercises to strengthen other core muscles of the back and pelvis, can reduce or even eliminate some back pain. Many of the tummy exercises you can easily do at home can be modified to take the strain off the back; however, you should check with your physician about your individual condition.
Tilts and Crunches
Isolate the proper muscles and learn breathing techniques with hollowing or pelvic tilts. Performed properly, this exercise will not strain your back. Lie on your back with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor and your arms at your sides. Your lower back should curve only slightly. Exhale as you contract your abdominals, pulling your navel in toward your backbone. Then inhale as you relax, being careful not to allow your back to arch too much on the return. You can work toward two sets of eight to 12 repetitions; however, if you can do 12 repetitions easily, move on to a more challenging exercise once you have learned to isolate the muscles and breath properly.
Support your feet on a wall, bench or stable chair while doing abdominal crunches. Start by lying on your back with your knees bent to 90 degrees and your fingers placed lightly at the base of your skull to support your head. Your spine and neck should be in alignment, but tilt the pelvis up slightly as in Step 1 to relieve back strain. Exhale as you lift your shoulder blades off the floor without pulling on your neck. Concentrate on hollowing the abdominals as in Step 1. Inhale as you return your shoulders to the floor. Do not over-arch the spine. Do as many repetitions as you can without breaking form, but work toward doing at least eight to 12 per set. Rest for 30 seconds, then try to do another set.
Work your obliques with a rotational curlup. Place your feet against a wall or support them on a bench or stable chair with your knees bent to 90 degrees. Place both hands behind your head or one hand behind your head with the other arm resting on the floor, extended from your shoulder. Your elbow(s) should be in your peripheral vision. Exhale as you lift one shoulder blade off the floor focusing on bringing your rib cage on one side toward the opposite knee without pulling your elbow forward. Inhale as you return to the starting position. Do as many as you can without breaking form, trying to do at least eight to 12 in a set. Rest and do at least one more set.
Strengthen your abdominals as well as the erector spinae of your back with torso stability exercises. Lie on your back as in Step 1 of the first section. Exhale and contract the abdominals while at the same time sliding one heal along the floor until your knee is straightened but not locked. Straightening the knee too much will cause your back to arch and cause pain. Inhale as you draw the heel back to the starting position and switch legs. Do at least two sets of eight to 12 repetitions with each leg.
Lift your knees rather than stretching your legs, if your back tends to arch with the leg extension. Start in the same position as the heal slide but bring one knee up toward your chest by flexing at the hip. Touch that foot down lightly and bring the other knee up. Continue alternating for two sets of eight to 12 repetitions. Progress to bringing one extended arm on the same side as the bent knee back over your head.
Position yourself on your hands and knees with your knees directly under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Your arms will be extended without locking the elbows. Pulling in your abdominals, work toward maintaining a flat back. Lift the opposite arm and leg until they are parallel to the floor and in line with your spine. Keep your eyes down so your head, neck, back and pelvis remain aligned. Hold the position for 10 or 25 seconds while making sure to breath. Return to the starting position and repeat with the opposite arm and leg. Do this three or four times on each side but stop if you can't maintain proper form.
- Harvard Health Publications: The real-world benefits of strengthening your core
- Spine-health: Specific Hamstring Stretches for Back Pain
- Personal Fitness Training: Theory & Practice, Second Edition; Mary Yoke, MS
- Engage in back stretches, such as lying on your back and pulling your knees in toward your chest, daily.
- Hamstring stretches done throughout the day can also relieve back pain.
- Working opposing muscles, in this case the erector spinae, is important for muscle balance. For bad backs, replace the standard modified cobra with lying on your stomach, arms at your sides, and lifting your head, chest and neck just a couple of inches off the floor.
- Engage in strength training at least twice per week but always leave 24 to 48 hours between workouts for the same muscles.
Nancy Cross is a certified paralegal who has worked as an employee benefits specialist and counseled employees on retirement preparation, including financial and estate planning. In addition to writing and editing, she runs a small business with her husband and is a certified personal trainer with the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA).