Steal from the back and give to the abs??
April 17, 2010 6:37 PM   Subscribe

Tips/ideas for abdominal muscle exercises that won't exacerbate back pain in someone prone to it?

A middle-aged female relative of mine has tried to start an abdominal workout routine multiple times over the past few years, but has had problems with back/leg pain that seem to be correlated with the abdominal workouts.

Anyone have good tips or links to information about abdominal exercises that are easy on the back?
posted by Salvor Hardin to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It depends on what her back problems are. I herniated a lumbar disc last year and I avoid doing crunches and similar exercises because they can exacerbate it. But planks don't cause me any back pain; has she tried those?
posted by amro at 7:01 PM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yoga is once again the answer. There are lots of core strength postures that can help your relative out, but she will have to judge where she's at. Some DVDs from the library will get her started.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:02 PM on April 17, 2010

Without knowing the specifics of the back problems, she might want to try back strengthening exercises while she does abdominal workouts. A relatively simple example: lay on your stomach with your hands folded under your chin, then lift your torso and legs gently, hold, and relax. Personal trainers have recommended this to me because apparently too much abdominal work can injure your back unless you're exercising it at the same time. Leg lifts, scissor kicks and similar exercises that don't make you tend to bow your back as much may be helpful. Also, go to the doctor to make sure that there isn't anything wrong with her back. Also planks.
posted by _cave at 7:14 PM on April 17, 2010

Instead of sitting in chairs, try sitting on one of those giant inflatable balls. Over time, it's great at building core compound abdominal strength. The increased core strength might even help with the back pain (depending on the cause of the back pain).
posted by porpoise at 7:17 PM on April 17, 2010

I've had excellent results from taking pilates classes from good teachers. I've had back/hip problems, as well as knee problems, and pilates has sorted all of them. It's also a lot of fun! A skilled instructor can help avoid exacerbating problems and identify which exercises will best strengthen the right muscles. I would recommend at least starting with classes to ensure she is is doing the movements correctly.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:32 PM on April 17, 2010

A middle-aged female relative of mine has tried to start an abdominal workout routine multiple times over the past few years

My first question is, why? What are her goals? She just wants to strengthen her abs?

There's a lot of lifts and exercises that aren't strictly ab exercises that strengthen your abs, largely because your abs are used in a lot of different lifts.

But I think the first thing she should do is identify her overall exercise goals, and then see a physical therapist and/or certified trainer at the very least and have the professional identify what exercises she should be doing so she doesn't hurt herself. Has she seen a professional about this yet?
posted by dubitable at 10:27 PM on April 17, 2010

The idea of doing "an abdominal workout routine" is very silly, and this kind of thinking may well be responsible for her pain. No one needs to be doing "an abdominal workout routine." She'd probably be much better served by learning to perform full-body movements that work the abdominals according to their anatomical function while stressing the body as a system. In other words, she should learn to squat.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:50 AM on April 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

There's nothing wrong with working out your abdominals, but I agree with dubitable. Ab workouts are usually situated within a context or reasoning, but that doesn't matter since she is dealing with an injury and that would be the context with which the routine would take place. If that is the case then a professional should be the one to tell her what she's able to do or not do. But if she is looking for advice in light of not knowing what the nature of the injury, it's almost a given we can rule out any exercise that is dynamic or that adds compressive forces to the spine. Which would rule out most barbell or dumbell exercises. There are a bunch of static exercises that are probably just fine for her to do, like the plank that someone suggested earlier. Even that might exacerbate the mystery injury.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:46 PM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

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