Give Protecting Your Back a Workout

Some exercises that flatten the tummy aren’t designed for people who suffer from back pain. Crunches and double leg lifts are popular, but they can put strain on your spine and lead to lower back injuries. Protecting your aching back doesn’t mean that you have to give up on losing your muffin top. Just switch to exercises that will prove as effective at toning while keeping your spine in a safe position. While they may not be as well known around the gym as The Scorpion, they work. Here are three to try:

Do This: Horizontal Squats

Not That: Crunches

Crunches definitely are not for people with spine conditions. If you have a bulging disc, herniation or spinal stenosis, switch to the lesser-known horizontal squat. The move works your entire core in three dimensions and adding a side plank or mountain climbers at the end multiplies the benefit.

Kneel on your hands and knees. Engage your pelvic floor as though you’re trying to stop your urine midstream (think kegel exercise) and keep your belly button drawn into the spine.

Lift knees off ground slowly. Shifting your weight into legs, sit back into hips as if doing a squat. Drive the body forward quickly and extend legs into the top of a pushup or plank position. Hold this pose for 2 seconds, keeping your head in a straight line with hips, knees, and ankles and shoulders down. Shoulders should be stacked directly above hands.

Do This: Bridges

Not That: Double Leg Lifts

You may think leg lifts will give you killer abs, but they squeeze discs in your back. Lifting your legs contracts the psoas muscle, which attaches to the lumbar spine vertebrae. Pulling the lower back into hyper-extension can put you at risk for a herniated disc.

Substitute glute bridges to strengthen you back while sculpting your abs. You’ll get the extra benefit of toning your thighs and tightening your booty.

Lie with knees bent, hip-width apart, and feet flat on the floor. Flatten lower back into the floor by gently contracting abdominal muscles. Try to maintain keep abs engaged while you do the exercise. Exhale and lift hips off the floor. Lift toes and press heels into the floor for added stability. Don’t push hips too high or you’ll risk causing hyper-extension in the lower back. Inhale as you slowly return to start.

Do This: Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Not That: The Scorpion

The kneeling hip flexor stretch or single-leg hip lift keep your spine in a safe position. Use them instead of the scorpion to activate the glutes and open up the hips. The scorpion can cause serious injury by placing a combination of rotational and extension forces on the lumbar spine.

Start the kneeling hip flexor stretch by placing left knee on a mat with right leg forward. Form a 90-degree angle at each knee. Lift body upright and brace abs. Stretch your left arm forward and hold onto a body, chair, or wall for balance. Contract glutes and shift weight forward into right foot, pressing pelvis forward to stretch front of left hip and thigh. Hold for 5 seconds. Return to the start and repeat on other side.

To do the single-leg hip lift, lie face up with knees bent, feet flat. Hug right knee into chest with both hands, forming a 90-degree angle with leg. Press left foot into the ground to lift hips up, forming a straight line from shoulders to left knee at the top of the lift. Return to start and repeat on other side.

Read More: 15 Exercises Trainers Would Never Do

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