Not all exercises are created equal, especially when it comes to choosing ab exercises for strengthening our core muscles. Core work should be part of your daily routine whether you want a chiseled six-pack or not, because our abdominal muscles are major players in stabilizing our body throughout all movement.
When choosing from the plethora of ab exercises and workouts available in today’s digital age, there are a few to watch out for and avoid.
Avoid, you’re probably wondering why I would draw that line in the sand about certain ab exercises?
The main job of abdominal muscles is to stabilize our spine, keeping us from collapsing or falling over while standing/walking/sitting. Any ab exercises that put our spines at direct opposition of the goal of our musculature is one to steer clear of (because there are so many better exercises to strengthen and develop your abdominal muscles).
There are many ab exercises that can be performed successfully (and safely) by beginners and experts alike, however there are 3 exercises that stand out as posing the highest risk of injury:
- Sit-Ups & Crunches
- Russian Twists
- Hanging Leg Lifts
Sit-Ups and Crunches: Are your abs actually doing the work?
For an untrained person (or someone who’s core isn’t strong yet), engaging the right muscles to perform a full sit-up or a crunch is difficult. Oftentimes the hip flexors will take over, or the low back/spine (potentially inviting back injury and pain). You might also see someone speeding through 25, 50, 100 reps of sit-ups/crunches in record time…I’ll bet that they’re using the momentum of the dynamic movement that a sit-up creates, and not engaging their core correctly.
If you’re performing sit-ups and find that the fronts of your hips are sore (or that you’re getting a rug burn on your back) that’s a pretty clear sign that your hip flexors took over, or you were using inertia/momentum to sit up, and your abs did not get the workout you had intended.
Russian Twists: Yikes…your spine says no thank you!
The muscles that people are hoping to target with the Russian Twists are the obliques, which are the abdominal muscles that run along the outsides of your trunk (where you might affectionately point out love handles).
The trouble with Russian Twists is the amount of pressure and force on the low back, leaving your spinal cord in a vulnerable position. Add in the twisting motion, and any additional weight like is traditionally seen in progressions of the Russian Twist, puts the spine at further risk of injury.
What ab exercises you should do instead: Side Planks, Palloff Press, Elbow/Knee Rolls
Hanging Leg Lifts: Not Everyone is Ready
I would consider hanging leg lifts to be one of the most advanced abdominal exercises, effective and safe for well-trained individuals who are looking to bring another level of challenge to their already strong abdominal muscles. In order to perform this exercise you also need access to a weight-bearing bar, which may not be available to everyone.
Much like sit-ups and crunches, if your core is not already developed and strong, you may overuse your hip flexors trying to complete a set of hanging leg lifts, causing you discomfort that will disrupt your workouts, and life outside of the gym too.
What ab exercises you should do instead: Bear Crawl Isometric Hold, Wall Push, Ab Rollout
Benefits of Building a Stronger Core
Now that you’ve taken the time to incorporate a few safe ab exercises into your daily routine, what are you going to notice about your improved core control?
- Less back pain, even when standing or walking (or running/hiking) for an extended period of time
- Better posture and positional strength, which will contribute to exuding confidence all while helping to prevent injuries
- Everyday tasks like loading the dishwasher, vacuuming, or picking up your child’s toys off their bedroom floor will be a breeze
- Recreational and sporting activities whether you’re an avid golfer or a Saturday softball team member you won’t have to worry about throwing your back out, or slowing your team down
Want to incorporate ab exercises daily while you’re at home? Check out our recent At-Home and Travel Workout blogpost with 8+ of our favorite ab exercises you can do with little to no equipment.
Exercises to Strengthen Your Core (that you might not realize is doing the job)
Did you know that you can be strengthening your core without doing a super core-focused exercise? We should be engaging our ab muscles throughout all exercises to help stabilize our spine and maintain positional strength (helping to prevent injuries and pain).
A few exercises that are great examples of core builders:
- Squat (Goblet, Barbell, Front, Overhead)
- Bent Over Rows
- Farmer’s Carry
- Overhead Press
… these are all great strength exercises that will become more successful the stronger and more engaged your core is.
If you’re looking for the right training and accountability to get you the physique you’ve been dreaming of (and you’re ready to ditch those exercises that aren’t actually working for you) – our coaches are ready to help create your ideal program. It all starts with an email to [email protected] – we can’t wait to help you become the you you’ve been dreaming about!