If you suffer from a bad back, you know just how frustrating it can be to do everyday tasks, including workouts and especially ab exercises. That’s because your core and your back are closely linked. In fact, your back muscles — including the lats in your upper back and the erector spinae, which run along your spinal cord, are actually considered a part of your core — so are your glutes and all the muscles in your belly area, including your abs, obliques, and transverse abdominis, the deep muscles that extend from your ribs to your pelvis and wrap around to your spine.
Why does this matter? Back pain can be caused by many factors, and it’s imperative that you talk to your doctor to determine what’s behind yours; but it’s possible that having a weak core might actually be to blame (as it was for this editor). Even if not, building strength in this muscle group has the potential to ease some of your pain.
Eric and Ryan Johnson, NSCA-certified trainers and cofounders of Homage Fitness, told POPSUGAR that core training can improve your stability, build a foundation of support, and get you on your way to relieving back pain. They also recommended consulting a doctor before you get started to rule out major health risks like spine injuries or even cancer.
Ab Exercises For a Bad Back
Once you’re cleared to work out, Eric and Ryan recommended four types of movement and several different exercises to strengthen your core. Don’t let the complicated names scare you; we’ll go over exactly how to do each move ahead.
- Foundational: Before you work the muscles, start by setting your breathing in sequence and working mobility through your hips, spine, and shoulders. Exercises: supine diaphragmatic breathing, assisted leg lowering, side-lying thoracic rotation, and bird dogs.
- Anti-Extension: resisting extension of your spine. Exercises: dead bug, elbow plank, and stir the pot.
- Anti-Rotation: resisting rotation in your lower back. Exercises: tall kneeling belly punch and standing landmine anti-rotation.
- Anti-Lateral Flexion: resisting sideways bending or movement from side to side. Exercises: side plank and one-arm farmer’s carry.
You can do one move from each category to activate your core at the beginning of a workout, or do them within your workout as a superset. Stop if you feel any pain, and focus on engaging your core through every slow, steady movement.