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Ab Workouts Causing Back Pain? [Do These 2 Things]


Do you get back pain during ab exercises?

The first thing you need to know is that Core exercises and back pain DO NOT have to go together.

It is possible, and even preferable, that you feel zero back pain when exercising your core muscles.

On today’s episode of Live Lean TV, I’m going over the most common two reasons why you might be having back pain during or after ab workouts.

Reason #1: You’re attempting exercises that you don’t yet have enough core strength to do correctly.

I’ve definitely been guilty of this one!

We all want to just pick up and do any exercise we see, but if our ab strength isn’t quite ready for it, hip flexors tend to take over.

The reason you don’t want your hip flexors taking over during ab flexion exercises is because of your psoas.

The psoas muscle is a long and deep core muscle that originates in your lumbar region (lower back) and extends all the way down to connect to your femur (upper thigh bone). The function of the psoas is to flex and crease your hip. The problem with over-working a muscle like this is that it will begin to pull on your lower spine.

If you’re doing a lot of challenging ab exercises, but really just working your hip flexors because your abs are not yet strong enough, it could cause your psoas muscles to be overworked and therefore place too much tension on your lower back.

The best fix for this is to regress the exercises. In other words, make each exercise a bit less challenging and do it slower with more control.

Set your ego aside. If an exercise is too challenging and you’re not able to do it with proper form and control, then regress the exercise.

Not only will regressions help you feel the exercise the way it’s supposed to be felt, they’ll also reduce the chances that you’ll hurt your back.

Reason #2: You have an imbalance of strength between the front and back of your core and hips.

Over-active hip flexors and under-active glutes are a super common problem, especially for those of us who sit for the majority of the day.

If you struggle to feel your abs during ab workouts because your hips just won’t relax, you can try prepping yourself with some preemptive stretches and glute activation work.

If your back pain is from another issue like an injury, trauma, or surgery, please seek help from a one-on-one professional.

Becoming stronger requires enough patience to learn and practice correct form, starting from where you are instead of jumping to where you want to be.

This video is intended for general or common back pain and/or people with minor or mild cases. If your case is severe or from an injury I urge you to seek help from an in-person therapist, doctor, or trainer.

Do not be discouraged by back pain during exercises. Once you learn how to fix it you’ll feel empowered and better than ever.

First exercise to try:

Straight Leg Sit Up

Sit on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you.

Flex your legs and butt.

Place your fingertips lightly behind your ears and roll your spine down to the ground.

Do the sit up while maintaining your tight flexed butt and hamstrings.

By keeping your back-side engaged, it will help ensure that you’re using core strength to rise up rather than hip flexor strength.

If you are not able to rise back up it is a RED FLAG that your core is not yet strong enough to do the Sit Up exercise.

Regress your sit ups by doing crunches instead, and/or using your arms to help yourself up and controlling the negative (the way down).

Leg Lifts with bent knees and focus on core contraction.

Lie on your back and lift your legs up into the air. Bend your knees to relax your leg muscles.

Engage your core to close the gap under your lower back and rock your pelvis forward.

Follow through with your legs coming close to your chest.

Continue the reps focusing only on the movement of your core muscles with less attention on the range of motion of your legs.

If the regressed version of leg lifts is still hurting your back, take it back a notch and try single leg lifts with your core engaged.
If your belly sags during planks you’ll definitely be headed for back pain.

Planks are an incredible core strengthening exercise. But they can kill your lower back if your core is not engaged or you don’t quite have enough core strength to support your back.

Instead of holding a sagging plank for too long, as soon as you feel your core is not able to engage, drop down to your knees and modify like this:

Modified plank with focus on core engagement

Your abs should feel like a brick wall, lifted and flexed during the entire duration of the plank. You can also flex your glutes and hamstrings to make your core work harder and relax the front of your hips.

Next thing to try:

Another way to prevent hip-flexor take over is to stretch your hips and warm up your glutes before beginning your core work.

Try these 3 warm ups before your next abs workout.

  1. Stretch your hip flexors with a low lunge on both sides
  2. Warm up your glutes with some donkey kicks
  3. Stretch your hips and warm up your glutes at the same time with some glute bridges.

Key takeaways:

Lower back pain with ab exercises is typically a result of two things.

1) The exercises you’re doing are too advanced or being done with poor form.

2) You’re not warming up or activating your glutes before core workouts.

Performing ab exercises that are too advanced and/or not done with proper form or muscle engagement is more likely to result in injury than increased strength.

Bottom Line: Ab workouts are no place to flex your ego. Test your core strength, listen to your body, and work your core at a level you can handle without pain.

Proper core engagement almost always fixes lower back pain instantly.

If your pain is from another issue, like a back surgery, scar tissue, and injury, nerve damage, pregnancy, or other medical issue, please, seek help from an in-person professional that can diagnose and give you case-specific advice.

You must honor the starting point you are at.

Be careful not to make your back pain worse.

Doing ab exercises that are too intense will only aggravate your back pain, and set you back further from achieving flat abs.

I want you working your abs WITHOUT back pain, so start implementing these tips right away to get ready for our brand new Live Lean Abs 2.0 Workout program.

Once you start working your abs properly you’ll see a big difference in your core strength, tone and definition.

I can’t wait to see your results!


Start by taking our FREE Live Lean Body Quiz to get access to the best program specific to your goals, current fitness level, and access to equipment.

Take the Free Live Lean Body Quiz


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