Two original and traditional abdominal exercises, situps and crunches, have been a part of every beginner bodybuilding or fitness training program and every military basic training program and fitness test for many years. But more recent research suggests that these two exercises may be the cause of your lower back pain and cervical (neck) pain.
Sit Ups are hard on your back, the movement pushes your unnaturally curved spine into the floor. Traditional situps do little to flatten your abdominal muscles, and also overtrain your hip flexors, the long muscles that attach your thighs to the lumbar vertebrae along your spine in your lower back. When your hip flexors are unbalanced, that is, too strong in comparison to your opposing lower back and hamstring muscles, or if they become shorter from training without stretching and become “tight”, they will pull on your lower spine, which can create lower back pain. Pain and discomfort to the degree of preventing you from standing up straight.
Crunches present similar problems with your lower back and spine with the added complication of pulling on your head and neck in an attempt to do “one more rep”. Many exercise enthusiasts still mistakenly believe that crunches are the answer to flat abdominals and make them a part of their training. Unfortunately, many of these trainees also perform their crunches incorrectly and clasp their fingers behind their head or neck and literally pull themselves upright with their arms and not their abdominals. This is a dangerous move and can cause damage to your neck and cervical spine. If you feel that you must include crunches in your abdominal training, park your butt on a thick mat or pad and never interlace your fingers, place them loosely behind or beside your head to avoid injury by pulling on your neck.
There are more effective and much safer abdominal exercises, ab exercises that won’t hurt your back and that work your abs and core, not your thighs and hip flexors. 6 of the best ab exercises safe for your back:
Planks recruit and train a balance of core muscles on the front, sides, and back of the body including your abdominals. Core exercises like planks, train your abs and back equally and prevent any potential muscle imbalances that lead to back pain.
How to do them: Assume a solid push up position on the mat or floor. Place your elbows and forearms on the floor with your elbows directly below your shoulders. Straighten your body until it forms a straight line from your neck to ankles and HOLD this position for as long as you possibly can. Planks are not a flashy exercise, quite the opposite, you assume the position and hold for as long as possible as you countdown in your head or watch the clock – but planks are extremely effective for as simple as they are.