ab exercises that don’t hurt your back (and burn off more belly fat)

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Some abdominal (aka ab) exercises cause back pain, due to rounding and stress on the spine. Crunches, also known as sit-ups, are a common exercise that will hurt your low back, and only tones (strengthens) the upper abdominal muscles. The lower abs and the side abs (obliques) are usually weaker than the upper abs, so you don’t need to do crunches/sit-ups anymore. In this video, I show exercises that work (tone and strengthen) your core, your upper and lower abs, and obliques. What’s great about these is that they work multiple muscle groups so you’ll burn more belly fat and gain more strength, than crunches or sit-ups.

  • Hamstring floor slides work the back of the legs, but they also target the lower abs. See video at the end of this post on how to do these. Start with one set of 8 reps, progress to 10, then 12, then 15 reps. You can increase your sets to 2, then 3, over time.
hamstring floor slides

  • Farmer’s walk with one heavy dumbbell. This exercise works your obliques and balance.
farmer’s walk with one heavy dumbbell
  • Leg lifts work your lower abs and your balance since you are balancing on one foot.
single leg-lifts
  • The side plank works your shoulders and your obliques so your low back won’t hurt (unless you fall over!). You can start with an elbow plank, with both feet on the ground, with the top leg in front of the other leg to help you with balance. Then work up to a full plank with your arm straight with your palm on the ground, and you can lift your other arm up and your top leg up for the advanced version, shown in the bottom photo.
side elbow plank
side plank with leg raise

Kettlebell or dumbbell windmills target the obliques, challenges your balance, strengthens your shoulders and increases the range of motion in your shoulders. If you have shoulder issues, don’t put the weight in the arm that’s above your head. Start with no weights, then progress with light weights. I’m using a 7lb kettlebell which is the right weight for me (if the weight was any heavier, I couldn’t do this exercise with good form, and I definitely couldn’t do 8 reps). Start with one set of 8 reps, progress to 10, then 12, then 15 reps. You can increase your sets to 2, then 3, over time. Take a break between each set. See video below for all the variations, with modifications.

kettlebell windmills

Oblique repeater knees work your balance and your obliques. You can hold onto a chair if you want to concentrate on the obliques without putting any focus on balancing.

oblique repeater knees ending position, step 2

To summarize:

Ab (abdominal) strengthening exercises that don’t hurt your back:

1. hamstring floor slides

2. farmer’s walk

3. leg lifts

4. side plank

5. kettlebell or dumbbell windmills

6. oblique repeater knees

Keep in mind that abdominal exercises will strengthen the muscles and keep them tucked in, but if you need to lose belly fat, you’ll want to reduce dairy, meat, processed foods, and sugar.

To see these exercises, play the YouTube video below 

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