4 techniques to build core muscles without back pain
- Core exercises improve your posture, but can hurt your back if done wrong, a personal trainer says.
- To correctly do movements like planks or bicycle crunches, focus on engaging the right muscles.
- Strengthen your core without back pain by doing simple exercises with proper form after a good warm-up.
Core exercise can be a great way to prevent injury, but if building your abs causes a back ache, it’s time to change your routine, according a personal trainer.
Some simple cues can help fix your form to help prevent back pain during core workouts and get you better results, boxing coach Kollins Ezekh told Insider.
Done correctly, core exercises can help improve your posture and reduce aches outside of the gym, too, he said.
“A weak core is probably one of the main contributors to lower back pain,” Ezekh said.
Picking the right exercises, warming up correctly, and doing the right amount of work with proper form can help you build a stronger, more stable core for pain-free fitness.
Always warm up before exercising
While it can be tempting to save time by jumping right into a workout, a basic warm-up helps prepare your muscles, prevents injury, and can help you be more aware of maintaining good form, Ezekh said.
An ideal warm-up should involve all the areas of the body that will be active during the workout with similar movement patterns as the exercise you plan to do.
For example, if you’re working on planks or push-ups, be sure to warm up your shoulders and back, as well as your core, Ezekh said. Warming up helps make sure you use the muscles you intend to work, instead of having other parts of your body (like your back) inadvertently taking the brunt the exercise.
For any core exercises, one effective way to warm up is deep breathing to practice actively engaging your core, he said.
As you inhale and exhale, think about your belly button rising and then pressing back toward your spine, helping you feel your diaphragm (the muscle at the base of your chest).
Master simple exercises like planks
While social media is full of eye-catching “six pack abs” workouts that involve complex movements, or fast, dynamic routines, the best core exercises are simple, and can be done at home without weights or equipment, Ezekh said.
Movements like planks, hollow body holds, and similar variations all use body weight to strengthen core muscles, and can be challenging for all skill levels, while being easy enough for beginners to do correctly.
“It’s about building the mind-muscle connection” Ezekh said.
Prioritize slow, controlled movement
A common mistake with core exercise is moving too quickly, which allows momentum to power the movement and stop your core from actually doing the work, Ezekh said.
You’ll get more benefits by performing exercises slowly and controlling each movement or pose while focusing on squeezing the target muscles, he said.
Another common mistake is forgetting to breathe, which can tire you out more quickly and make you less stable.
“People tend to hold their breath, and that makes everything harder,” Ezekh said. “Sync your breathing with the exercise.”
Inhale while lowering or bracing for an exercise, and exhale while pressing up or lifting.
Start with shorter sets
Ezekh said a common cause of back pain during ab workouts is trying to do an exercise for too long or performing too many reps, which can cause your form to break down.
Instead, work for as long as you’re able to properly activate your core and maintain good form, he said. For example, start working on plank exercises with 10-15 second holds, squeezing your midsection to avoid putting pressure on your low back.
“Thinking about tucking your elbows and pulling toward your toes, and toes toward your elbows,” Ezekh said.
If you get too tired to maintain the stable position, rest and try again, and gradually work up to one minute planks.
As your core gets stronger, it can help you stay more stable and prevent injury during full-body exercise like squats and deadlifts, Ezekh said. It can also help protect your spine during everyday life, improving your posture so you’re less likely to deal with backaches from a desk job, he said.