Sarah KeySarah Key

Sarah Key - Beat That Back Pain

Back Pain Exercises

Worst Abs Exercises


The Worst Abs Exercises for a Bad Back

The good and bad of the six pack for your back.

It's important you know the worst abs exercises because getting this wrong can make a bad back worse. There's lots of misinformation about abdominal exercising, so Here's the gen. Gym teachers and fitness instructors take note. 

Researchers tell us that if you routinely sit for long periods you will develop weak lower abdominal muscles - this means the abdominal wall below navel level, particularly internal oblique and transversus abdominis – creating an unsightly pouchy underbelly below the belt-line. And even though abdominal weakness has bad consequences for a back, doing the wrong exercise, in order to get that tummy stronger,  can actually create a bad back


Gymnasiums Tend to Push the Worst Abs Exercises

The gym culture actually favours the worst abs exercises. They go for sit ups, crunches, the plank and the disastrous double-leg lifts. Sadly, these sorts of abdominal workouts cause both shearing and compressive strains on the lumbar spine. 


What Makes the Worst Abs Exercises So Bad for Your Back?

The worst abs exercises over-work the upper abdominals and the hip flexors and under-work the lower abdominals and the pubococcygeus (pc) muscle of the pelvic floor. Excessive upper abdominal work bears down on the pelvic floor, ballooning and weakening it and making it less competent in its dual roles of sphincter control and dynamic spinal  support. Apart from reducing lumbar stability, a weaker pelvic floor can also lead to pelvic prolapse and urinary incontinence.

Another feature of the gym culture which seems to particularly attach itself to 'gut bashing' exercise routines is the business of end-scoring; setting a number - say 400 sit-ups - and then doing your darndest to get the number done. Acute traumatic shearing strains are common, with the activity becoming more haphazard and poorly controlled as fatigue sets in. Holding your breath as you count the score makes matters worse as it increase the bearing down pressures on the pelvic floor. it's perhaps for this reason that 75% of elite athletes suffer from stress incontinence. 

Worst abs exercises also impair spinal stability by over-working the outermost abdominal layer - rectus abdominis - while reflexly under-utilising the deep abdominals, transeverse abdominis - the very muscle that actively ties together the lumbar segments. Conversely, the best abs exercises 'reverse sit-ups' selectively recruit the lower abdominals, below navel level  and also the all-important pc muscle - both of which make the spine more secure. 


The worst abs exercises also disadvantage the spine a more subtle way by affecting posture.  Over-working upper abdominals pulls the upper body forward, in front of the line of gravity, creating a slightly stooped stance that increases loading of the spinal base. 

Recall the look of a typical gym junkie, proudly sporting a six-pack, but also trapped in a sort of gorilla stoop, elbows bent out at the sides - yet still, alas, with a hint of that hated pot belly below the belly button!

In Summary: What's So Bad About the Worst Abs Exercises

  • Curl your upper body forward and reinforce the slumped sitting posture
  • Compress the (lower) lumbar segments
  • Weaken the pelvic floor
  • Restrict the excursion of the diaphragm and hamper breathing
  • Over use the hip flexor muscles
  • Cause shearing strains across the lumbar segments
  • Over-use rectus abdominis at the expense of the obliques and TA

The Top Four Worst Abs Exercises for a Bad Back:

Crunches are the number one worst abs exercises because they are used everywhere, from gymnasiums to modest get-fit binges at home. They reinforce, through hyper-activity, exactly what prolonged sitting-and-working does through under-activity. A get-fit regime should do the very opposite for a bowed-over skeleton! The crunches shown here are exactly the exercise that most longterm sitters need to avoid. 

Crunches are one of the worst abs exercises. They restrict the excursion of the diaphragm and weaken the pelvic floor.


Sit Ups are another worst abs exercise. Similar to 'crunches' they invoke Over-activity of the big players while inhibiting the subtler, more fine-tuned control of the underneath muscles. And I’m sorry to tell you, it’s quite common to hear of people putting their 'back out' doing badly controlled sit ups - Usually going Hell-for-leather just to get the number done. 

It's easy to get into 'end-scoring' with this particular abs exercise.


Double leg lifts are another of the worst abs exercises and can bring about a bad back from a healthy back.  They also make a bad back worse by the powerful help flexor muscles (psoas) pulling on the front of the lumbar vertebrae as they lift the hugely heavy 'tree-trunk' legs. This action compresses the lumbar segments and shears them forward with massive force. Most people with a bad back instinctively know this is a bad exercise however and feel an intuitive sense of wrongness in their back. 

If you're fit anyway - with not a hint of back trouble - and you're determined to keep this exercise going, then make sure to keep your low back pressed firmly into the floor, in a lumbar rounding-out action, and keep it there as you raise the legs. 

Double leg lifts just about take the cake for the worst spinal exercise. The shearing forces on the lumbar segments created by strong psoas (hip flexor) activity.


The Plank is the final worst abs exercise if you have a bad back. (It has many derivative exercises using the Fit ball). The effect of the plank is totally compressing, in the way you can pick up a horizontal line of books if you press in hard enough in at either end. Press ups also similarly compress the spinal segments. 

The Plank is totally spine compressing!


Believe it or Not, Breating Difficulties May Arise from the Worst Abs Exercises

There's a strong correlation with the increased incidence of breathing problems – asthma, blocked nose, sleep apnoea and even panic attacks – and the obsession with keeping the belly cinched in. Breathing difficulties may also be related to a weaker pelvic floor.

Free function of the diaphragm is impaired by over-activity of the upper abdominals. The diaphragm is an umbrella or flange-like breathing muscle that separates the thoracic from the abdominal cavity. To activate an in-breath this huge dome-shaped muscle contracts and flattens. As it descends into the abdomen - rather like drawing out a syringe - it pulls air in through your nose. The bases of the lungs inflating with air pushes your belly out.

If you are madly trying to hold your belly in you are inhibiting the downward excursion of your diaphragm and perforce you take a shallower breath. If your upper abdominals have actually become adaptively shortened through over-use, then you don’t even have to hold your belly in because your abdominal wall has shrunk and is in anyway.

A new science is dawning on breathing disorders related to 'mouth breathing' and using the accessory muscles of respiration (the neck) instead of the diaphragm. This is particularly evident in children, where it is thought that diet and food additives also contribute to allergies, which in turn are potentiated by bad breathing habits.

Closing your mouth to breathe makes your diaphragm 'work for it' to pull air in through the nose and this keeps your abdominal muscles and your pelvic floor stronger and in better shape. Similarly, a stronger pelvic floor and abdominal musculature makes your diaphragm more efficient and your breathing slower, deeper and more efficient. 



So now you know what abdominal exercises you shouldn't do with a bad back. Let's see what the Best Abs Exercises are. Although perhaps more subtle in-the-doing, they are highly efficient, particularly at strengthening the deep and intermediate layers of your abdominal musculature that hold in the lower belly. They do this without stooping you over, or weakening your pelvic floor.

Similar but different is this piece on Best Lower Abs Exercises. Get-fit binges are often ill-thought out and frenetic. if you're of a mind to do something pro-active it's important to do the best exercises, not near-enough regimes riddled with un-corrected flaws. 

Here is a more in-depth appraisal of the role of transversus abdominis muscle and the fad of core stability training. You'll read here that we all need a stronger abdominal wall, but no one muscle in preference to the rest. 



This site uses functional cookies to store temporary information whilst you are using the site.
These cookies contain no personal information and the data that they do contain are not shared with anyone, or used outside of this site.