Why Ab Exercises To Lose Weight Can Hurt Your Back – And What To Do Instead

Ab Exercises

Summer holidays are coming up, and beach weather is upon us. And one of the most common things we hear clients talking about is this: The topic of getting ‘beach body ready’ and losing stomach fat with ab exercises!

But let me say one thing, you can go to the beach no matter what your body type is, or what it looks like! So if you’re worrying about being ‘beach body ready’, I’d urge you to relax and enjoy all the time you have, rather than fussing over how your body looks.

Anyway, so this time of year we hear this conversation A LOT, and another thing we hear a lot is people throwing their back out because of all the ab exercises they’re doing, to get ready for summer.

Which is why I wanted to talk to you about two things today…

1. Why doing ab exercises can be bad for your back


2. The real way to get a ‘flat stomach’ safely, without hurting your back

You really don’t want a bad back to get in the way of enjoying the holidays you have planned, and life in general!

So, why can ab exercises be bad for your back and cause back pain?

Well, even though a strong core is essential to a pain free back, and doing exercises to build a strong core are also essential. The most common ab exercises you see people going crazy at can actually cause strain on your lower back and don’t target the muscles you need to target, to keep your back protected.

Take sit-ups for example (also known as crunches), while you will definitely get a workout doing these, sit-ups also put a lot of strain on your lower back if the muscles in your lower abdominals are weak (which most of ours are thanks to sitting), and if they’re weak, that will equal putting stress on your back which equals back pain.

But there is an alternative – you can lay on an exercise ball and perform a sit-up instead, this way your back is protected and you’re getting a good stretch in your hip muscles which are kept tight when we sit for long periods of time.

But are all these ab exercises going to help you get a flat stomach? And if you have back pain, what CAN you do to help you get one?

Well, everyone has abdominal muscles. They might not show, or be weak, but everyone has 6-pack abs. They’re just hidden under a layer of fat – which isn’t a ‘bad’ thing! Not having enough fat can be bad for our health.

Which brings me to my next point – a flat stomach only appears when you have a low enough body fat percentage. The reason why there are thousands of ab workouts on YouTube and in magazines is because people know there’s a lot of money in the ab-industry for people desperate to get a flat stomach.

So if you’re someone who tortures yourself everyday doing all the ab exercises you can squeeze in, I’m giving you permission to stop, because it’s probably not doing what you think it’s doing.

Why? Because you can’t target or spot-reduce stomach fat – or any fat!

Doing certain exercises to strengthen your muscles around your stomach, back and spine will target your abs, but it doesn’t mean they’ll burn fat in that area.

Depending on your age, weight, gender and genetics, your body will lose fat in different places, in different order.

When you have a plan in place to lose fat, as long as it’s working and you stick to that plan, you will also lose fat on your abs.

So, what does it come down to?

What you eat and how you manage stress!

1) Consume fewer calories than you are currently consuming

In order to do that, you need to know how much you currently eat, you need a plan to eat healthy, and then you need to track how consistent you are with that plan.

You can use a simple app like My Fitness Pal to do that – just be aware not to cut calories too low! Everyone is different.

2) Eat more vegetables

We’re talking leafy greens and similar vegetables. Sorry, pizza is not a vegetable.

The recommended daily intake is 5 plus vegetables a day. I know some people who consume zero. Having a plate full of vegetables will make it look like you’re eating a lot more, for fewer calories, and they’re a great source of fiber, keeping everything moving.

3) Make sure there’s a protein with every meal.

The one constant in your food plan should be protein. This helps conserve the muscle you have and keeps you feeling full.

And… 4) Eat healthy fats!

If you are cutting back calories from junk food, and you’re loading up on vegetables, then you might struggle to eat enough calories every day – which can be detrimental to your health.

Enter fats! You’ve already got protein and vegetables in your meals; healthy fats will round out a good meal, and are not bad for you.

Avocados, olive oil, mixed nuts and real butter are great sources of healthy fats.

There you have it – the one change to focus on to target losing stomach fat safely, without throwing your back out by doing hundreds of ab exercises (that you probably don’t enjoy anyway).

kim gladfelter physiofit 1ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kim Gladfelter, MPT, OCS, FAAOMPT
Women's Health Physical Therapy Specialist at PhysioFit Physical Therapy & Wellness

Kim Gladfelter is a physical therapist, Pilates instructor, educator, author, and co-founder of PhysioFit Physical Therapy & Wellness. She is known as a keen, well-rounded expert of healing through movement and women’s health specialist in the Silicon Valley area.

Kim has helped men and women of all ages to stay active and feel their best. She also writes about managing pain in her health columns, blogs and the local Los Altos Town Crier newspaper as well as reaches out to the local community, support groups, schools, libraries, and sports centers to advise and educate on body awareness and therapeutic exercise.

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