Best Abs Exercises
to Strengthen your Core and
Reduce Back Pain

Strong Abs = Strong Back

Back Exercise Videos to Strengthen Abs and Back

The best abs exercises:

  • give strength and shape to your lower belly.
  • help support the lower spine.
  • work in tandem with your pelvic floor.
  • naturally recruit the deep & intermediate abdominals. 

The best abs exercises also do other more subtle and invisible things, like creating back pressure against your bowel to assist food digestion and against your diaphragm to make breathing more efficient

Best abs exercise 1.  Reverse curl ups

reverse curl ups diagram

With 'reverse curls ups' try to lift the bottom off the floor as you bring knees to chin

Reverse curl ups help control the lower abdomen and support the low lumbar spine. Transversus and internal oblique muscles naturally tend to switch off with excessive hours of sitting. This means that just about every one of us needs to do some form of lower abs exercise to switch them back on and restore them to strength.

Doing reverse curl ups also makes it easier to recruit the pelvic floor muscles. Believe me, this is just as important because just about everybody is weak at the front of the pelvic floor (not so much at the back because its easier to squeeze your butt cheeks together) and quite unable to elicit an isolated contraction here.

The urology world has discouraged voluntary interruption of flow when passing urine as an exercise to strengthed the pelvic muscles, since it may facilitate urinary retention. But even so, I think this is one of the most effective ways to re-educate pelvic floor control if you have no idea - and important if you are to build up any strength of your lower abdominal muscles. 

Reverse curls ups will also aid good breathing, rather than accentuating bad breathing patterns.

This is how to do 'reverse curl ups' properly

Reverse curls ups, are done by rounding your lower back as you bring your knees towards your chin, head staying on the floor. If you have a neck problem, clamp your hands on the front of your forehead (this helps to take the neck out of action). Keep your ankles crossed to make the legs less unwieldy and keep your knees wide so your hips don't pinch. Fifteen at a time is the optimum number.

Reverse curls make it easier to work your pelvic floor too. As you bring your knees up, you draw up the pelvic floor. Working the lower abdominals hard makes it easier to get an overflow action to get the pelvic floor muscles joining in.

Don't worry if the movement feels quite meagre; it will get better quite quickly as you find it easier getting your bottom off the floor. 

You can download my video to see me demonstrating this exercise and explaining how it feels in-the-doing. There's nothing like the horse's mouth.

Best abs exercises 2.  Legs passing

 Legs passing also re-educates the lower abdominals

Legs Passing is another best abs exercise for the lower abdominals. Legs passing is also handy if you're someone who likes a little variety in your keep-fit regime. 

As with reverse curl ups, the legs passing exercise also recruits the all-important muscle-in-the-round, the deepest tummy muscle – transversus (transverse) abdominis. If you doing the legs passing exercise well, your abdomen will be flat or indeed caved in, indicating the TrA is strong and well able to hold in the belly wall. This then makes it easier for the other abdominal muscles - rectus in particular - to work better. 

Legs passing is very good at getting your your back relaxed and your hips swinging if your spine has become rigid with pain. It does this in a very tricky way by making the left and right sides of your abdominal wall work differently at paying out and reefing in as your legs go up and down. This literally discombobulates your back muscles, making them release their hold as you concentrate on the front. 

This is how you do 'legs passing' properly

You start this exercise on your back with knees bent and both feet flat on floor. Raise your right knee to chest, bringing it as close to the right armpit as possible. Then while this one is returning towards the floor, you lift your left leg, so the legs literally pass in mid-air.

Please note that you do not at any stage straighten either leg, as in the bicycling action, as this is a huge strain on the lower back. Rather, keep the legs fully bent at all times. Always start off by pulling your tummy in hard to lift the leg and don’t ever let the lower back lift away from the floor. On your way down, each foot should just brush floor, touching with the heel rather than the big toe, before the return journey. As with the ‘reverse curl ups’ 15 back and forths for each leg. 

Have a look at 'Back Pain Exercise Videos' to learn more of the best exercises to strengthen your back and abs and relieve pain

More easy reading on the best abs exercises

plank exercise

Best to be clear, right now, on what the worst abs exercises are - especially if you have a bad back.

With your best intentions, let's be sure you're not doing more harm than good. There are three particularly worrying abdominal exercises, which often make up the core of gymnasium and Pilates regimes. 

The 3 layers of abdominal musculature

The rectus abdominis muscle runs vertically straight down your belly from the bottom of the breastbone (sternum) to the pubic bone. Strangely enough, the much sought after definition of the six pack is created by strengthening of this least efficient (and most superficial) abdominal muscle, rectus abdominis. 

The obliques run diagonally. Internal oblique runs in a down-outward direction, from under your rib cage towards your hips bones. While external oblique fibres run in an down-inward direction, following the line your fingers take when stuffed into side pockets.

On the other hand, transversus abdominis fibres run horizontally around your belly, from either side of the midline at the front to the spine at the back.

Transversus and internal oblique are the most effective at pulling your belly in. At the front of the abdomen, TrA encapsulates and holds down rectus abdominis like wearing a belt. If the transversus belt is weak, the belly wells up like a dome when you attempt to do sit ups. 

Diagonal fibres of the obliques, horizontal of transversus and vertical of rectus wrap the soft, vulnerable abdomen in a corsetry of contractile support

strong lower abdominal muscles
protect your back

The purpose of getting your low abdominal muscles strong is to create a pocket of high intra-abdominal pressure, rather akin to an airbag in a car, at the front of your spine. This exerts back pressure against the stacked lumbar vertebrae – critically important for when you bend. The higher the IAP the more secure you are. 

But the three layers of abdominal muscles cannot generate sufficient pressure if your pelvic floor is weak. If your pubococcygeusl muscle is like the bottom of a cardboard box falling out, your abdominal muscles will never achieve a strong air bag spinal support. In other words, the two groups go hand in glove: you will never have strong stomach muscles without a strong pelvic floor, and vice versa.

The best abs exercises strengthen the pelvic floor whereas the worst abs exercise weaken and stretch the pelvic floor. 

See the videos to learn exactly how to do the Best Abs Exercises

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Refs: O’Sullivan et al 2002
The effect of different standing and sitting postures on trunk muscle activivties in a pain free population
Spine 27 (11):1238  

Richardson C A, Hides J A
The rationale of a motor control programme for the treatment of spinal muscle dysfunction, Chpt 31
Grieve’s Modern Manual Therapy
3rd Edition Elsevier Churchill Livingstone

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