How To Safely Train Your Abs (And Not Break Your Back!)

How To Safely Train Your Abs (And Not Break Your Back!)

Did you know that your abs can be so strong that you could damage your back? If not, I have to tell you a story about a trainer I knew back in 1999.

When I first started working as a personal trainer, there was a top instructor in the facility. She was lean, fit, and competed in bodybuilding shows. Everyone liked her, and her services were in high demand.

One day, she no-showed on a client.

Now, you have to understand that she was a very professional fitness pro. It was very unlike her to not show up for her clients, and everyone was both shocked and concerned.

Later, we found out she’d thrown out her back, and you won’t believe how it happened.

What I was told by a co-worker is that she sneezed so hard she blew out her back and immediately had to go the emergency room.

Is that crazy or what?!?

When the doctors performed an MRI, they found that she had a herniated disc.

It seems that what happened is when she sneezed, her abdominal muscles contracted so quickly and she moved forward so abruptly that she injured her back.

I never imagined someone so fit could have this happen to her. Ultimately, her back pain got so bad she had to go out on disability for 6, long months.

This affected her client roster, her income, and most of all her morale. And can you believe it only happened because her abs were too strong?

There’s A Right Way And A Wrong Way To Train Your Abs

After over a decade of real life, in-person coaching, studying physiology, and running online exercise programs, now I understand how her abs could have contracted so powerfully.

In her quest to achieve the elusive washboard stomach, she built a foundation on sand and trained her abs the wrong way.

You see, there are 3 components of ab training, and if you skip a component like most people do, you might cause yourself more harm than good.

So let’s dive deep into understanding your ab muscles so that you know exactly what to do to make them amazing.

Know The Purpose Of Your Abs And Train Them Properly

How To Safely Train Your Abs (And Not Break Your Back!)

Your abs have 3 main purposes:

  • Isometric strength for training endurance.
  • Counter resistance for training for balance.
  • And of course, movement creation like sitting up when you’re getting out of bed.

Let’s dive into the details of each so that you better understand how to train your abs.

Isometric Strength

For the purpose of this article, isometric strength refers to your using your ab muscles to stabilize your center of gravity. Your midsection is part of this strength, and so is your pelvis.

The muscles in front – hip flexors – and the muscles in the back – your butt muscles – integrate with your torso to create stability.

When I was still coaching in person, this is where I would start. I’d put deliberate effort in using the right muscles to build isometric strength.

Counter Resistance

Counter resistance is like picking up your bag from the ground. When you bend over, to pick it up, your ab muscles have to stabilize.  If they did not, you’d fall forward or to the side.

The muscles that are in the deepest part of your abdomen are a key part of building up your ability to stabilize, and they also keep you from getting hurt.

Creating Movement

Finally, there’s the component of ab strengthening that everyone tends to skip to, first – creating movement.  Sit-ups, crunches, V-ups, and leg lifts are all types of movements, and they can cause more harm than good if you haven’t properly activated your core muscles with counter resistance and isometric exercises.

Imagine your spine as an accordion, and inside it are structures that allow it to bend and flex without damage.

To train those internal structures, you have to do exercises that focus on isometrics and counter resistance before you try to create movement.

Below, I am going to share some exercises that focus on the right things, first.

How To Train Your Abs And Minimize Your Risk Of Getting Hurt

How to build isometric strength in your ab muscles…

What makes isometric ab training so special is that it focuses on little to no movement. All the emphasis is on using the right muscles in a concentrated way.

Glute bridges are great for this. Below, I’ll show you how to do them.

How to do a Glute Bridge

Step 1 – Lie flat on your back with your feet flat, knees bent 90 degrees.

Step 2 – Brace your ab muscles and lift your hips off the ground contracting your glutes.

Step 3 – Press your upper back firmly against the ground, keeping your core muscles engaged while remembering to contract your glutes.

Step 4 – Imagine trying to squeeze a dollar bill between your butt cheeks. 🙂

Step 5 – Hold this position for 10-30 seconds and do 2-4 sets.

How to do counter resistance exercises to strengthen your ab muscles…

You can strengthen the ab muscles that run down your sides by doing exercises like split squats and side planks. These kinds of exercises improve your balance, coordination, and strength.

This kind of core training is rarely a specific exercise. It’s usually taught with an integrated approach. So, let’s start with split squats.

How to do a Split Squat

Sometimes called a lunge or Bulgarian split squat, this exercise is a great way to tone the muscles of your lower half while working your core at the same time.

Step 1 – Start by standing with feet shoulder width apart

Step 2 – Step the left leg forward about 3 feet, letting your right heel come off the ground.

Step 3 – Lower your right knee to the ground as your left knee moves forward

Step 4 – Stand back to back up to starting position and then repeat 6-20 reps 2-3 sets

If you want to make this exercise more challenging, simply hold a weight in one hand. You can hold anything that will challenge your balance.

Movement Training

The following exercises are the most common, and you’ve probably done some of them, before.

  • Leg raises
  • Crunches
  • Sit ups

Before you do these kinds of exercises, you have to make sure you have isometrics down. Once you do, learn to integrate the movements below.

Though leg raises are one of the most difficult exercises, if you make sure to have a proper foundation in isomeric and counter resistance strength, you’ll be fine.

Here’s how to do an active lying leg raise…

The first thing you want to do is grab a 5-10 pound weight. Then lie down.

Make sure that you have your arms extended above your head, while holding the weight.

Step 1 – Lie on your back with legs straight.

Step 2 – Activate your core by lifting the weight off the ground above your head.

Step 3 – Raise your legs, make sure not to let the arch in your back move, keeping you rib cage down.

Step 4 – Continue to move your legs up and down while keeping the weight above your head.

Step 5 – Repeat movement for 30 seconds or for as long as you maintain your spinal position.

If you want to lower the difficulty, get rid of the weight and place your hands on the floor at your sides.

If You’re Going To Get Nice Abs, You’re Going To Need To Focus On Your Whole Body!

I know you want a nice set of flat abs, and that’s why we focus on the whole body. It’s about progression, and we meet you a your current of fitness.

One of the difficulties of workout programs on the internet is that they’re not set at your level or there isn’t a thoughtful intake process for helping you reach your goals.

I’m a big believer in customized programming and accountability. Together, they help people break down barriers to becoming consistent with their workout goals.

If this was of value to you, today, be sure to share this with others if you think if would help them, too. 🙂

The Garage Warrior