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The Worst Ab Exercises for Lower Back Pain: Avoid These to Protect Your Spine

Lower back pain is a common complaint that affects millions of people worldwide. It can be caused by various factors, including poor posture, muscle imbalances, and even the exercises you perform.

While strengthening your core is essential for overall health and fitness, not all ab exercises are created equal, and some can exacerbate lower back pain. In this blog post, we will discuss the worst ab exercises for lower back pain, why they can be harmful, and offer alternative exercises that are gentler on your spine.

Worst Ab Exercises for Lower Back Pain

Sit-Ups and Crunches

Sit-ups and crunches have long been considered staples in ab workouts, but they are among the worst exercises for those with lower back pain. These exercises involve repeated flexion of the spine, which can strain the lower back and lead to discomfort or injury.

Alternative: Planks

Planks engage your core muscles without putting unnecessary stress on your lower back. To perform a plank, assume a push-up position with your arms straight, shoulders over your wrists, and your body in a straight line from head to heels. Hold this position for as long as you can while maintaining good form.

a couple doing planks on the gym floor

Leg Raises

Leg raises involve lying on your back and lifting your legs off the ground, often performed with straight legs. This exercise can strain the lower back excessively, especially if you have weak abdominal muscles.

Alternative: Knee-to-Chest Stretch

Instead of leg raises, try the knee-to-chest stretch. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Slowly bring one knee up toward your chest, holding it with your hands. Hold for 15-30 seconds and then switch legs.

Russian Twists

Russian twists are performed by sitting on the floor, leaning back slightly, and twisting your torso from side to side while holding a weight or medicine ball. This twisting motion can strain the lower back and lead to discomfort.

Alternative: Standing Torso Twists

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a weight or medicine ball close to your chest. Slowly twist your torso from side to side, engaging your core muscles. This standing variation reduces the strain on your lower back.

sitting while completing a torso twist

Bicycle Crunches

Bicycle crunches involve lying on your back, lifting your shoulders off the ground, and pedaling your legs in a cycling motion while twisting your torso. This exercise can be hard on the lower back due to the twisting motion and the lifting of the shoulders.

Alternative: Dead Bug Exercise

The dead bug exercise is a safer alternative. Lie on your back with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and your arms extended toward the ceiling. Lower one leg and the opposite arm towards the ground while maintaining core engagement. Alternate sides in a controlled manner.

Roman Chair Sit-Ups

Roman chair sit-ups are performed on a specialized piece of gym equipment, the Roman chair. While these may seem like a great way to target your abs, they can place excessive stress on the lower back, especially if done with poor form.

Alternative: Stability Ball Rollouts

Stability ball rollouts can provide a more spine-friendly workout. Kneel in front of a stability ball, place your hands on the ball, and roll it forward while maintaining a straight back. Roll out as far as you can control and then roll back to the starting position.

woman trying do complete a stability ball rollout.


Lower back pain is common, and certain ab exercises can exacerbate the problem. To protect your spine and still work on your core strength, it's essential to avoid the worst ab exercises for lower back pain and opt for safer alternatives.

Incorporating these gentle yet effective exercises into your routine can help you build a strong core without risking further discomfort or injury. Remember, always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program, especially if you have pre-existing lower back issues. Your health and safety should always be the top priority in your fitness journey.

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