No one should have to feel the instant regret of tweaking their back, especially during a workout. Getting struck by that sharp, shooting pain is like aging 15 years in one minute. Ab workouts, in particular, are the double-edged swords of back pain: strengthening your core can help prevent injury, but practicing poor form during each move puts you at a higher risk of strain.
That's where Caley Crawford, an NASM-certified personal trainer and director of education for Row House, comes in — she's exposing the biggest ab workout mistakes and offering solutions so you (and your back) continue to thrive in the gym.
Mistake: Flutter-kick fans, avoid lifting your back off the ground — Crawford said this mishap is "overcompensating for your abs and puts a lot of stress on your lower back." If you're instinctually placing your hands under your hips to allow your back to press into the floor, you're correcting your posture — but not in the most effective way, Crawford said. "Your lower abdominals get to take a 'break' and not work as hard."
Correction: Protect your back while getting the most out of your flutter kicks by bringing your feet higher into the air, Crawford suggested. "As you get stronger, you can lower your feet closer to the ground. But the moment you feel your lower back lift off the ground, you've gone too low." To engage your core more, lift your shoulders off the ground, too, she said — by doing this, you're getting your whole body involved.
Mistake: Just because planks are simple doesn't mean you can't do them wrong. By merely sagging your hips toward the ground, you're putting your back at risk, Crawford said.
Correction: Tuck in those hips, activate your glutes, and bring your belly button into your spine, Crawford said. Those three adjustments should do the trick, but if you're still feeling pressure and pain in your lower back, remember to engage your core. She even suggested working out in front of a mirror to check your body alignment.
Mistake: Feeling the wrong type of burn from your rowing machine? You're probably not hinging forward enough during your "recovery" and pulling too much with your feet at the finish, Crawford said. "We need to load the hamstrings and glutes, so the hinge forward is important." A good way to know if you're using your feet too much (which is a telltale sign of an under-active core) is if your shoe straps loosen as you row, she added.
Correction: Crawford's tip for success is to get your arms straight and upper body hinging from the hips in a forward position before bending your knees on the recovery.
Mistake: Deadlifts can cause serious damage to your back if you're not careful. Rounding in the spine and a lack of late engagement can cause the core not to be fully utilized, which can result in injury, Crawford warned.
Correction: Crawford's idea of the proper form includes engaging your lats, hinging at the hips, and keeping your back straight and knees slightly bent — and that's just the setup. Before you lift, she said, make sure your hamstrings are tight and loaded. As you lift, keep your core braced and back straight and focus on your legs and glutes doing most of the work. When finishing out the deadlift, be careful as you lower the weight back down as well. And don't let lighter dumbbells fool you: Crawford finds that the biggest issues actually occur with lighter weights because some don't feel the need to prepare their bodies as much.